Strong tides and fickle winds have been the dominant feature of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Channel Race, the high scoring grand finale of the Rolex Commodores' Cup.
Following the start at 1905BST on Friday night, the boats were whisked out of the Solent eastwards on a spinnaker run. They have since had to head southeast out into the Channel to round the Ocean Safety mark before turning WSW on the 47.4 mile beat to the RORC Offshore Light. Then they had to head northeast to the Needles Fairway buoy off the west of the Isle of Wight. Given the light breeze the race organisers earlier this morning shortened the course sending the fleet from the Needles Fairway buoy back 35 miles to Ocean Safety before returning northwest past the Nab Tower back to the finish line off the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour - a total distance of 160 miles
Bear of Britain, the Farr 52 of GBR Red as ever led the charge around the course finishing at 15:48:04 BST yesterday. Navigator Peter MORTON said that they had been hit by the tide badly after they rounded Ocean Safety for the first time last night. "We went around the mark and it was still flooding hard to the east. We got pushed south and ran out of breeze and we saw the boats come behind us go around the buoy and they were aiming 30 degrees higher than us which is why when we got to RORC we didn't have much of a lead."
At this point their boat speed had dropped to just 2 knots.
By the Needles Fairway buoy the Irish team's big boat Fidessa Fastwave had all but caught them coming in on new breeze from the west.
Morton reckons on Bear of Britain they made their best gains on the return journey back to Ocean Safety. "If you went hard into the Island or hard offshore you got buried. You had to really work hard on the shifts and puffs down there. There were little lanes of breeze draining out off the valleys on the Island and you have to come out on those little veins of breeze to get south to the wind. We worked pretty hard for 5-6 hours."
They then made the turn at Ocean Safety just 15 minutes before the tide turned in their favour. "Back to Nab we had 3 knots of tide with us, while everyone else was punching 3 knots of tide,"
continued Morton. "There might be a huge park up for the medium-sized boats."
In class one Fidessa Fastwave was the second finisher on elapsed time, crossing the line at 18:02:43, not soon enough to beat Bear of Britain. However the Dutch big boat, the Grand Soleil 44 Holmatro finished at 18:27:01, to take first place in class one ahead of Bear of Britain.
In another remarkable performance Colm BARRINGTON'S Ker 39, Flying Glove racing for the Irish team in class 2 was the fourth boat overall to finish the course, at 18:55:42, ahead of the bulk of the Class 1 entries. "Everyone is happy. Hopefully we'll be into the team prizes, but we don't know,"
commented crewman and International 14 World Champion Rob GREENHALGH, adding that the Irish hospitality on board has been exceptional with chicken pasta for dinner on the first night and shepherd's pie for lunch yesterday. Greenhalgh said that it got light in the middle of the Channel last night, but they were never becalmed.
The strong tides and fickle winds have been making life extremely difficult for the smaller boats. While Bear of Britain cruised around the RORC mark at 0400 yesterday morning the first class three boats only rounded it at 1315. It was only at 18:33:56 when John SHEPHERD'S Fair Do's VI in GBR Black became the first to round the Needles Fairway Buoy in class three with almost 60 miles still to run.
At present the points tally is up in the air, but looks set to be a close run thing between Ireland and GBR Red.
The prizegiving is scheduled to take place today at 1300 at the Royal Yacht Squadron.