Heading into the third evening of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017, with much of the heavy metal now on the homeward leg with a fair wind from the Rock to Plymouth, all are aware there’s a strong north wind out to the west writes W M Nixon. But the point of intense interest is how much – if at all – will it spread in towards the route from the Fastnet to the next mark at the Bishop Rock on the Isle of Scilly? Or will this area of stronger wind instead head on towards the Bay of Biscay, and leave the Fastnet fleet with only moderate to fresh breezes?
For the majority of the fleet, in other words the smaller boats still slugging towards the rock, moderate to fresh headwinds are all that’s required right now, thank you very much. But for the biggies going the other way, the more wind the merrier, and none are looking for it with as much determination as Alex Thomson and Nin O’Leary aboard the foiling IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, which didn’t get round the rock until 3.00pm this afternoon. She was the last of her class, slowed to windward by her foils, but now she’s looking for big fair winds to get those foils working and hunt down the group ahead.
It’s a tall order, as the leading IMOCA 60, the veteran SMA, had worked out an astonishing lead of 72 miles, and even the other noted foiling IMOCA 60, Jean-Pierre Dick’s StMichel-Virbec, somehow manages to be more than 60 miles ahead, and is clearly getting her foils to do the business as she’s been showing 19 knots.
But out to the northwest, Hugo Boss is skirting the stronger wind on the starboard gybe, and showing speeds of 21 knots-plus. Nobody else in the entire race has shown figures like that until now, though Rambler 88 was sometimes getting between 18 and 19 knots. But if Hugo Boss can stay in that stronger wind and still manage to get a bit of easting into her course, it will make for a very interesting evening.
As for Rambler 88, like the good all-rounder she is, George David’s all-conquering silver bullet just kept going away from everyone regardless of the wind direction. Thus she was taking her gybe at the Bishop Rock at exactly the same time as Hugo Boss was rounding the Fastnet, and though she slowed briefly to 9 knots in a soft patch south of Land’s End, she’s now back at 17 knots and closing on the Lizard, first on the water and first in IRC, and a finish in Plymouth before midnight on the cards.
In the diverse Irish contingent, Paul Kavanagh’s Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan continues to do best, she lies 7th overall and first in class, while Michael Boyd with the First 44.7 Lisa is 18th overall and second in Class 2, though both of course still have quite a way to go before reaching the rock. As for Laura Dillon in the S&S 41 Winsome, they’ve been enjoying the open-water beat to haul the Harry Hiejst classic back up to 23rd overall, quite an achievement after being messed about by the calms east of the Lizard yesterday.
Of our two sailing school boats racing for the Roger Justice Trophy as well as class and overall honours, the Irish National Sailing School’s J/109 Jedi is currently well clear ahead of Irish Offshore Sailing’s Desert Star, while in the J/109 turnout generally, Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli and National YC) is in the frame and also lying fifth in IRC 3.
While overall positions in the main part of the fleet can fluctuate with remarkable speed, the class placings are now beginning to settle down, and tomorrow we can look at them in more detail, when most boats should be finally round the Fastnet. Meanwhile, it’s going to be an increasingly rugged slug getting there with those stronger winds out to the northwest. However, their localized nature at present is underlined by the fact that Hugo Boss has just taken the gybe to get her more on course for the Bishop, and she’s already experiencing a slight easing of the pressure, with her speed back to 18.8 knots.