A third of the fleet retire after severe conditions, and surprise as a 30ft cat leads over much bigger rivals

The Round Britain & Ireland Race has come to a temporary halt as yachts shelter in Scotland from storm force winds. Most of the fleet have been sheltering in Barra, in the Outer Hebrides, the second stop of the race, waiting for the wind to abate. Three yachts left this morning on the next leg to Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, and as conditions moderate others are expected to follow today.

This is the second gale that the fleet has faced since the start from Plymouth on 9 June. The 38-strong fleet left in strong winds and met conditions described as ‘incredible’ west of the Scilly Isles, where three different wave trains converged. Although the winds reportedly never exceeded 35 knots, an extreme sea state decimated the fleet. A third retired through gear failure or damage and two J110s and a J120 were dismasted.

Among those who returned to Plymouth or Falmouth were Robin Knox-Johnston and Bill Foster on the 45ft catamaran Spirit (formerly Spirit of England) after finding a split in their port hull, and another race favourite, Robin Herbert and ex-Team Philips crew Graham Goff on the 40ft cataraman Gleam. They broke a daggerboard.

But the first leg also caused some pleasant surprises. The first crew to arrive in Crosshaven were Roger Barber and Malcolm Whitehead in Meridian, a 30ft Shuttleworth catamaran, to their amazement well ahead of Ross Hobson and Bill Minto in the 40ft Mollymawk, a previous race winner as FPC Greenaway.

But this wasn’t just a lucky streak, as Meridian proved by arriving first again into Barra this weekend. Unfortunately, the storm forced them to sit out more than the compulsory 48 hours, and as the race is run on elapsed time their leading margin has been eroded. However, Meridian was one of the three yachts that set off again this morning, the other two being the Open 50 Branec III (Roger Langevin and Henriette Lemay) and 43ft catamaran Pegasus (Peter and Ralph Kinch).