After a tricky first night at sea, the mid-fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race have experienced a rainy grey day at sea as they slog upwind westward along the English south coast.
As expected the big boats have broken away with Mike Slade's 100-foot supermaxi ICAP Leopard, rounding Land's End at around 09:30 UTC and by 15:00 she was halfway to the Fastnet Rock turning mark.
"It is a nice sunny day outside here, it could be a lot worse," commented Slade, adding that the sea was flattening out after a bumpy ride up the Channel. Since rounding Lands End, with the wind from the west, ICAP Leopard, as well as the boats chasing her, have headed on a more northerly course, compared to the direct route to the Fastnet Rock.
As Volvo Ocean Race navigator Simon Fisher explained from on board Team Pindar, third placed in the Open 60 fleet and 41 miles from Slade's race leader: "Big picture, the wind is going to come around to the northwest eventually. So we are off to the right in the hope that we have a nice shift, while trying to get into the best position relative to the other boats around us, in order to make the most of that." The question for the boats presently mid-Celtic Sea is when the wind will veer from the west to the northwest and if they can lay the Rock in one tack when this shift comes.
At 15:00 UTC, ICAP Leopard was just 25 miles ahead of Karl Kwok's Farr 80 Beau Geste and 34 miles ahead of Niklas Zennstrom's Judel-Vrolijk 72, Ran 2.
"We expect the breeze to come down a little bit, particularly once we have rounding the rock and are heading back. So, we have to be careful we don't fall in a hole," Slade continued. "But the boat is loving this bouncy stuff. We are going at 11.75-12 knots doing about 42deg TWA, and we are enjoying ourselves. I am looking forward to a beer in Plymouth, but I will have to wait a day and a half I have the feeling!" To date the most wind ICAP Leopard has seen is 22 knots.
Despite her length advantage, even ICAP Leopard experienced a hard time last night as she negotiated the English Channel. "The hardest part was the sloppy seas and light air in Lyme Bay, and trying to avoid being sucked up north at Start Point or into Plymouth Bay, and trying to get down around the Lizard. Ray Davies and Hugh Agnew have done a great job and have kept us out of trouble," said Slade. ICAP Leopard's ETA at the Fastnet Rock is expected to be 01:00 UTC.
Slade believes that this year the Rolex Fastnet Race will favour the small boats as was the case in 2005. "The breeze is going to fill in behind us once we are round the Rock. It looks like it will fill in for the next day and half to two days and it will bring the small boats in on handicap."
Behind, the leading Open 60s are doing well to stay in contact with the larger Mini Maxis. Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on board Artemis Ocean Racing continue to lead, but with less than four miles separating her from Marc Guillemot's Safran and Pindar. Their ETA at the Fastnet Rock is around 05:00-06:00 UTC tomorrow morning. Some such as Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss have not been so fortunate - Thomson's black boat some 47 miles behind the leaders at 1600.
The Open 60s also suffered last night. "It was very light and very shifty with the pressure coming from here and there, it was a question of trying to position ourselves in the best place to take advantage of all the puffs and shifts," said Simon Fisher. "It was very tricky and hard for us as well because we are in one of the most powerful boats, but that is part of the package." Pindar was never completely becalmed, but there were some slow moments and their competitors who went inshore, suffered horribly.
Among the smaller Class 40s, last night was make or break according to how rapidly you could overcome the foul tide. When the wind shut down Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group was one of a mass of boats that were forced to deploy their anchor to prevent themselves behind sluiced east back up the course by the tide.
"Just before Portland Bill, we had to anchor in 45m of depth, but only for half an hour - the wind kicked in again, so it was not too bad," recounted French skipper Tanguy de LaMotte. De LaMotte reckons it was a lot worse for others. "The guys who were inshore had really big trouble to get wind and they had to wait for longer. So I think that is where we got up front." At 1600 off Falmouth, Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group was third among the Class 40s, with German Boris Herrmann's new Beluga Racer neck and neck for the lead with Conquerants de Normandie - Bovis Lend Lease Italy.
De LaMotte says the most wind they have seen has been 20 knots and it has been constantly upwind, not particularly taxing and okay for getting sleep.
Typically the larger boats were affected less last night off Portland Bill. From the US, Bryon Ehrhart's TP52 Lucky, took the option to head offshore out of the worst of the current, but suffered more longer term. "We weren't sure where our competition was," said skipper Rodney Hagebols, adding that thanks to their offshore tactics, they didn't have to anchor. "Today was the first boat that we have seen, an OD48. All the other boats were inshore and we went for the new breeze."
At the end of this afternoon Lucky had rounded the Lizard but was well behind Nigel Passmore's TP52 Apollo, but ahead of the other TP52s John Merricks II and Cutting Edge.
Under handicap, Niklas Zennstrom's Ran 2 was leading IRC SZ, while Jamie Olazabal's Spanish Swan 56 La Floresta del Mar was just past the Lizard at the front of Class IRC Z. Half way between Start Point and the Lizard, Cyrille Legloahec's A40RC Batistyl was leading IRC 1 with Didier Dardot's Sphinx 33 Parsifal ahead in IRC 2, just past Plymouth, and just south of the IRC 3 handicap leader, Bateaux Mouches du Pont de l'Alma, the X-332 of France's Fabrice Amedeo.
The forecast shows the wind veering to the northwest across the race course tonight and continuing to veer north and lighten by tomorrow morning.
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