Rolex Fastnet Race - The big boys round the rock

Gitana 11 (FRA) rounding Fastnet Rock
The Rolex Fastnet Race is currently in progress and now, the two large trimarans in the fleet have rounded the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland at around 0930 this morning. As expected Loick Peyron's Maxi Banque Populaire (FRA) was leading, but surprisingly just eight miles ahead of the Seb Josse-skippered Gitana 11 (FRA), despite the latter being just 77 feet compared to Maxi Banque Populaire's monstrous 140-foot long hulls. Once around, the boats have approximately 250 miles (on the rhumb line) to sail to the finish in Plymouth.

Last night both boats, along with the two MOD70 trimarans Veolia Environnement (FRA) and Race for Water (SUI), overstood the Scilly Isles, in order to lay the Fastnet Rock in one tack and take advantage of a small left hand wind shift while crossing the Celtic Sea between the southwest end of England and the south coast of Ireland. The reason Gitana 11 (FRA) is so close is that after leaving the Scillies to starboard she tacked north for the Rock earlier than her larger rival, sailing a substantially shorter course as a result.

At the time the two on the water leaders rounded the Fastnet Rock this morning, the wind had dropped to ten knots from the west-southwest and the sea state had abated.

Meanwhile in the heavyweight bout between the 100 foot super-maxi monohulls, the crew on Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard (GBR) are doing a fine job fending off the attack of George David's faster Rambler100 (USA). The two boats passed between the Scilly Isles and Land's End at 0630 BST this morning, but there were a large group of powerful boats shadowing them close behind.

The three Volvo Open 70s passed between Land's End and the Scilly Isles at around 0830 BST this morning and Mike Sanderson's Team Sanya (CHN) had pulled off a similar move to Gitana 11 in tacking north earlier than her two rivals and this was enough to give her an eight mile lead on her rivals, the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (UAE) and Franck Cammas' Groupama4 (FRA). However closest to the two super-maxis as they head out across the Celtic Sea was the Farr 80 Beau Geste (HKG), skippered by American Jim Swartz, just two miles ahead of Team Sanya at the latest update this morning.

Meanwhile, looking good on handicap in IRC Z was Niklas Zennstrom's J-V 72 Rán (GBR), winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race. Rán was taking a similar westerly track to Abu Dhabi and Groupama 4, just four miles ahead of her. This morning the bulk of IR Z are rounding the Lizard, off the south of Cornwall, while IRC 1 is still mid-way between the Lizard and Start Point with the Swan 62, Uxorious IV (GBR), leading on the water.

The IRC 2 fleet is close behind IRC 1 with the trio of RORC Commodore Andrew McIrvine's First 40 La Réponse, the J/122 Joopster and the A-40 Vitaris Reponse leading the charge on the water.

Like IRC 2, the majority of the IRC 3 fleet were tacking a long tack out into the Channel, with Geronimo 2 was leading on the water. The leaders in IRC4 were also mid-way between Start Point and the Lizard with the S&S 41 Winsome ahead on the water.

Overnight there have been a few more retirements. Aboard the Sigma 38 Zanzara in IRC 4, a crewman was lifted off with a broken leg at 0745 this morning. Meanwhile Richard Palmer's J/109 Jangada Too is retiring into Plymouth with electrical problems.

The weather situation remains complex with a compact depression to the west of Ireland, a substantially larger depression over Iceland, and an area of high pressure over the Bay of Biscay. For those venturing across the Celtic Sea, the movement of these fronts early Tuesday morning is key as they will cause a wind shift from the southwest to the northwest.

The Rolex Fastnet Race finish is in Plymouth Harbour. The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. In addition, there are more than 30 other trophies that will be awarded at the prize giving on Friday, 19 August at the historic Royal Citadel. The Citadel, home to the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooks Plymouth Sound and Sutton Harbour, where the majority of the fleet will berth.

Rolex Fastnet Race website