Alex Thomson gets a dream start to the Fastnet Race as the race against time begins, Elaine Bunting reports

Alex Thomson’s stunning all-black Hugo Boss led the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet out through the Needles just after noon today as the delayed race finally got away. Thomson and his co-skipper Andrew Cape led the beat into south-westerly winds of 15-20 knots, ahead of 14 other Open 60s, making a dream start for the British skipper and his massively powerful, lightweight new boat.

The exit from the Solent was a conclusive demonstration of the windward might of the newest of the Open 60s and, perhaps, a clue that the new Finot-Conq designs are particularly hot. Right behind Hugo Boss was the other Finot design, Yann Elies’s Generali, then a gap between them and the four new Farr designs: PRB, Delta Dore and Estrella Damm.

Shortly after Hurst Narrows, however, Estrella Damm succumbed to problems and returned to Cowes (we don’t know the reason at present) and PRB had to land a cameraman who suffered a laceration to his head.

One class that decided not to set out at all was the ORMA 60 trimaran class. Their skippers agreed among each other that the risk of damage was too high, and too much of a risk before the showcase Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race in November, and they left to return to France yesterday.

As the IRC classes beat westwards, the wind steadily built. By the Needles, wind over tide had built short seas with overfalls, and many yachts were reefed down. This is the start of a a wet, bumpy, tactical and very long beat down-Channel until, sometime tomorrow, skippers make the all-important decision about whether or not to continue round Land’s End and into the Celtic Sea and a forecast north-westerly gale. 

For the IRC Class 0 fleet, a monohull course record is a real possibility, but to claim it – and to minimise the risks of damage – they are in a race against time to get to the Fastnet Rock before the wind veers into the north-west late on Tuesday. If they get there, the two canting keel maxis, Alfa Romeo and ICAP Leopard could scream back to Plymouth covering the final 250 miles in under 10 hours.

This year, for the first time, all the yachts taking part have fitted tracking devices to relay their positions, and you can follow the fleet on the RORC website. 

The photo above by Chris Ison shows Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss leading from Bernard Stamm in Cheminees Poujoulat