There is a single word that sums up the Fastnet Race currently underway from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, around the Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland, and back to Plymouth on the south coast of England, and that word is breathless. Yup breathless as in no wind and definitely not from too much breath taking action. The 90th anniversary of this iconic event has been a driftathon of gigantic proportions, an epic event of just about nothing.
The race attracted a record fleet of 356 boats among them some of the most spectacular sailboats afloat including the giant 40 meter Spindrift, the impressive Multi 80 Prince de Bretagne as well as a couple of notable monohulls including the VPLP100 Comanche, the Farr100 Leopard and Rambler 88, big guns all. But even big guns need breeze to get going and it was a pathetic sight to see these massive boats going nowhere slowly when the start gun fired. It took the MOD 70 Phaedo more than two and a half hours to sail the first 10 miles and some of that was helped by a favorable tide. The recently launched IMOCA 60 Safran remained in the same spot for the better part of an hour with the forward boat speed being offset by a counter current. If that was not bad enough the tide turned and the IRC boats that started later in the day were swept across the start line early, some of them taking over 40 minutes to get back to the line to restart. Then in a cruel twist, as if things couldn’t get worse, the RP63 Lucky, fresh from an impressive win in the recently finished Transatlantic Race, ran aground on the Shingles Bank and had to accept outside assistance to get off. Not so lucky and an end to their hopes of back to back wins.
And the start was the highpoint of the race. The breeze hardly filled in for the first night with boats kedging to stop going backwards when the tide turned, but even in light winds there can be some close racing and it was great to witness the back and forth battle between Spindrift2 and the 80-ft Maxi trimaran Prince de Bretagne duke it out in a slow motion dance as they skitted the Irish Sea with the larger Spindrift2 first around the rock. The big monohulls soon followed with Comanche leading the pack followed by Rambler 88 a couple of hours later with Leopard and the Maxi 72 Momo roaring up to the Fastnet Rock at a blistering two knots.
Although the forecast before the start was for light winds no one seemed to believe that it was going to be such slow going for the entire race and there were reports of food shortages. One can only imagine the stress on board the super maxi-boats when 29 crew all show up for dinner and the food supply was geared for a much quicker race. At least back among the IMOCA 60’s there was no shortage of cigarettes, especially on the French boats and PRB skippered by Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou led the 10 boat strong fleet out into the Irish Sea. The interesting thing to watch among this highly competitive class was weather the foils on the latest generation boats were of any use, but at least in light conditions they seemed to be more of a hindrance than help with Safran and Banque Populaire trailing far behind the leaders.
The most interesting racing was found among the Class 40’s with 23 boats racing in a highly competitive fleet. Concise 8, one of a number of boats competing in the Fastnet as part of Team Concise, took an early lead and managed to hold onto it for most of the race bit in the end it was the Spanish boat Tales 2 skippered by Gonzalo Botin that took the Class 40 win with Concise 8 finishing just under 20 minutes later in second place.
As expected Spindrift2 took line honors with Comanche winning the IRC canting keel division but only by the slimmest of margins. Rambler 88 ghosted across the finish line just four and a half minutes later. Comanche skipper Ken Read summed things up perfectly when he said “It was honestly one of the most bizarre races I’ve ever been in in my life.”
As of now the overall winner has not yet been determined but it’s likely to be a boat in the 35-40 foot range as the wind filled in a little for the smaller boats bringing them home much quicker than the maxi’s. Vincent Riou on PRB won the IMOCA 60’s with the all-female Team SCA winning the VOR65 class; in a fleet of one.
Without a doubt this Fastnet Race will be remembered for its glassy seas, brilliant star-lit nights, a bunch of giant boats going at appallingly slow speeds and not one single exciting story to relate to grandchildren sometime in the future. Nothing compared to this one, especially. Never before have so few sailed so slowly for so long. – Brian Hancock.