Despite the blustery Force 5-6 southwesterly that was ploughing up the Solent, there were some very slick tactics on display at the start of the 2001 Rolex Fastnet Race at 1600 yesterday.

Emma Richards and Mikaela von Koskull made a near perfect start onboard their trimaran Pindar only to see Francis Joyon’s 60ft trimaran Eure et Loire, winner of the 2000 STAR, ease past and lead the 233-boat fleet through the Needles and into Christchurch Bay. Joyon and Eure et Loire are joined once again by multi-Olympic medallist Rodney Pattisson, reuniting the core of the team that broke the Hoya Round the Island Race record.

Eure et Loire is still up and running and should be finishing sometime on Tuesday barring any incident. Pindar was making excellent progress but, like 17 other boats, she has since been forced to retire with unspecified gear damage. Alex Bennett’s Open 50 Ocean Challenger, formerly Pete Goss’ Aqua Quorum, has also retired after her forestay parted at 0830 this morning off Start Point.

“It just went with a bang,” said Bennett. “It is just one of the hazards of racing, when you push the boats occasionally things break. We are going into Dartmouth, where we hope to have a new forestay made so we can take part in the America’s Cup Jubilee regatta in Cowes next week.”

Also starting at 1600 was the VO60 fleet and Olympic silver medallist John Kostecki was in outrageous mood. He wound illbruck and her crew up perfectly and port tacked the four-boat Volvo fleet, jaws dropping all the way down the line. illbruck led ahead of Roy Heiner’s Assa Abloy, Jez Fanstone’s News Corp and Gurra Krantz’s Team SEB.

There’s a new leader now because News Corp skipper Jez Fanstone picked the perfect strategy in staying north rather than diving out into the Channel. At 0800 this morning he had built a five-mile lead over Kostecki’s illbruck and Heiner’s Assa Abloy, both contesting second, while Krantz’s SEB continues to trail.

News Corp was spotted this morning right alongside one of the two grandes dames of this race, Giovanni Agnelli’s 92ft Stealth. Stealth and Mike Slade’s 90ft Leopard matched each other tack for tack up the Solent yesterday but now Leopard has done what she does in every race – streaked away. Stealth maybe fast but Leopard breaks records.

If Kostecki’s start was special, Iain Percy’s was priceless. At the helm of David Lowe’s Farr 52 Loco, the British Olympic gold medallist port tacked the entire fleet giving Loco’s Australian crew the best possible boost at the start of what will be a fairly grim race.

Fellow gold medallist Shirley Robertson wasn’t quite so fortunate onboard Ludde Ingvall’s slippy 78ft Nicorette. The short chop ad gusty 20-25 knot winds put paid to a couple of her battens and within half a mile of the start, her main was on the deck as she proceeded under headsail alone while repairs were effected.

Then she suffered a small electrical fire in the navigation station. Fortunately now, all is well. In Ingvall’s most recent report, he says Nicorette is going “like a bat out of hell.” She rounded the Lizard at lunch today and expects to be rounding the Rock early Tuesday morning.

The urge to compete was unleashed a little too freely in some instances and the retirement figure of 18 includes several of the smaller boats involved in collisions on the line. Many of the starters also failed to pass within the Alpha mark off the island shore, and it will be their unpleasant task to add a percentage penalty to their elapsed time.

And there’s plenty of unpleasantness about, as Lorna Graham, racing on the Reflex 38 Criterion, describes. “It was carnage coming out of the Solent and we were willing ourselves to get through. The big boats were screaming up on us. There was 30 knots of breeze so it was very tiring. Then the weather dropped off a bit, but there were big seas and we were suffering. Everything is drenched, the boat and us.”

Fastnet records:

  • Fas