As expected the big boats have broken away with Mike Slade’s 100-foot supermaxi ICAP Leopard, rounding Land’s End at around 0930 GMT and by 1500 she was halfway to the Fastnet Rock turning mark.
“It is a nice sunny day outside here, it could be a lot worse,” commented Slade, adding that the sea was flattening out after a bumpy ride up the Channel. Since rounding Lands End, with the wind from the west, ICAP Leopard, as well as the boats chasing her, have headed on a more northerly course, compared to the direct route to the Fastnet Rock.
As Volvo Ocean Race navigator Simon Fisher explained from on board Team Pindar, third placed in the Open 60 fleet and 41 miles from Slade’s race leader: “Big picture, the wind is going to come around to the northwest eventually. So we are off to the right in the hope that we have a nice shift, while trying to get into the best position relative to the other boats around us, in order to make the most of that.” The question for the boats presently mid-Celtic Sea is when the wind will veer from the west to the northwest and if they can lay the Rock in one tack when this shift comes.
At 1500 GMT, ICAP Leopard was just 25 miles ahead of Karl Kwok’s Farr 80 Beau Geste and 34 miles ahead of Niklas Zennstrom’s Judel-Vrolijk 72, Ran 2.
“We expect the breeze to come down a little bit, particularly once we have rounding the rock and are heading back. So, we have to be careful we don’t fall in a hole,” Slade continued. “But the boat is loving this bouncy stuff. We are going at 11.75-12 knots doing about 42deg TWA, and we are enjoying ourselves. I am looking forward to a beer in Plymouth, but I will have to wait a day and a half I have the feeling!” To date the most wind ICAP Leopard has seen is 22 knots.
Despite her length advantage, even ICAP Leopard experienced a hard time last night as she negotiated the English Channel. “The hardest part was the sloppy seas and light air in Lyme Bay, and trying to avoid being sucked up north at Start Point or into Plymouth Bay, and trying to get down around the Lizard. Ray Davies and Hugh Agnew have done a great job and have kept us out of trouble,” said Slade. ICAP Leopard’s ETA at the Fastnet Rock is expected to be 0100GMT.
Slade believes that this year the Rolex Fastnet Race will favour the small boats as was the case in 2005. “The breeze is going to fill in behind us once we are round the Rock. It looks like it will fill in for the next day and half to two days and it will bring the small boats in on handicap.”
Behind, the leading Open 60s are doing well to stay in contact with the larger Mini Maxis. Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on board Artemis Ocean Racing continue to lead in theory, being closer to the rhumb line, but with less than four miles separating them from Marc Guillemot’s newly relaunched Safran and Pindar. Their ETA at the Fastnet Rock is around 0500-0600 GMT tomorrow morning. Some, such as Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss,have not been so fortunate - Thomson’s black boat some 47 miles behind the leaders at 1600.
The Open 60s also suffered last night. “It was very light and very shifty with the pressure coming from here and there, it was a question of trying to position ourselves in the best place to take advantage of all the puffs and shifts,” said Simon Fisher. “It was very tricky and hard for us as well because we are in one of the most powerful boats, but that is part of the package.” Pindar was never completely becalmed, but there were some slow moments and their competitors who went inshore, suffered horribly.
From on board Artemis Ocean Racing, Sam Davies reported: “We were really, really proud to be first out of the Solent, or joint first with BT because we were really neck and neck. Quite thankful to be sailing with a crew especially on this trip as it’s been really full on and lots of energetic manoeuvres - tacks, gybes, stacking… Physically it’s tough and mentally it’s quite hard as well because the wind has not really done what it was forecast to do, so it’s been a bit of ‘seat of your pants’ sailing.
“We’re going upwind in 15-20 knots of wind and we’ve got wind against tide. We’re sailing fast upwind so Artemis Ocean Racing is bouncing off each wave. Now the wind has built the boat speed should come a bit more easily with our nice wide, powerful lady! We have really poor visibility so we can’t actually see the other boats even though they are only a couple of miles away. So it was a nice surprise when I finally managed to log on and saw our position and discovered that we’d gone round Land’s End in first place! I did run out on a deck with a little bit of excitement for 30 seconds! But it’s all so close and there’s still a lot to do. We will try and get the most out of this upwind leg as we know that’s where we are quite strong, in order to have as much in the bag as possible for the lighter downwind bit on the way back from the ‘rock’. I’m hoping that here in the Irish Sea we will have more steady conditions as it is going to be really important for us all to get rested.”
Dee Caffari and Aviva have dropped to fifth, but remain in contact. Dee reported: “It has been a very grey and damp day aboard Aviva and we have been living life at an angle as we crash upwind in a moderate sea state. Although we are in the height of summer, foul weather gear has been the dress code for today. We have continuously had BT and Pindar on our bow and hope that we can reverse that position in the coming hours! There are a few other boats around us but visibility is such that we cannot identify them."
At some point soon we will need to tack west and head towards the Fastnet Rock, which is about 120 miles away.
Among the smaller Class 40s, last night was make or break according to how rapidly you could overcome the foul tide. When the wind shut down Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group was one of a mass of boats that were forced to deploy their anchor to prevent themselves behind sluiced east back up the course by the tide.
“Just before Portland Bill, we had to anchor in 45m of depth, but only for half an hour - the wind kicked in again, so it was not too bad,” recounted French skipper Tanguy de LaMotte. De LaMotte reckons it was a lot worse for others. “The guys who were inshore had really big trouble to get wind and they had to wait for longer. So I think that is where we got up front.” At 1600 off Falmouth, Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group was third among the Class 40s, with German Boris Herrmann’s new Akilaria Beluga Racer neck and neck for the lead with Conquerants de Normandie - Bovis Lend Lease Italy.
De LaMotte says the most wind they have seen has been 20 knots and it has been constantly upwind, not particularly taxing and okay for getting sleep.
Typically the larger boats were affected less last night off Portland Bill. From the US, Bryon Ehrhart’s TP52 Lucky, took the option to head offshore out of the worst of the current, but suffered more longer term. “We weren’t sure where our competition was,” said skipper Rodney Hagebols, adding that thanks to their offshore tactics, they didn’t have to anchor. “Today was the first boat that we have seen, an OD48. All the other boats were inshore and we went for the new breeze.”
At the end of this afternoon Lucky had rounded the Lizard but was well behind Nigel Passmore’s TP52 Apollo, but ahead of the other TP52s John Merricks II and Cutting Edge.
Under handicap, Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran 2 was leading IRC SZ, while Jamie Olazabal’s Spanish Swan 56 La Floresta del Mar was just past the Lizard at the front of Class IRC Z. Half way between Start Point and the Lizard, Cyrille Legloahec’s A40RC Batistyl was leading IRC 1 with Didier Dardot’s Sphinx 33 Parsifal ahead in IRC 2, just past Plymouth, and just south of the IRC 3 handicap leader, Bateaux Mouches du Pont de l'Alma, the X-332 of France’s Fabrice Amedeo.
The forecast shows the wind veering to the northwest across the race course tonight and continuing to veer north and lighten by tomorrow morning.