Photo: Oman Sail

Spindrift Racing leads the charge south

Around the Fastnet Rock, the MOD70s are currently speeding across the Western Approach in the European Tour

Monday September 10th 2012, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

Since leading around the famous Fastnet Rock at around 0730 UTC this morning, Yann Guichard and the crew of Spindrift Racing profited from an initial gain but as they passed the latitude of the Scillies and then Ushant, at the northwestern tip of France, they had their four MOD70 European Tour rivals astern abreast in a line, all in equally hot pursuit.

Spindrift Racing, which led for 90% of Leg 1 from Kiel to Dun Laoghaire and then won the City Races series on Dublin Bay, had eked out some 10 miles of advantage on the chasing pack as they continue down a southerly course towards Cascais, Portugal where they are expected on Wednesday.

Spindrift's initial gain was on the two tacks out to the Fastnet Rock last night, but through today they have held a steady lead. Though most had expected to be through a slow moving cold front earlier, and so into faster, reaching conditions that was not expected until the afternoon. Indeed the front has been moving at much the same speed as the MOD70s.

Trimmer-helm Yann Eliès, the winner of the Solitaire du Figaro this summer, reported early this Monday afternoon from Spindrift Racing: “We passed the Fastnet in the early morning upwind and since then we have been on the wind on the other tack. We have cracked the sheets a little now and are making 20 knots. The front has still not passed us and we are about 60° to the wind and in the middle of the afternoon it should switch to the northwest, we can set the gennaker and make better speed in more comfortable conditions than we have had in the last 24 hours which have been a bit rock’n’roll. The seas have begun to calm down a bit but, we can sense the approaching of the trough, the wind has dropped a bit. What we had along the Irish coast was bouncy and we slammed a lot. But the boats are going very well and the sun will get stronger. We saw the silhouette of a boat against the grey sky this morning. I took off my foulies this afternoon and we can get some rest and get more into the watch system.”

In the very close and exacting racing small problems have cost miles, or even fractions of a mile. Stève Ravussin’s Race for Water had been leading and in close contention last night until they had to slow to replace the control for the main halyard lock, losing an hour while they hoisted their bowman up the mast to fix it. But this afternoon they are in contention, though now 16 miles behind the leader.

Similarly Michel Desjoyeaux and the team on Foncia lie second, but spent some time replacing the rudder fuse and downhaul after the main rudder struck an object.

As the double Vendee Globe winner explained: "This afternoon we struck something with the main rudder and the fuse did its job and the rudder came up. We tried several times to get it back but it was slowing us down and as we had Gitana on our case after three unsuccessful attempts with the rudder refusing to go down and lock in place we set off without it. In a reasonably big sea and with 25 knots of wind in fact the float rudder did its job well enough. When the wind died down we found out what the problem was with the downhaul rope on the rudder which was displaced and not letting the rudder down. We were forced to cut it and then suspend someone above the water, in the harness, doing some 20kts above the waves. We sorted the rope into the right place and are back on course.”

While Foncia may techically be second, in reality they are virtually even with Musandam-Oman Sail which has remained in the top three since before Tuskar Rock last night and were pacing the European Tour leaders well this afternoon.

From on board the Omani MOD70, Brian Thompson reported: “It is 1330hrs UTC in the afternoon and we are having a very close sail in 22-25 knots of wind, going south from Fastnet Rock with Foncia about a mile away, Groupe Edmond de Rothschild about another mile away and Race for Water behind. So we are battling it out for second at the moment with Spindrift Racing just a few miles ahead of us. We had a great sail out of Dun Laoghaire, which was a great stop, we had a great stop there.

"We had a beautiful beat down the east coast of Ireland with the fantastic scenery. During the night we were on the south coast of Ireland, passing Cork and Kinsale. And then just after dawn at the Fastnet was spectacular, for Mohsin it was his first rounding of that famous lighthouse. From there we were going upwind, just slightly cracked off now. We are almost level with NW France, soon be level with La Rochelle, across the Bay of Biscay and it will get warmer and soon we’ll be off Cape Finisterre. Tonight we will be getting into lighter airs as we get into the high pressure and we will have to gybe and then coming out on port gybe ion NE’ly winds instead of the SW’lies we have just now, we will be on the bottom side of the high and with a good heading.”

Speeds had picked up late afternoon, to over 20 knots, indicating that the chance to set gennakers progressively has arrived and faster, easier southbound progress is on the cards.

At the moment the direct route south is the most logical with the fleet lined up side by side. But there will be a tendency to slide west as a second front approaches, but ahead there is a big high pressure ridge which is centred over Portugal which will bring a more northerly regime, fresh at first but dropping as they descend the Iberian peninsula. And so the fleet is likely to compact again before Cascais.

Standings at 1630 UTC
1- Spindrift Racing (Yann Guichard) at 834,8 miles to finish
2- Foncia (Michel Desjoyeaux) at 11.2 miles to the leader
3- Musandam-Oman Sail (Sidney Gavignet) at 11.2 miles to the leader
4- Groupe Edmond deRothschild (Sébastien Josse) at 14 miles to the leader
5- Race for Water (Stève Ravussin) at 19.6 miles to the leader

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