Rolex Fastnet Race - French boats hold the upper hand

Maxi 80 Prince de Bretagne
© Marcel Mochet
Despite having been upwind since the start, the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet has been making excellent progress down the south coast of the UK since yesterday's start.

There have been no retirements overnight, and to date, just four boats from 335 starters have officially dropped out. The most dramatic was the grounding of the brand new Cayman Islands-registered Botin 65, Caro, which went hard onto Salt Mead Ledge at the top of the tide yesterday afternoon. She has since been pulled off but has been forced to retire back to Endeavour Quay in Gosport.

The Clipper 68, New York, retired after suffering a fire on board and didn't make the start. The Farr 52, Toe in the Water, withdrew yesterday afternoon when a winch pulled out of her deck. The Royal Navy Nicholson 55, Dasher, is also out after another boat collided with her.

At 0130 BST this morning, Sidney Gavignet's crew on board the Oman Air-Musandam MOD70 trimaran led the substantially larger Armel le Cleac'h-skippered Banque Populaire past Land's End, hugging the shore this morning. Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard's even larger 40m long Spindrift two chose a different route to the west, only tacking north once they were south of the Scilly Isles. The lead trio remains close with the Omani MOD70 a nose ahead.

'The sea is quite choppy so it is not easy,' said Dona Bertarelli. 'It makes for a lot of work on the deck for the team to trim the sails and to keep up a good speed in these short waves. During the night we had less wind near the Scilly Isles, which has been really bad for the speed of Spindrift two. So our friends on the other multihulls have gained ground on us and now a new fight begins to reach the Fastnet in first position.'

Mike Slade's Farr 100, ICAP Leopard, continues to hang on to the coat tails of the monohull front runner, the Gazprom-backed European maxi, Esimit Europa two. Both are passing west of the traffic separate scheme (TSS) at Longships off Land's End, with Leopard just four miles astern of her rival. But on handicap it is the Baltic 78, Lupa of London, that leads IRC Canting Keel.

Six miles behind Leopard, and approaching the TSS, is Team SCA, which, in the on-going Volvo Open 70 match race, overtook Ian Walker's team on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing off Start Point at 2300 BST last night.

'We had a park up at Start Point which turned our race inside out,' Walker reported. 'We had tide against and we went off wider, hoping to carry some wind round, worried about getting stuck under the cliffs. Unfortunately everyone else just sent it right in under the cliffs and ghosted through while we got stuck. We lost about five-six miles to the girls and to some of the Open 60s and Bella Mente. We made a few gains back and then had a big fish on the rudder. That took about 20 minutes to clear off the port rudder. Other than that it is going alright.'

Walker reported that off the TSS they currently have 16 knots from the north-west (although they had seen as much as 20 knots) and they had just decided to follow the leaders up the western end of the TSS.

Bella Mente Racing at Day One of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week 2013

A similar match race is going on just between the 72ft Judel Vrolijk Mini Maxis. 3.5 miles behind the Abu Dhabi VO70 and having just passed the longitude of Land's End, American Hap Fauth's Bella Mente is just over three miles ahead of her older rival, Niklas Zennstrom's Rán two, the Rolex Fastnet Race defending champion. The bulk of IRC Zero is due south of the Lizard, including the IRC Zero leader on handicap, the Russian team on the Swan 60, Bronenosec, skippered by Vladimir Liubomirov.

After passing Portland Bill yesterday evening, the IRC Zero fleet, en masse, dug into Lyme Bay, but since passing Start Point has pushed south of the rhumb line to the Lizard.

One of the most impressive performances in the race continues to be that of Vendée Globe winners François Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux, who are leading the IMOCA 60 class aboard the former's MACIF. Despite being 12ft shorter and being sailed doublehanded, MACIF is lying between the Mini Maxis on the water.

Behind, once again French boats are dominating all of the remaining classes on handicap. Overall IRC leader at present is François Lognone's J/122, Nutmeg IV, also front runner in IRC Two. She is shortly to pass the Lizard and is right on the coat tails of the IRC One leader, Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau's Grand Soleil 43, Codiam, second overall under IRC. Both boats are past competitors in French teams contesting the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. The bulk of IRC One and Two is at present due south of Plymouth.

The IRC One boats were forced to shave Portland Bill last night to keep out of the worst of the tide with Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, continuing to lead the charge on the water, passing Start Point at around 0230 BST.

Jean Jacques Godet's J/120, Rhapsodie V, is ahead in IRC 3, close to the rhumb line between Start Point and the Lizard, while around five miles behind on the water, Noel Racine's JPK 10.10, Foggy Dew, is leading IRC Four.

Fastnet website