The new breed of Ultime 32 trimarans have lived up to their name and reputation with the leading pair of Gitana XVII and Macif slashing more than four and a half hours off the record time for the 608-mile Rolex Fastnet Race when they finished at Plymouth this afternoon just one minute apart, at 1632 and 1633 hrs writes W M Nixon.
The previous record was set in 2011’s breezy race by Loick Peyron with the 130ft trimaran Banque Populaire V at 1 day 8 hours and 48 minutes, an average of 18.5 knots. But despite being virtually becalmed for an hour and more on the outward passage, this year the smaller new designs have proven to be extremely potent machines, while having a significant proportion of the course sailed as a beam reach was very much to their advantage.
At the Fastnet Rock at 0630 BST this morning, Gitana XVII (aka Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) skippered by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier, was narrowly in the lead. But in some extra-swift sailing in an already fast leg to the next turn at the Bishop Rock, the western outpost of the Isles of Scilly, sister-ship Macif (Francois Gabart) took over the lead and hung onto it thereafter sometimes opening it up to as much as two miles. Yet at the finish Gitana snatched it back again by just 59 seconds.
Some idea of the relative speed of the multihulls can be gauged from the fact that at precisely the time they finished in Plymouth, the leading mono-hull, George David’s Rambler 88, was in process of rounding the Fastnet Rock, having opened out a half mile lead on Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft SHK Scallywag from Hong Kong, while Peter and David Askew’s Volvo 70 Wizard is now six miles astern of Rambler, but still leading IRC overall on corrected time.
The southwest breeze has now filled in along the south coast of Cornwall and Devon and the rest of the entire fleet is steadily on the move past the Lizard and on past the Isles of Scilly. In overall IRC placings, the boat of Irish interest currently doing best is the Ker 40 Keronimo with Kenneth Rumball and Barry Hurley on board – their 23rd overall means they’re fifth in IRC 1 and 4th in IRC 1A.
Although conditions are favourable going to and from the Fastnet, with winds at the rock south of southwest at the moment, an expected change will see a veer which may see the smallest boats racing in more difficult conditions with the wind forward of the beam, while tail-enders back at the Isles of Scilly may even find themselves hard on the wind tomorrow.
Meanwhile this afternoon’s last-minute victory by Gitana IV is another extraordinary episode in the story of Rothschild involvement in top level sailing. It began in 1965 when the Baron Edmond de Rothschild was persuaded to take his luxurious but surprisingly fast Sangermani yawl Gitana IV in the Fastnet Race.
At 90ft, Gitana IV was at the time the biggest boat ever to do the race, and naturally the baron brought his personal chef along so that he and his sailing friends could enjoy one of the legendary and leisurely Rothschild lunches every day. It was around 1.0pm on the second day when Gitana was approaching the Fastnet Rock, and the professional skipper went below to advise the owner of the impending historic moment.
The Baron and his friends were already well into lunch and an animated conversation, but he turned briefly to his skipper and said; “Please do not interrupt us when we are in the enjoying luncheon”, and he left the skipper to record the rounding of the rock.
These days, times have changed – those 59 seconds at Plymouth are going to get some deep attention at every level of the Rothschild world.
Race Tracker & Leaderboard here