Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Epic Fastnet

This Rolex Fastnet Race bears more resemblance to a Rolex Sydney Hobart than your average Fastnet. Broken boats, masts, sails and limbs have led to a high attrition rate, with almost 200 of the 271 starters having retired.

All epic stuff, and a far cry from the Fastnet of two years ago, when the fleet drifted around in Mediterranean conditions that barely topped 4 knots – until the Friday that is – when the small boats trickled into Plymouth on new breeze and a little 33-footer from France, Iromiguy, won the race on handicap.

It’s hard to see that happening this time. The big boats have had a dream run, and congratulations to Mike Slade and his rockstar crew on ICAP Leopard who smashed the course record. The 100-foot canting keeler completed the 608 mile course in just one day, 20 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds. Beating the previous record by an incredible eight hours and 50 minutes, ICAP Leopard crossed the finish line just before 9am this morning.

With Neville Crichton pulling Alfa Romeo out of the race on the first day, due to a torn mainsail, Neville’s going to have to stump up £5000 to the Ellen MacArthur Trust for losing his friendly wager with Mike. Well done to both owners for keeping a sense of humour and perspective over their high-level racing. Maybe Larry and Ernesto could settle their differences with a similar friendly wager? Chance would be a fine thing…

Meanwhile, behind the few fast boats which are safely arrived in Plymouth, the smaller yachts face a much tougher battle in the Celtic Sea, as the breeze has turned northerly against those yet to round the Fastnet Lighthouse. The best of Irish luck to all of them.

If there’s wind blowing in one part of the world, I suppose that means there has to be a lack somewhere else. Well, almost half a world away in Qingdao, China, there was a distinct lack of breeze. This is exactly the scenario that has been feared for the Olympic venue, although every day for the past week has been sailable, including one day where it blew 10 to 15 knots. So maybe it could come good for the Olympic Test Regatta. Let’s hope so.

The Finn, Tornado, 49er and the 470 men’s and women’s classes made it out to their respective race courses, but the Star and RS:X men’s and women’s fleets were confined to shore as race officials waited to see if the wind would eventually appear. In the end, only the Finns and 470 Women got a result.

We’ll have to wait another day to see how Ben Ainslie slots back into the Finn, a boat he hasn’t raced since winning this regatta exactly a year ago. “We waited out on the water for about three hours,” Ainslie explained. “I think the race officer wanted to see what would happen when the tide turned. It was the right decision to send us back in, so we’ll just have to hope and try again tomorrow.

“If nothing else, it was good to be able to get out and practice some more while we were waiting, so I don’t think today was a complete waste of time.”

In the 49ers, reigning Olympic Champions Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez won the only race of the day, while in the Women’s 470, Australia’s young team Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson got the bullet ahead of three-time World Champions from Holland, Marcelien de Koning and Lobke Berkhout.

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