It's been a wet and wild ride for the first finishers in IRC fleets and multihulls in the Rolex Fastnet Race

The first finishers in the IRC fleets of the Rolex Fastnet Race arriving last night and today have all had a hard, fast race. As crews piled in tired, wet, and very hungry, the Rolex Fastnet Race village bar and burger vans have been doing brisk trade since the early hours of this morning.

Even the professional IMOCA 60 teams have had a punishing, if mercifully short, race. Sam Davies reveals that they were simply hanging on at times on Initiatives Couer:

The line honours winners may have been and gone, but David and Peter Askew’s Volvo 70 Wizard is looking unbeatable for the IRC overall prize, as well as taking 1st in IRC Zero. With a hugely experienced crew, including Charlie Enright, Mark Towill, Rob Greenhalgh and navigator Will Oxley, the American-flagged entry had a smooth race, finishing yesterday morning with an elapsed time of 1 day, 21 hours.

“We had a little bit of everything,” recalled Towill. “There was light airs at the beginning, upwind, reaching, and a fair bit of running then reaching down back from the Rock. We worked hard in the light stuff and managed to stay with the big boats in conditions where some of the other boats could really have pulled away.

“Around the Rock it was real lumpy, but the boat’s solid, so it was able to hold up well, and we didn’t have to take our foot of the throttle at any point.”

David and Peter Askew’s VO70 Wizard

Over yesterday evening and today more IRC Zero and IRC 1 boats have been arriving thick and fast into Plymouth. As well as designs that have been heavily optimised for offshore racing, there have been plenty of examples of fast classes that more usually race windward-leeward courses.

Volvo Ocean Race sailor Stu Bannatyne was on Outsider, 4th in IRC Zero behind Wizard. Outsider is a former Super Series 52 boat that had been swiftly adapted for the Fastnet with masthead locks and new reaching sails, plus a whisker pole for jib reaching.

“So it’s not really set up for offshore racing at all,” Bannatyne explained, “We were scrambling to get ready a bit, and we’re just happy that the boat made it round with no breakages. But the waterproofing as a long way to go!

“It still has a tiller, which was really hard work on all that pressed up sailing that we were doing. I think there was some enjoyment there… but there’s definitely a certain sense of satisfaction now it’s done!”

Rough seas for Richard Matthews’s Oystercatcher XXXIII as they start the return leg back from the Rock

IRC 1 saw Tonnerre de Glen and Ino XXX fighting hard for the top spot, before being displaced on the leaderboard by Jacques Pelletier on his prototype JPK10.10 L’Ange de Milon.

Ino XXX is an HH42 that normally races in the Fast 40+ inshore Solent races. Ben Cooper was trimming onboard: “It was very, very, very wet. There was a lot of bailing and bilge pumping, but we had enough pumps and arms and buckets so it wasn’t a problem at all. We didn’t hold back, that’s for sure.

Ino XXX at full speed on their return from Fastnet Rock

Going across the Irish Sea was quite straightforward, then we had about six hours of upwind before a very, very fast reach home. It was very entertaining – like being on a bucking bronco, you couldn’t cook, you couldn’t eat, sleep was quite hard. It wasn’t around the Scillies until we could relax at all, so everyone is rather broken.”

One of the most punishing rides was that experienced by Ross Hobson and his two crew on the diminutive blue Seacart 30 Buzz.

“It’s an extreme boat. Its physically and mentally abusive, because you’re sitting there getting beaten up, we’re all sore from getting hit by waves. You’re wet, you’re miserable.

The Seacart 30 Buzz leaving the Solent
Photo: Rick Tomlinson

“We didn’t get passed by Charal until Portland Bill, we were sitting at 18-knots plus. That’s the performance level we’ve got. But then as soon as the wind swung and we got headed we get beaten to hell. The boat’s too light, so you slam-stop-slam-stop. You’re depowering all the time, we were on four reefs and a reef in the jib. And then when we came around the back of the Rock the sea state was too big for us to really open up because we were catching waves and nose diving.

“We played it a bit safe, because it was more important to get round safely. We knew that the organisers were taking a wee bit of a risk letting us out there.”

Buzz was taking so much water over the trampoline that the crew helmed in full survival suits and discovered two fish tucked next to the port beam. “It’s hard work, but it’s great fun.”

Together wtih Pelletier winning IRC 1, French teams are dominating the results overall in the IRC fleets. Didier Gaudoux is 2nd in IRC 1 on his JND 39 Lann Ael 2, having won the race overall two years ago. The hugely successful Gery Trentesaux is leading IRC 2 on the JPK 1080 Courrier Recommandé, while first to finish in IRC 3 was the impressive double-handed team of Jean Pierre Kelbert, designer of the successful JPKs, and Alexis Loison, overall winner of the 2013 race, in the JPK 1030 Léon.

The challenge for those boats which will be slowest to finish is a second weather cell approaching from the south-west which is expected to increase wind speeds to 30-35 knots, gusting higher, on Friday.