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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fleet Hit The Startline in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race

The record-sized Rolex Fastnet Race fleet of 314 set sail from Cowes today in classic conditions with a beat westward up the Solent in a building west-southwesterly under sunny skies with a threatening  cloud line hovering over the mainland.
Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
The multi-hulls started first at 1100BST. Gitana 11 (FRA), the 23.5m trimaran skippered by Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Sebastien Josse and Roland Jourdain’s MOD70 Veolia Environnement (FRA) powered off the line. Veolia’s sistership, Steve Ravussin’s Race For Water (SUI), with round the world yachtswoman Dee Caffari manning the aft grinders, crossed the line early and had to restart.
Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
Visible from most parts of the Solent with her 40 meter long hulls and 47 meter tall mast, the world’s fastest offshore yacht,  Maxi Banque Populaire (FRA) skippered by Loick Peyron, accelerated across the line and had reached the Needles within an hour, sailing upwind at more than 20 knots. Five hours from the start, Banque Populaire was fast approaching Start Point, close to 100 nautical miles down the southwest coast from the start line.
SAFRAN Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
Next up were the IMOCA 60 monohulls, and by the Needles, Marc Guillemot -- Yann Elies doublehander Safran (FRA), was leading these new generation boats.

The ebb tide was starting to kick in by the time the Class 40s started and most chose to hug the island shore in the most favourable current. By the time they reached the Needles, Tanguy de la Motte’s 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race winner, Initiatives-Alex Olivier (FRA), was a nose ahead of the two Kiwi 40s, Roaring Forty 2 (BEL) and Peraspera (ITA). Shortly after passing through Hurst Narrows there was disaster for the Italian entry, Eutourist Serv-System, when she dismasted.
Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
The wind against tide conditions, that were particularly severe at Hurst Narrows at the western entrance to the Solent, would subsequently take their toll on the 43-foot trimaran, Strontium Dog (GBR), that also suffered a dismasting.

The most impressive display were the smaller IRC boats, funnelling their way through Hurst Narrows, and slowly being overhauled by the larger boats that started after. Doing well in IRC 1 was the Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens (NED), skippered by veteran sailor Piet Vroon, competing in his 23rd Rolex Fastnet Race.
Tonnerre de BreskensPhoto: Daniel Forster/Rolex 
“Will this be a big boat race? It could be an advantage for the bigger boats as they will make Portland and they could get to the Rock before the big wind comes. But I don’t know. We are bigger than a lot of the small ones. If it is going to be in excess of 30 knots to windward, then it will be hard for the small boats,” Vroon said.

Vroon, who won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2001 said he was expecting to finish sometime on Wednesday morning. “Once we took six days and once we took 68 hours, I believe. So anything in between is good.”
 Beau Geste   Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
In IRC Zero, the Jim Swartz/Karl Kwok co-skippered Farr 80 Beau Geste (HKG) is doing well, leading her class through Hurst Narrows ahead of the two silver streaks: Niklas Zennström’s 72 foot Ràn (GBR) with Andres Soriano’s 68-foot Alegre (GBR) hot on her tail.
Abu Dhabi Daniel Forster/Rolex
Forging their way up the fleet was the intriguing match between the three Volvo Open 70s, due to set off on their round-the-world race in October. This is the first time these boats have lined up in anger, and while all three were close as they beat through Hurst Narrows, it was Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (UAE), skippered by double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, that was leading former round-the-world race winner Mike Sanderson on Team Sanya (CHN), with Franck Cammas’ Groupama 4 (FRA) bringing up the rear.
ICAP Leopard  Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
The two largest monohulls in the fleet thundered their way up the Solent, with Mike Slade’s 100 foot ICAP Leopard (GBR) ahead of the more highly-rated Rambler 100 (USA) of George David. Ten minutes after the gun, Rambler split her headsail in half and the crew had to scramble to set a replacement.
Rambler  Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
Before the giant fleet had left the Solent, there were several casualties.  In addition to the two dismastings, the First 375 Little Spirit (GBR) suffered damage to her forestay during a collision with the Bavaria 44 Emerald Star ( GBR) and was forced to retire and IRC 3 Howling Monkey (GBR) was holed in a collision with the J/109 Jambo! (GBR). The canting-keeled Prodigy (GBR) was also forced to retired with mainsail damage.
RAN    Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex  
Conditions for the bulk of the fleet tonight should be relatively fast, particularly for the smaller boats, who will benefit from the wind veering north of west, as the boats further up the course are set to remain headed.

The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. In addition, there are more than 30 other trophies that will be awarded at the prize giving on Friday, 19 August at the historic Royal Citadel. The Citadel, home to the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooks Plymouth Sound and Sutton Harbour, where the majority of the fleet will berth.

Regatta News/Lulu Roseman

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