Cooling its heels in Portsmouth is Mike SLADE's (GBR) brand-new super maxi canting keeled ICAP Leopard. The scratch boat in the Rolex Fastnet fleet, the 100-foot super maxi was launched in June but has been out sailing almost every day since. SLADE commented, 'I applaud the wisdom and preference to delay, as the smaller boats will have an option to continue on or not, while the bigger boats will be on their way.' SLADE says the new Leopard has a safe and comfortable rig, and while they've seen 30-40 knots and had the trysail and number five up, they have yet to sail in slamming seas and big gusts that this year's Rolex Fastnet could cook up.
Chris TIBBS, the meteorologist for the Rolex Fastnet Race, has forecast a southwesterly wind at 7-16 knots for Monday's start. Tuesday should see the strongest winds, likely to be near the Lizard and Land's End with the wind southsouthwest Force 6/7 (25 - 38 knots), with a possible increase to gale-force Force 8 (34 - 40 knots). By then, the bigger boats will be past and the smaller boats will still have options for shelter if the breeze strengthens.
SLADE continued, 'The forecast for high winds does benefit us to a degree, as we prefer heavy air, but Neville CRICHTON [(NZL) Alfa Romeo] has his boat well-tested, while we are the new kid on the block. We'll all beat out of the Solent and as the breeze turns and rises we'll fall into fetch and reaching conditions.' The Farr-designed monohull is an ABN AMRO look-alike, and at 22 feet is beamier than her maxi counterparts and will be a force in heavy air.
Any of the bigger boats could easily beat the monohull record (since 1999, it stands at 2 days, 5 hours, 8 minutes), which would require an average speed of 11.5+ knots to do so. Given that in the recent Channel Race, ICAP Leopard averaged 14 -15 knots over an 11 hour race, it would be possible in the Rolex Fastnet to see similar average speeds and then it's a matter of a favourable wind direction for the shortest course sailed. The Super Zero class yachts would have to finish by Wednesday at 17:48 BST.
Alex THOMPSON (GBR) and Andrew CAPE (GBR) were out on the water fine-tuning their just out-of-the-box Open 60, Hugo Boss. Launched in mid-July, the boat has been sailing just over a dozen times, and the pair were glad for a chance to test the boat a little bit more. About the weather, THOMPSON said, 'It will be nice to have a bit of wind in the Fastnet for once.' THOMPSON and CAPE are both highly qualified offshore sailors who will be competing in the Barcelona World Race in early November; the Rolex Fastnet Race will count towards the 2,800 miles required in advance of the start.
For Dave RICHARDS (GBR) onboard the Mills 36, Prime Suspect, it will be his first Rolex Fastnet Race. However, the boat (x-Cutting Edge, x-Quokka) has had an illustrious history in both inshore and offshore racing, including Boat of the Year in 1997 when launched.
A recent dismasting seven weeks ago appeared to shatter their Rolex Fastnet hopes, but with tremendous effort from the crew, local industries, and the yacht's designer, they have replaced and upgraded the rig, which they can feel good about given the breeze expected. As to their strategy for the race, RICHARDS intends to, 'Make our best way westwards towards Falmouth, where we'll make a decision before leaving the shelter of the Cornish coast. If it's still blowing 40 knots, we'll hole up.'
Philippe DELAPORTE, St-Brieuc, France, is racing onboard his J/122, Pen Azen. This will be his third Rolex Fastnet. 'I did my first race as a crew in 1977 when I was 23. It was on a 37-foot yacht. It was not until 2005 that I owned a yacht big enough to do the race. The 2005 race was light wind and we did not see more than 10 knots, and 1977 was very similar. My best memory from 2005 is rounding the Fastnet rock at midday with a clear view. We took some pictures and then 10 minutes later the fog came in and we saw nothing more for a long time. This year will be very different. It will be a hard race with strong winds forecast for Tuesday, so quite a difficult job. But I am confident in the boat, which was new in May. We have sailed in a number of windy RORC races as preparation - but not as windy as this.'
As of press time, six yachts had pulled out including the four-boat ORMA 60 trimaran class.