The first seven solo skippers rounded the Fastnet Rock at lunchtime today, led by three Sunfast 3600s, Conor Fogarty’s Bam, Rob Craigie’s Bellino and Ian Hoddle’s GameOn. The front of the fleet is still tightly packed, with many boats rounding within sight of another. They reached the iconic turning mark after another 24-hour period with both gales and calms.
Yesterday evening the fleet again battled headwinds that peaked above 35 knots, with huge breaking Atlantic waves. “Yesterday’s pleasant reach at the Isles of Scilly became progressively tougher as the wind built and headed, so we enjoyed more bouncing upwind across the Celtic Sea,” reported Deb Fish (Sunfast 3200, Exocet). “I have to admit I slept most of it! The pilot is a very good co-skipper, steered all the way across without a single moan. It’s not so good at making tea as a real co-skipper though. This is turning into a tough old race.”
Other skippers had a harder time than Fish in the strong winds – both Jeremy Waitt (JPK10.10, Jangada) and Sam White (Sunfast 3200, Mzungu) reported breaking waves sweeping their decks. In addition, with the wind significantly stronger than forecast a number of boats were caught with too much sail up.
“Yesterday started well - I caught and overtook Bellino and then moved in on Raging Bee who was 4 miles ahead at the start that morning,” Ian Hoddle (Sunfast 3600, Game On) reports. “This was followed by another nasty pasting as a new weather system arrived – 34 knot gusts with horrendous big seas.
“Left my reefing too late – was only expecting a maximum of 25 knots of breeze… the pilot crash tacked and my J2 (headsail) ripped its leech as I wrestled it to the deck. So up went the storm jib to get us going again. By late evening the wind all but disappeared and we spent the night trying to get to the TSS off Fastnet.”
Hoddle was not alone in sustaining sail damage – this morning Ari Känsäkoski (Fuji, Class 40) reported having broken his mainsail. He was waiting for the sail to dry before attempting repairs and sailing only on a headsail in the meantime. Nevertheless, he intends to finish the race, even if he is only able to use the mainsail in light airs.
There’s now a growing band of retired boats in Plymouth, which will soon be joined by the lowest-rated boat in the fleet, Jim Schofield’s venerable Nicholson 32 Thisbe, who retired due to lack of progress in the challenging conditions.
The rest of today promises a slowly building breeze for the leaders, which will help them extend their advantage in the short term. However as the front-runners approach Lands End they will hit another period of calm thanks to a weak ridge of high pressure. This will tend to compress the fleet, allowing the slower boats to catch up, before further low pressure systems move in from the west later in the week.