Fastnet Race: Records in Perseverance
Published on August 21st, 2015
by Mark Chisnell, B&G
The only records set in this year’s Rolex Fastnet were for perseverance – it was every bit as slow a race as we expected in our Preview. In fact, much of the first couple of days played out as we expected in macro terms – but the detail out on the water at the coal face was a little messy.
This is what Ken Read, skipper of monohull Line Honours winner, Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark’s Comanche, had to say after the finish; “It was honestly one of the most bizarre races I’ve ever been in in my life – starts and stops and people being left behind for dead and then all of a sudden they are sailing around you – it was phenomenal.”
Given that appraisal, we’re going to have to look at this with a pretty broad brush… we’ll start with the race for line honours, and then look at the handicap victory. A quick mention first, for one line honours contender that got the Early Bath Award instead; American Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky (yes, I know… resist the temptation) – the winner of the recent Transatlantic Race – hit the Shingles and had to be towed off, resulting in a retirement.
If we have a look at Pic 1 first, we can see the leading monohull classes (IRC CK, IRC Z, IMOCA 60 and the VO65s – I’m making the not unreasonable assumption that they will produce the line honours winner) and the MOCRA multihull fleet on Monday morning with the weather overlaid.
Looking back to our preview, the Deckman’s optimal route described pretty much exactly what we see on this chart. Almost everyone got onto starboard tack before they were much more than half-way across Christchurch Bay and still in sight of the Needles, and stayed there. The forecast had the wind slowly rotating to the north-west and then north-east, and this windshift is evidenced in the long, slowly lifting starboard tack that eventually converges the fleet on Lizard Point. The wind was now in the north-east (as we can see from the overlay) and the fleet were sailing downwind on a run.
The almost complete consensus on strategy was broken by Snow Lion, whose lonely cream-coloured trail you can see running inshore across Lyme Bay. They were 6th in IRC Z and 12th in IRC Overall at this point, and while I don’t have a clear idea on their potential in this fleet, just outside the top ten overall is no bad shakes. The offshore option might well have been both correct and the consensus – but it wasn’t by much.
The leaders on the water at this stage were Yann Guichard and Dona Bertarelli’s Spindrift 2 (purple) in the multihull fleet and Comanche (yellow) in the monohulls – the biggest boats respectively so no real surprises there. However, neither of them had gained anything like enough distance on their competition to lead on handicap. It was a medium sized boat race overall on handicap at this stage with the TP52 Sorcha leading the Maxi 72 Momo, the Swan 45 K-Force and the GP42 Tokoloshe II.
Roll forward into Monday and the next big decision was which side of the exclusion zones (the red blocks on the chart) to go. These sit squarely on the rhumb line from the south-western tip of England to the Fastnet Rock, and when you combine them with the Scilly Isles they make for quite a blocker. The choice was west or east, and west paid – big-time.
Let’s look at Pic 2 from 16:30 on Monday afternoon, with the multihull leader still Spindrift 2 about to go around the Rock. All the top boats in this fleet went hard left and they benefitted from the breeze from a tiny low pressure over the Irish Sea.
We can see this system in Pic 3, showing the weather at midday on Monday – the low pressure is tiny, it was more or less static, forming and dissolving on Sunday and Monday. It didn’t appear in the forecast we looked at in the Preview on Friday but it turned out to be crucial for those that were in the Irish Sea at this time.
In the monohulls, the big gainers were George David’s Rambler 88 (white boat on the chart) and Mike Slade’s Farr 100 Leopard (blue) who both followed the multihulls, and took time and distance on both Comanche and Momo, who hedged a little more east. Rambler 88 took six miles out of Comanche, potentially a much faster boat.
The losers in this picture were the IMOCA and VOR 65 fleets who all headed east of the exclusion zone and onto a more easterly route across the Irish Sea. This area was still dominated by high pressure and they took some big losses, putting them out of contention.
If we have a look at Pic 4 from Tuesday at 08:00 we can see Spindrift 2 (purple) leading the multihulls and Comanche (yellow) leading Rambler 88 (off-white) back from the Rock. They had suffered in a hole at the Rock itself, with very light winds for a while, but it mostly just produced a yo-yo effect. Chasing boats caught up when the leaders hit the hole, and then lost out as the leaders exited first and extended back into the breeze. Check out the group to the north of the Scilly Isles, this is the IMOCA 60 fleet and assorted others, all parked up and in a world of trouble – west was best at this point.
