Close racing on a brutal first day

 03 July 2016

The first few hours of the outward leg to the Fastnet Rock proved extremely tough for the 44 skippers in the Round the Rock Race, with gusts of above 35 knots kicking up a severe sea state in wind against tide conditions. Jeremy Waitt on the JPK10.10 Jangada reported “8ft standing waves in the Needles Channel – the worst I have seen there.”

Not surprisingly, there have been a number of retirements, mostly as the result of gear breakages. Of the nine boats that have dropped out so far, four were due to pilot problems. Nicholas Pasternak’s JPK10.10 Jaasap was leading when his pilot forced him to retire to Weymouth on the first night. The following morning, another front runner, Nigel Colley’s Sunfast 3600 Fastrak X, gybed involuntarily with the A5 spinnaker up when the pilot failed, resulting in the sheets fouling the saildrive and rudders.

Two other skippers – George Istead (Contessa 32, Concerto) and Chris Craven (Van de Stadt Seal 36, Otaria) – pulled out following injuries sustained during falls in the heavy seas in the early part of the race. Both were able to return safely to Lymington without outside assistance. 

After 24 hours at sea the front half of the fleet was making quick progress to the south of Plymouth, in a brisk easterly breeze on the south side of a small low pressure system. The fleet has started spread out, with the front runners reaching speeds of 10 knots for a period.

Nevertheless, the front of IRC Class 2 is particularly tight, with the four front-runners separated by only two miles on the basis of distance to the finish. At 1200 Pierrick Penven’s Sunfast 3200 Zephyrin was leading this fleet, ahead of Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK10.10 Raging Bee, Jeremy Waitt in another JPK10.10, Jangada, and Deb Fish’s Sunfast 3200 Exocet. While the need for rest will clearly be playing on these skippers’ minds, they will also be doing everything in their powers to push their boats as hard as possible to avoid giving ground away to their competitors. 

Deb Fish (Sunfast 3200, Exocet) reported this afternoon: “Yesterday was tough, with lots of slamming after a frantic start. It got very tactical last night, with Roxanne and Jaasap playing the tide well at Portland, but going offshore to the TSS in anticipation of the wind backing paid off. 

“Lovely sailing today, with Sous Mama, Jangada, Game On and Bam all very close. Bellino a few miles ahead. Zephyrin got away flying his kite in 25 knots. It’s champagne sailing at the moment.”

The easterly breeze is likely to ease in the next few hours, leaving a short period of calm in its wake that’s likely to see the fleet become more compressed. This will then be replaced with a building west or west south-westerly air flow as new weather systems move in from the Atlantic.

All but a handful of the back markers are now west of Start Point. The slowest-rated entry, Jim Schofield’s Nicholson 32 Thisbe, is just entering Lyme Bay, around 10 miles south of Portland Bill and is showing remarkable tenacity.

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