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Fastnet Yacht Race Leaders Looking for Veering Wind in Towards Irish Coast

7th August 2017
In most classic offshore races, at some stage a Cookson 50 will seem to come out of nowhere and give bigger boats a fright. This is the American Cookson 50 Privateer, which was going like an express train as she closed towards Land’s End and a group of 60-footers at noon today. As evening draws on, she is still giving them a hard time. In most classic offshore races, at some stage a Cookson 50 will seem to come out of nowhere and give bigger boats a fright. This is the American Cookson 50 Privateer, which was going like an express train as she closed towards Land’s End and a group of 60-footers at noon today. As evening draws on, she is still giving them a hard time.

The Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 fleet leader, the MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10 owned by Tony Lawson and skippered by Ned Collier Wakefield, rounded the Fastnet Rock at 15.18hrs this afternoon in a nor’west breeze writes W M Nixon. But as none of the other active MOD 70s have come out to play this time round, Concise 10 is very much in a race of her own, and most interest focuses on the vast and varied mono-hull fleet which will be rounding the rock in the next two or three days.

The fleet ranges from the 115ft ft Nikata at one end down to the 30ft Silver Shamrock at the other, and the bulk of the boats – 312 in all – are racing in the IRC Division. The challenges of the 605-mile Fastnet course in typically northwest European summer weather have seen widely different boats top the leaderboard as each stage of the race passes through, with everything from the local wind patterns, the effect of nearby land, the sea state and the movement of the tides making an input into many separate moments of fleeting glory.

concise Fastnet rockRounding the Fastnet Rock on the southern tip of Ireland at 15:49 BST, Tony Lawson’s Concise 10 leads the fleet in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race. The MOD70 became the first yacht to round the race’s emblematic landmark and is making rapid progress some 115-nm ahead of the next boat on the water, George David’s Rambler 88. With 242-nm still to negotiate, Concise 10 was forecasting arrival in Plymouth on Tuesday morning and some way outside the current multihull line honours record of 32 hours, 48 minutes.

It is a fact of life that in any of the great classic offshore races, at some stage a Cookson 50 will come out of the woodwork and amaze everyone with her sudden prominence on the leaderboard, a position she may then maintain to the finish. It all goes back to well beyond the time in the Rolex Fastnet Race of 2007 when Ireland’s Ger O’Rourke took the top slot with Chieftain, for the Farr-designed Cookson 50 first appeared in 1996, which means she has been upsetting her competitors’ calculations for 21 years now.

The latest instance came this morning around 11 o’clock at the Lizard Point, when everyone was wondering why the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, with the not inconsiderable talents of Alex Thompson and Nin O’Leary on board, was going so slowly over towards Land’s’ End and was lying an ignominious 9th – or last if you prefer – in the IMOCA 60 Class.

Then suddenly observers became aware that a boat was coming round the Lizard at better than 8 knots, and passing that difficult headland with no bother whatever, proceeding on in pursuit of Hugo Boss and closing the gap to only five miles until the pursuer also slowed in the flukey winds and unsettled conditions.

But the private burst of speed of the American-owned Cookson 50 Privateer – for such it was – put her for a while in the top slot every which way. And though the boat – owned by Ron O’Hanley and skippered by Scott Innes-Jones – is now in the tricky conditons beyond the coast of North Cornwall, she’s still making 7.9 knots hard on the wind, and is still very much in sight of Hugo Boss.

The forecast is for the light west to northwest wind in the Celtic Sea to veer tonight, so the more northing the leaders can make while still on a course well west of north, the better it will stand to them when the new breeze firms in.

As expected, George David’s Rambler 88 leads on the water by more than twenty miles on the next group of biggies, and is currently on a course towards Youghal, but those astern will be waiting for her crucial tack as the veering calls the tune.

The star of the big boat group has to be the two-handed IMOCA 60 SMA (Paul Meihat and Gwenole Gahinet). She’s a gallant war horse of a boat which has been through a few traumas in her time, but Meihat and Gahinet have been sailing a race of genius. They not only have the IMOCA 60s well stitched up for now, but they’re sitting on top of every other big boat other than Rambler 88, including the mighty Nikata, the hyper-new 100ft CQS, and the Volvo 65s currently headed by Team Akzonobel.

The bulk of the fleet are still between Land’s End and Start Point, which is an awful lot of boats along an impressive distance of coastline. And with the local wind off the south coasts of Cornwall and Devon trying to be nor’westerly but with many flat patches, it may look like a lottery.

Yet the same two dozen names keep coming up at the front of the time sheets, and currently the fleet overall leader is the French J/133 Pintia skippered by Gilles Fournier with some formidable talents on board. They are currenty turning to windward in the middle of Mount’s Bay at 6 knots, first in IRC Overall and first in IRC 2.

Of the top eight boats, five are French, one is Italian, one is Dutch and one is British – make of that what you wish. Best-placed Irish is currently Paul Kavanagh’s Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan at 15th, while Alan Hannon’s Reichel Pugh 45 Katsu is in the top twenty, as too is Michael Boyd with the First 44.7 Lisa. But Harry Hiejst’s S&S 41 Winsome with which Laura Dillon had been having a scorcher of a race is in a flat spot east of the Lizard – as are dozens of other boats - and though fourth in IRC 4, she has slipped to 26th overall.

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