IPC’s Ed Stacey reports, champagne in hand, from the deck of Mike Golding’s Challenge 67 Ecover, formerly Group 4, as she sets out on the final 240 miles of the Rolex Fastnet Race

“Drinking Champagne at 0530! Now I know what it feels like to be George Best! We notified the race committee at 0545 of our position due north of Fastnet Rock. It was a cause for celebration as this small but imposing chunk of granite looming out of the dawn twilight represented everything we have worked towards in this race.

“In the final hours it seemed like an impossible task. The fine reaching conditions we had been enjoying throughout most of yesterday suddenly halted when the wind cruelly shifted through 180 degrees and was now heading directly from the northwest. We now had to beat towards our mark and to make matters worse it began to rain – hard.

“For the next nine hours we made reasonable progress but it was hard going and just as the light from the rock hove into view, the wind died. This was the toughest time of all. Alex, our watch leader, had joked only a couple of days before about drifting helplessly in sight of the Fastnet, now it was no joke.

“Out came the genoa again and gradually, as the apparent wind built again to 10, then 12 knots, we were on our way. Coming around the waypoint also brought the great news that Inspirer, our 67ft Challenge rival, was behind us.

“Meanwhile the 80ft Whitbread veteran Creightons was six hours behind, both indications that we were doing well in Class 0 and this gave us cause to be happy after what had been an excruciatingly long 24 hours.

“That is not to say it has not been enjoyable. There have been some truly memorable moments: Dolphins appeared yesterday afternoon in the Western Approaches. Coy at first they were trailing us just beneath the water surface, as they became more confident they began leaping out of the water and crossing our bows – a pod of ten, all within arms length.

“The onboard humour has definitely degenerated to a level where everybody feels comfortable. The work rate has been high and every muscle is aching. We have had more new sails than MFI and each time the skipper looks out the companionway we all try to avoid eye contact in case it means another change.

“Seriously though, we are still in a race and with 138nm to the Scilly Isles, this is far from over. So now it is time to rejoin the watch. We are running under spinnaker on a bright and clear morning, breakfast is being served and I am wearing clean pants. What more could a guy ask for?”

Ed Stacey