At 00:26 UTC this morning Mike Slade's 100ft supermaxi ICAP Leopard was the first boat in the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race to round the Fastnet Rock off the coast of southwestern Ireland.
In a 10-15 knot westerly breeze, Karl Kwok's Farr 80 Beau Geste passed at approximately 04:44 UTC, followed by the IRC Class SZ leader on handicap, Niklas Zennström's Judel-Vrolijk 72 Ran 2 at 05:08 UTC. Behind them were a gaggle of boats led by the first two IMOCA 60s, Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on the fully-crewed Artemis Ocean Racing, ten minutes ahead of Seb Josse's BT IMOCA 60, the first doublehanded entry in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Behind them at 08:00 UTC, en route to the Pantaenius buoy, the offset mark southwest of the Fastnet lighthouse, were two more IMOCA 60s, Volvo Ocean Race winner Mike Sanderson on Pindar, just ahead of Frenchman Marc Guillemot on Safran. The Italian America's Cup team on the STP65 Luna Rossa rounded later, at 07:54 UTC, having suffered slightly by approaching the Fastnet Rock from a more northerly angle.
At the time, the Italians had Dee Caffari's IMOCA 60 Aviva on their tail. Earlier Caffari reported: "We had more breeze than we anticipated overnight which means we will be rounding the Fastnet Rock just in time for breakfast. We have sight of at least four other IMOCA 60s showing just how close this race is." Roger Sturgeon's US entry, the STP65 Rosebud/Team DYT was expected at the Fastnet Rock an hour after Aviva.
The forecast is showing an area of high pressure encroaching on the southwest of the British Isles over the course of today. In order to remain in the strongest breeze, ICAP Leopard has taken a radical northerly route towards Bishops Rock, the next mark of the course, located to the west of the Scilly Isles, 150 miles southeast of the Fastnet. While Slade's super-maxi is on a heading taking her towards the Bristol Channel, Beau Geste and Ran 2 are sticking closer to the rhumb line. With conflicting forecasts it remains to be seen which will be the better tactic - Slade's approach is longer but should ensure they stay in breeze, the direct route is more risky, but shorter.
This morning the bulk of the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet are between the Lizard and one third of the way across the Celtic Sea towards the Fastnet Rock. Midway to the Rock, the Jamie Olazabal-skippered Swan 56 La Floresta Del Mar is still leading in Class IRC Z, while the three small IRC Classes all have French handicap leaders: the Grand Soleil 43 Codiam in IRC 1, while Didier Darbot's Sphinx 33 Parsifal still leads IRC 2 and is located just to the north of the Scilly Isles, just ahead of Fabrice Tropes's Dufour 34, Major Tom, the new IRC 3 leader.
Depending upon her progress today, ICAP Leopard is expected in Plymouth late this evening.
The progress of the fleet can be followed by the tracking system fitted to all of the boats racing at http://fastnet.rorc.org/2009-fleet-tracking.html