ICAP Maximus passed Lands End at 0615 hours local time, just as the sun was coming up for what looks set to be another glorious day on the water. Skandia Wild Thing passed Lands End at 0630, reporting a boat speed of 14 knots in eleven knots' wind.
The change in wind direction has helped TP52 Patches pull back the two miles she lost to her rivals after a near miss with the Shingles Bank yesterday. Skipper Ian WALKER (GBR) said it was a heart stopping moment for the crew as they exited the Solent yesterday afternoon. 'We had a good run down the Solent and were about level with Aera [Nick LYKIARDOPULO's Ker 55] when we got to Hurst Point. We wanted to get up to the north side of the Shingles but there was so much traffic there. There must have been 50 boats between us and where we wanted to go.'
'Suddenly we realized the current was driving us straight towards the Shingles Bank and that if we didn't do something we were going to get grounded. That was going to be the end of the race right there so we had to turn hard left just to keep ourselves in the race.' While Aera and the majority of the fleet cruised off across Christchurch Bay, Patches was left stranded in a mirror calm close to the Needles.
However by yesterday evening Patches had already made up most of the ground on Aera, and WALKER said the offshore breezes had given them excellent reaching conditions, with the slippery TP52 travelling faster than windspeed. 'We got nicely ahead of Aera overnight,' said WALKER this morning. 'But we just hit a full park-up at the Lizard just now. Ecover [Mike GOLDING's (GBR) Open 60] got badly stuck here, she's so close I can read her sail numbers. But at least we're moving again, making seven knots reaching towards the mark.' WALKER said the 'park-up' allowed Aera and others to close right up on the boats ahead. 'She must have got to within 300 metres of us. But she gybed offshore while we've carried on along the coast. The separation is massive now. There must be five miles or more between the two boats. You just couldn't say who has made the better move right now. It's a lottery. The inshore sailor in me finds it hard to break away from a course that's taking you straight where you want to go, but maybe I'll pay the price for that mentality. We'll have to see.'
Merfyn OWEN, the co-designer of Ecover, is sailing on board with GOLDING. He shared the same view as WALKER. 'With the breeze filling in we are tempted to stay on the line rather than gybe and get out of the bay. As we are about to get to Lands End, anything can happen with the breeze and currents - it is what we call 'box the compass', so it will be a morning for tactical decisions.'
WALKER believes the bigger the boat, the better the passage it will have enjoyed down the English coast. 'I should think the Maxis have had the best run down here. They will have broken through all the tidal gates without much of a slow-down. We've had it pretty good, but it must have been more of a struggle for the smaller boats.' Judging by Sigma 38 Festina Lente's report, WALKER's analysis is correct. Phillip MEAKINS reported just after dusk last night, 'We are anchored half a cable off Portland Bill after a fruitless attempt to round.' So while the big boats have been making steady progress, the smaller yachts have been forced to resort to the dreaded art of kedging. However by dawn, spirits had risen in the MEAKINS clan who said they were 'determined to make up the hour spent at anchor'. They were now enjoying a fine spinnaker run in north easterly breezes.
If Nick HAIGH's report from Farr 40 Too Steamy is anything to go by, though, the sailors are loving the benign conditions out there. 'We sitting here sunbathing, having breakfast, it has been very pleasant. We're currently doing 7.5 knots with our VMG spinnaker, and we got up to 10.5 knots last night, so we're going very nicely.' Too Steamy was a mile ahead of the Farr 45 Audacious so HAIGH was feeling good about their progress.
In the Open 60 division, Pindar and Sill have pulled out a big lead over their rivals, having avoided the Lizard 'park up' that WALKER referred to. But as we saw with Patches' redemption from her Shingles encounter, it is clear the Rolex Fastnet Race offers plenty of opportunities to make up lost ground.