Victors emerge from 336 starters in Fastnet Race

 

Plymouth

In miserable rain there were celebrations developing in Plymouth as places were settled in the 45th Rolex Fastnet Race, the biennial battle on the briny around a desolate rock off the south-west corner of Ireland.

On Tuesday, 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 through Tuesday night. The 100-foot Esimit Europa, skippered by German Olympian Jochen Schuemann, three golds and a silver, was ahead of Britain's Mike Slade's rival 100-footer Leopard by over five hours over the line.

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, held off rival Niklas Zennstrôm's Rán, already with two Fastnet wins to its name, to the finish but the British-based team beat the American-led challenge, with Kiwi Mike Sanderson as crewboss, on handicap.

In the Volvo class, Team SCA, Sweden's all-woman entry in next year's round the world race, and Abu Dhabi's Azzam, skippered by Ian Walker, are both last generation Open 70s, both teams waiting to take delivery of their new Volvo 65s.

While there are three male coaches in the SCA crew, the Abu Dhabi crew, including some under-30s fighting for two 2014-15 places and a couple of gnarly old campaigners, came from behind to cross the line first. But it was not enough.

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 and on handicap they beat Azzam's corrected time.

This year's Vendée Globe winner François Gabart won the Open 60 class partnered by twice Vendée winner Michel Desjoyeaux in Maçif by less than a minute from Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt in Mâitre Coq. 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, was 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.

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