Neville CRICHTON's R/P-designed 90 foot monohull beat another R/P designed boat, Robert MCNEILL's Zephyrus V, to the finish at Plymouth Breakwater by 10 minutes to continue her already impressive resumé of line honours for major offshore classics.
But it was close. Just eight miles from the finish line Zephyrus, who had taken an inshore course since Falmouth, had benefited from a little bit more wind and moved into the lead. As the pair approached Rame Head, the last headland two miles short of the finish, the wind died away to almost nothing, giving one boat and then the other a small speed advantage. In the end the advantage went to the boat slightly further offshore and Alfa Romeo moved back into the lead that she held to the finish.
In late December last year Alfa Romeo was the first boat to finish in the 76-boat Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in late June this year the all-carbon Maxi beat 170 boats into Genoa in the Rolex Giraglia Race collecting the race record at the same time. Today Alfa Romeo collects the Rolex Fastnet Race honours. The next objective for the antipodean boat is the Rolex Middle Sea Race sailed in October this year, starting and finishing from Malta.
The silver-hulled New Zealand registered Super Maxi took the lead on the water from Zephyrus V at Portland Bill on Sunday afternoon. Although the pair were separated by more than an hour at the Fastnet Rock, the dark green American yacht has always been a threat hanging over Crichton¹s ambitions for another line honours accolade, Mc Neill and his crew crawling back to within 400 metres just 40 miles from the finish.
© Guido Cantini
The 18-man crew on board Alfa Romeo spent 57 hours and two minutes at sea and missed the course record for monohulls by almost four hours. The light conditions of the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race being in marked contrast to the perfect high speed reaching race of 1999 when another New Zealander, Ross Field, skippered the Maxi RF Yachting to set the current record time of 53 hours and eight minutes.
Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the 608-mile long Rolex Fastnet Race was first sailed in 1925 and it took the first boat, a 56-foot pilot cutter called Jolie Brise, six days and 14 hours to sail the course, the second placed boat was a further 22 hours behind.
Crichton, on finishing the race - commented."Sometimes you can get too far ahead! On the way back from the Fastnet Rock we had a really big lead, of over an hour and a half, we couldn¹t see them (Zephyrus V) behind us. But they were tricky conditions and we sailed to the North of the route and I think they sailed to the South. Anyway this morning at first light, there they were beside us again. We had to work really hard to beat them all day.
"That was the toughest battle for line honours we have ever had. This boat has started 54 races and collected line honours on 53 occasions. It feels really good to have collected line honours for the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the Rolex Fastnet in the same year."
Bob MCNEILL was philosophical on the performance and second place finish of Zephyrus V."Gentlemen build yachts, they go racing and someone has to win. But it wasn¹t us!!!
"Alfa Romeo got away from us well at the Lizard on the way to the Fastnet, but we caught them back nicely last night on the way back from the Rock. Then it went their way again when we were held up at the Lizard on the way back.
"At the end it was wherever the wind filled in from that decided each particular moment. Sometimes it was for them, sometimes it went our way. The last puff went to them and that¹s the way it is. But ten minutes is close. That¹s yacht racing.
Full finish times in Plymouth are available on the event website at the address below.