Giants set pace in murky conditions

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The Independent Online

Collisions, retirements with barely a hundred yards covered, and the prospect of a rough, tough first night marked the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race yesterday. A few even managed to miss the start line and will face a penalty when they arrive at the finish in Plymouth.

Collisions, retirements with barely a hundred yards covered, and the prospect of a rough, tough first night marked the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race yesterday. A few even managed to miss the start line and will face a penalty when they arrive at the finish in Plymouth.

But there were no such problems for Olympic silver medallist John Kostecki. The skipper of one of a quartet of VO60s pulled a master-stroke to power in from the left-hand side of the track and cross all his rivals, Roy Heiner in Assa Abloy, Jez Fanstone in News Corp, and Gunnar Krantz in SEB. Fanstone, however, was back in the lead by the time the boats reached the Needles.

Not to be outdone, Britain's gold medallist Iain Percy, at the helm of the smallest boat in the super class, the 52-foot Australian-owned Loco, produced a similar move to outsmart yachts nearly twice his size. But, as they set off in chase of the 230-boat fleet heading westward past the Needles into the English Channel, it was the giants that were striding most purposefully through the murky, threatening conditions. The breeze was gusting up to 23 knots and the turning tide kicked up a nasty Solent chop.

But an early stumble held up Ludde Ingvall's 79-foot Nicorette with another British gold medallist, Shirley Robertson, aboard. They broke a batten in the mainsail just before the start and had to cross the line late and with just a small headsail pulling as the crew frantically worked to make a repair. It took nearly half an hour before the sail could be rehoisted and Ingvall reported they were in hot pursuit and "going like a bat out of hell."

For many, the weather forecasts were proving rather too accurate and there was a hope, especially among the smaller boats, that things might change. The first night was expected to be a bumpy.

That would suit the big boats, but others may have to tack out to sea to clear the headlands, and that would cost them time. A new high-pressure weather system pushing up from the south could mean the wind will turn much lighter which would result in a much longer race for the small boats, some of whom have memories of drifting around the Scillies for days.

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