It clearly wasn’t over yet with a race course as full of holes as this one, and the low pressure in the Irish Sea finally fizzling and dying. Take a look at Pic 5 from midday on Tuesday. High pressure once again dominates the race course as the leaders try to crawl towards the finish in Plymouth – but you can see from the two big low pressure systems situated to the west and east that this is all about to change.
It didn’t change in time for the race leaders though. Spindrift 2 fought to hold off Lionel Lemonchois’ smaller Multi 80 Prince de Bretagne, and Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD 70 Phaedo³ in flaky conditions that held right to the finish. Spindrift 2 finally took line honours at 22:57:41 on Tuesday evening, with Phaedo drifting across the line 20 minutes ahead of Prince de Bretagne, and just over a couple of hours after Spindrift 2. Needless to say, the line honours winners wouldn’t be taking any prizes on handicap.
The same held true in the monohull classes, with Comanche struggling to lose Rambler 88. The two match raced across Mounts Bay, round the Lizard and into Plymouth, and every time that Comanche extended she would run into a hole and Rambler 88 would close up. Jim Clark’s boat finally finished at 05:22 on Wednesday morning, just four and a half minutes ahead of Rambler 88. Line honours was theirs, but the corrected time of 5d 6h 23m 42s was never going to be good enough for an overall win.
Nevertheless, the first corrected times were on the board, and now it was up to everyone else to beat them. We said in the Preview that we thought it would be a small boat race, because they would still be racing when the breeze filled back in, and so it proved.
We can see in Pic 6 with the weather situation at midday on Wednesday that the big low pressure that had been hovering out in the Atlantic had finally swept in, pushing aside the high and bringing 20-30 knots of south-westerly into the Irish Sea and the south coast of England.
This was a classic small boat set-up – the big boats sail almost their entire race in light air, and as soon as they finish and the clock stops for them, the breeze fills in and the rest of the fleet finish the race in great conditions. In this situation the smaller the boat the better, as they have sailed a smaller proportion of their total race in light air at the point when the breeze fills in, so long as it stays in.
And it did – check out Pic 7 from Thursday at midday, where we can see that the low has intensified and stalled in just the right spot to maintain an almost perfect wind direction and speed – south-southwesterly at 20-30 knots – for a fast leg across the Irish Sea and back, round the Scilly’s and into Plymouth.
Those conditions stayed in place through to the time of writing, with Pic 8 showing much the same scenario at midday on Friday 21st August. In this set-up the small boats should make hay while the sun shone. And they did.
The race office hadn’t declared a winner at the time of writing, but you can see in Pic 9 that the top ten on the leaderboard all have a rating of 1.052 or less – and with most of the fleet now finished or on the home straight I can’t see anyone upsetting this order.
If I’m right, then the two JPK 10.8’s of Gery Trentesaux (Courrier Du Leon) and Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret’s Dream Pearls will be first and second in both the biggest class, IRC Overall and IRC 3, with Gerard Quenot’s JPK 10.1, Alkaid III making up the IRC Overall podium and winning IRC 4.
In Pic 10 we can see Courrier Du Leon’s track (in green), she went offshore on the first night, then dived into Start Bay as the breeze died on Monday. They were unable to take advantage of the small low that sped the big boats across the Irish Sea, but nevertheless did a great job of using everything they got in the way of breeze to be rounding the Fastnet Rock at the moment that Comanche finished.
The new wind was already filling from the north and west at that point, and Courrier Du Leon – along with the others on the podium – was perfectly placed to take best advantage of it. They had a little less than half of their race to go, and would complete it in almost perfect conditions for a fine overall win.
And that’s it for this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. All the results – and a really nice tracker – are available on the RORC’s event website if you want to dig into the race a little more. No records this year and plenty of weirdness – I’m sure everyone who was out there has a half dozen stories to tell of the conditions – but that’s the beauty of this classic race track… you never know what you’re going to get.
Background: The 603nm Rolex Fastnet Race is organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), with the 46th edition of the biennial race to start off the Royal Yacht Squadron line, Cowes, Isle of Wight on Sunday 16th August 2015. It is the largest offshore race in the world and attracts the most diverse fleet of yachts.