Rolex Fastnet Race - Blistering first 24 hours for the Class40's

Michel Kleinjans and his GOR crew are leading the Fastnet Class40s with Roaring Forty 2
Rolex Fastnet Race - At 11:20 local time on Sunday, 19 fully-crewed Class40’s crossed the startline of the 600-mile race. After 24 hours of racing, the familiar Class40-close combat and drama is evident.

With a total of 314 yachts starting the race, the fully-crewed Class40’s had the third start of the day, following the giant multihulls and the IMOCA Open 60’s, who sucked most of the spectator craft and press boats westwards down The Solent in their wakes, leaving a relatively uncluttered startline for the Class40’s. With a blustery, south-westerly breeze and the beginning of the ebb tide favouring the island shore, the majority of the Class40 fleet opted for the, inshore, Royal Yacht Squadron end of the line with a tussle at the inner distance mark between Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) entry Michel Kleinjans on his new BT Boats Kiwi 40FC, Roaring Forty 2; Tanguy de Lamotte on the Rogers Design Initiatives – Alex Olivier and Benoit Daval’s Pogo Class40, Techneau.

Short tacking continued along the Island shore with mid-Solent starters joining the pack, heading tight to Gurnard Ledge and into Thorness Bay and as the ebb began to build across The Solent, the fleet fanned out, beating on port tack across to the mainland shore with Francesco Piva with his Italian crew on the BT Boats Kiwi 40FC Paraspera and Initiatives – Alex Olivier at the front of the pack. By the time the Class40 fleet reached the pinch point at Hurst Narrows, the tide was at full-strength, building into a tall, rolling swell against the wind.

As GOR entries, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs, hit the Hurst Castle overfalls at full tilt on their Akilaria, Eutourist Serv-System, the eye on the jib’s upper furling swivel fitting failed and the yacht’s mast toppled over. With extremely quick reactions, the five crew avoided injury and – fortunately – the carbon spar remained on board. Swiftly, and in demanding conditions, the team picked up a tow from the GOR chase boat standing-by and were taken to Yarmouth to assess the damage. On Monday morning, having returned to Endeavour Quay, Gosport, Nannini and Peggs reported minimal damage to the mast and subsequent ultrasound testing gave the carbon spar a clean bill of health. The GOR double-handed team expect to have the mast re-stepped by the end of the week.

Once through Hurst Narrows, passed the Needles and into clear air, the pace increased with Kleinjans on Roaring Forty 2 with his GOR co-skippers, David Thomson and Belgian yachtsman Ian Wittevrongel, taking the lead with De Lamotte and Initiatives – Alex Olivier, the Italians with Peraspera and Mathias Mueller von Blumencron with Red just two miles behind. Overnight, Kleinjans and his Belgian-British crew held the lead as the breeze switched north-westerly with Roaring Forty 2 averaging just under nine knots. With the wind going left as the Class40’s streamed passed Start Point in the early hours of Monday morning, the fleet kept on starboard tack, heading away from the English coast with Andrew Dawson and Spliff – the inshore boat in the fleet in 12th place – blinking first and tacking onto port at daybreak, followed a couple of hours later by Marc Lepesqueux with Marie Toit – Caen La Mer and GOR entries, Ross and Campbell Field on BSL.

By mid-morning, almost the entire fleet had tacked onto port, heading towards Lizard Point with the two Farr Yacht Design BT Boats Kiwi 40FC’s at the front: Kleinjans and Roaring Forty 2 continuing to lead, just ahead of Francesco Piva on Peraspera, with the early tack appearing to pay-off for Lepesqueux and the Fields as the father-and-son team moved BSL up to third, just one mile behind the leader, chased by Marie Toit – Caen La Mer only one mile off the Field’s port quarter and with Tanguy de Lamotte and Initiatives – Alex Olivier hard on the chase . 'We find ourselves in third behind the two new Farr boats, and barely ahead of Tanguy, who probably has the most miles of anyone in these boats,' reported Campbell Field on Monday morning. 'We have quite a few boats in sight, we are measuring every change in trim and speed against them and we are hanging in there,' he continued. 'At daybreak, south-west of the Lizard, we found ourselves in good company and learnt a great deal as we appeared to at some stages have the doors being blown off of us,' admits Campbell. 'But after a bit of reconfiguring, we were back in the game…a constant learning process.' Impressively, the Akilaria RC2, Concise 2, sailed double-handed by Ned Collier-Wakefield and Jonny Malbon, remained in close contact with the fully-crewed boats, just a few miles behind Initiatives – Alex Olivier holding fifth place.

Meanwhile, American yachtsman, Joe Harris, with his Akilaria RC2 Gryphon Solo 2 had been struggling with headsail damage since late on Sunday afternoon. A seven metre tear along the Solent’s leech and a two metre horizontal rip rendered the sail inoperative and racing with the staysail left the boat critically underpowered. 'Although I immediately had a sinking feeling at the time that our race was over, we kept racing under the staysail,' explains Harris. Once the team had rounded Portland Bill, they took stock. 'We sent Tristan Mouligne up the mast in the bosun’s chair on a spinnaker halyard and then unfurled the sail,' Harris continues. 'The sail is lashed to a swivel on the mast and Tristan cut the lashing and the sail fell down the headstay to the deck. We looked the sail over carefully and determined that the damage was too extensive to repair, so we would not be able to use it.'

With the forecast predicting further headwinds, the situation was less than ideal. 'We were left with the smaller staysail and the larger Code Zero, neither of which are effective going to windward in eight to 16 knots of wind, which is exactly what we had and were forecast to have more of,' confirmed the American skipper. The imminent shipment of Gryphon Solo 2 to the USA also contributed to the decision. 'Reluctantly, we turned around as we were approaching The Lizard headland and are heading to Dartmouth to pick up diesel to allow us to return to Gosport,' he reports. 'It is a big bummer to have to retire, but we were certainly no longer competitive and the time frame it would take to finish the race was beyond what we had planned.' As Harris and his team headed for Dartmouth, a second Class40, Stuart Dodd’s Livewire, also retired, heading to Plymouth.

As the breeze shifted south-west in the late morning, the lead boats picked up speed with Roaring Forty 2 passing Land’s End at 10 knots, four miles ahead of the Italians on Peraspera recording over 13 knots, with Initiatives – Alex Olivier and Red on a more southern approach and a hotter angle overhauling BSL and Marie Toit – Caen La Mer. By mid-afternoon, the fast reach to Fastnet Rock was underway for half of the Class40 fleet with Kleinjans and Piva separated by six miles and Tanguy de Lamotte in third, two miles behind the Italians with just seven miles separating the front six boats.

Follow the Rolex Fastnet Race Class40 fleet via the event’s race tracker.

Global Ocean Race website