The rich got richer and the slow got slower as the record 336 starters in the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race were either home and dry as frontrunners, or the rest cursed their luck at what the wind gods decided to hand out.
First home was the 131-foot trimaran Spindrift in an elapsed 38 hours 53min 58sec with co-skippers Dona Bertarelli, sister of America’s cup winner Ernesto, and Yann Guichard only half happy. The record is six hours faster and the boat, when in Banque Populaire colours, set the fastest time for sailing round the world.
Now in the Banque Pop livery and in second-place by 22min 41sec was the former world record holder when it was Groupama but, perhaps more impressive than both was the 70-foot trimaran Oman Air-Musandam which was crossed the breakwater finish line of the nominal 611-mile race just one hour behind Banque Pop.
“We did well out of the Solent, putting in 29 tacks, but it was at Land’s End that we took the decision to go north round the shipping lane exclusion zone while most of the others went west,” said Oman Air tactician Neal McDonald.
The wind then conveniently switched clockwise in direction, which made the tactical call the winning option for a crew skippered by Sidney Gavignet and including British coach Dee Caffari and one of her charges, Raiya al Habsi. Caffari is schooling the Omani women ahead of next year’s Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
Behind them three fierce battles were continuing into Tuesday night. The 100-foot Esimit Europa, skippered by German Olympian Jochen Schuemann, three golds and a silver, was holding off Britain’s Mike Slade in rival 100-footer Leopard.
And in the 72-foot mini-maxis Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente, winner last week in AAM Cowes Week of the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup, was holding off rival Niklas Zennstrôm’s Rán while there was all to play for in the Volvo class.
With 130 miles to run there was less than two miles between Team SCA, the all-woman entry in next year’s Volvo round the world race, and Abu Dhabi’s Azzam, skippered by Ian Walker, both boats last generation Open 70s, both teams waiting to take delivery early next year of their new Volvo 65s.
While there are three male coaches in the SCA crew, there were reminiscences of a previous Volvo encounter between rival boats in the Amer Sports team where Kiwi boss Grant Dalton had vowed to walk up Auckland’s main street with a pineapple placed very uncomfortably on his person if the men lost to the women.
It was McDonald’s wife, Lisa Charles, who, as then skipper of the women’s team, made sure the photograph had to be taken, though the walk was avoided. This time SCA has solo round the world sailor Sam Davies as navigator. As a former captain of (rowing) boats at St. John’s College, Cambridge she has Cambridge rowing, sailing and rugby blue and sailing Olympian Annie Lush alongside her. The full team has yet to be announced but Davies and Lush are already selected.
This year’s Vendée Globe winner François Gabart was leading the Open 60 class partnered by twice Vendée winner Michel Desjoyeaux in Maçif with Britain’s Alex Thomson, partnered by the man who will join him in next year’s double handed round the world Barcelona Race, Guillermo Altadill, lying third.
But there is only one trophy that truly matters, the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the handicap winner and that may not be decided until much later. “With the weather forecast as it is, and the small boats need strong winds for their finish, the overall winner may not be decided until just before the prize giving on Friday,” said Eddie Warden Owen, chief executive of the organising Royal Ocean Racing Club.