Rolex Fastnet Race 2015: Spindrift 2 triumphs in Plymouth

'It was a classic finish to what will become a not-so-classic Fastnet'

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The Independent Online

The fastest boat was first home in an increasingly soggy Rolex Fastnet Race, but not by much and the fastest monohull was also not early enough over the finish line in Plymouth to avoid being soundly beaten on handicap by a fellow, but rival, American.

“It’s always a pleasure to come back to this legendary course,” explained Spindrift 2’s owner and co-skipper Dona Bertarelli at the finish. “The light, unpredictable winds made it all the more difficult. We had to use every last gust to make headway. The race required determination, endurance and teamwork. We had to perform a lot of manoeuvres and we had to test the changes made to prepare the boat for the Jules Verne Trophy. The results were positive from a technical point of view, because our power increased by 20% at certain points of sail.”

But Spindrift 2 was not much ahead of Lionel Lemonchois’ Prince de Bretagne – owned by the company which ships so many vegetables from Roscoff to Plymouth – as his former 60-foot trimaran, now stretched to 80 feet, lost to the 132-foot Spindrift by just two and a half hours.

“Obviously, it was a classic finish to what will become a not-so-classic Fastnet,” said Kenny Read, skipper of the 100-foot monohull, Comanche. “It was honestly one of the most bizarre races I’ve ever been in in my life – starts and stops, and people being left behind for dead, and all of a sudden they are sailing around you – it was phenomenal.”

Not so phenomenal that he could hold off George David’s 12 feet shorter Rambler and the tactical guile of Kiwi multiple  America’s Cup winner Brad Butterworth. Rambler was only 4min. 30sec. behind Comanche at Plymouth breakwater and that turned to a 9hr 44min 20sec advantage to Rambler once the handicapper had wielded his slide rule.

They are both likely to be confounded in their quest for the Fastnet Trophy by one of the faster 40-footers being driven home by some distinctly unsummery weather. Géry Trentesaux’s Courrier du Léon is among the front-runners.

The record entry for what was the 90th anniversary of the race reflects equally healthy entries for the week-in-week-out progamme of offshore racing run by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) for its members. The club also now has its flag flying over the former Royal Corinthian clubhouse in Cowes, in addition to its old St. James’s home in London, and is in good heart.

In addition to the long-established Fastnet platform, the daddy of the classic ocean races and enjoying a long-term sponsorship that stretches until 2021, it is also optimistic about its more recently established winter counter-attraction in Antigua, the Caribbean 600.

“In February you either go ski-ing or yacht racing in the Caribbean,” says RORC chief executive Eddie Warden Owen. “I’m surprised no-one thought of it before as it offers guaranteed sunshine, warm water, and perfect wind. We have taken the race to an existing customer base and it is proving very popular. It is the most fabulous sailing.”   

In contrast, the Olympic test event in Rio has been dogged by cancellations because of the, always forecast, light winds. It has always been known that the sailing venue could be like the London Olympics being forced to use Hyde Park for the downhill skiing, and Britain’s Olympic manager, Stephen Park, is treating the week-long event more as an intelligence-gathering foray than an attempt to establish pecking order authority. He may be right to take that tack as, at the halfway mark, the British team’s medal tally may not be what he will want to deliver in a year’s time.

Conditions are expected to be better in St. Petersburg, where the Extreme Sailing Series meets again with Oman Sail’s Leigh McMillan hoping to consolidate his 2015 series lead in The Wave, Muscat.