Patience and guile the keys for record fleet in Fastnet Race

Olympic fleet gathers in polluted Rio to test the pecking order

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A record entry for the Fastnet Race on the 90th birthday of the organising Royal Ocean Racing Club sets out from Cowes on Sunday but an eight-day clock may be more appropriate for its Rolex watch sponsor as the return of summer weather threatens.

Not howling gales and tales of bodies being hammered on the 605-mile trip round the lighthouse rock off the south-west tip of Ireland but an endurance test which involves stripping out all surplus weight and replacing it with extra supplies of food and water. Quite how many of the 370 boats entered for intrepid, almost bucket-list, adventure will miss the prizegiving party in Plymouth next Friday remains to be seen; many may already have retired and gone home.

RORC chief executive Eddie Warden Owen, said he thought the whole fleet was better prepared, but advised everyone to practice anchoring in case an adverse tide was stronger than the propelling wind.

“None of us does well in no wind,” said Kenny Read, skipper of the American 100-footer Comanche, saying that Griff Rhys-Jones in his 1930s classic Argyll could be going as fast at times.

Nor is there any record expected for the 135-foot trimaran Spindrift II, co-skippered by Yann Guichard and Swiss billionairess Dona Bertarelli. Avoiding traffic safety areas add 15 mile to their distance, while what must be one of the biggest double-handed races, caused by 59 entries, has the 32-footer Hurrying Angel’s Lucinda Allaway trying to emulate her father’s previous win. She is catering for at least a week.

Chattiest of those 59 could be Stuart Childerley and Kelvin Rawlings but, apart from fierce concentration needed to work the winds and tides, the winner is likely to emerge from a cleverly-campaigned club racing boat rather than a glamour grand prix contestant.

In Brazil, it is the turn of the sailors to put their lives on the line in a quite different way. There are continuing fears about the effects on health of the heavily polluted waters of Guanabara Bay, where some of the race courses are situated, and those on the outer courses have to sail there from the shore.

All sorts of promises to clean it up have been abandoned by Rio’s Olympic authorities, the International Olympic Committee tries to make stern noises, and the International Sailing Federation is stoutly diplomatic.

The sailors just want to race and the full-strength British squad is keen to see where it stands. As usual, declared medal targets are well below what is privately expected but the pecking order is important one year out. At least five medal positions should be achieved in the week, with Giles Scott still the banker to take over the gold medal slot in the Finn singlehander from Ben Ainslie.

Cowes Week waves goodbye to its long term sponsor, Aberdeen Asset Management, and makes optimistic noises about finding a replacement for next year. Britain’s biggest and most famous traditional town regatta can do little about a decision which is partly based on becoming a bigger player in the United States market.

But, Cowes Week, like all other events, is hit by the more general malaise of restrictions on corporate entertaining, through the Bribery Act in the UK and other legislation in Europe, the United States and the Far East. If the regatta had to live on its reserves and the entry fees of the participants it could and would.