Records smashed, boats smashed, but people safe in the 44th Rolex Fastnet Race. The 2007 record of 44 hours and 18 minutes was chopped by one hour and thirty-nine minutes as British Olympic medal winner Ian Walker brought Abu Dhabi’s Volvo race entry Azzam over the finish line just in time for breakfast.
Just four and a half minutes astern was Franck Cammas in Walker’s French rival Groupama and, though just seconds under an hour behind Walker, previous Volvo winner Mike Sanderson’s China entry, Sanya, ensured that all three Volvo boats in the race beat the previous record.
“I am distraught,” said previous holder Mike Slade, who intends to refit his 100-foot Leopard over the winter. “I haven’t got my record any more. I don’t even want a pint, not even an ice cream. But, records are there to be broken.”
Rather more broken was the other 100-footer, Rambler, entered by the American George David. The boat immediately capsized when the keel was ripped off at the root. Most of the crew was on deck at the time but at least two, project manager Mick Harvey and navigator Peter Isler, below deck at the time, had to use the escape hatch in the stern and swim up to the surface.
Also in trouble were David and his partner Wendy Touton, who were among five swept away from the boat. They were in the water for two and a half hours, arms linked in a circle, before being picked up by a diverted fishing boat, the Wave Chieftain. Wendy Touton was further airlifted by helicopter and taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.
There was a strong wind, a bumpy sea and even some fog as the four were taken to Baltimore Harbour and reunited with the other 16, who had been picked up by the Baltimore lifeboat. Harvey was then organising the salvage of the hull.
Hoping to defend successfully the title of overall race winner in 2009 was Niklas Zennström, whose 72-foot Rán finished 13th overall, but already knowing they were ahead of Leopard on corrected time.
Zennström, becoming as well known for his sailing exploits as he is for being a co-founder of the Skype internet communications system, said it had been a truly exciting ride back to Plymouth from the rock with frequent changes for the very physical job of steering the boat as they continued to push hard.
Added navigator Steve Hayles: “Right now, it looks good for a successful defence,” as conditions at sea eased and the majority of the fleet, down to 285 after 29 retirements, wondered if feast would turn to famine as a new light air weather system rolled into the Western Approaches.