As the breeze picks up from the north west the smaller boats will be challenging ICAP Maximus for handicap honours

Handicap victory in the Rolex Fastnet Race remains in the balance for ICAP Maximus, as the Maxi crew sit in Plymouth waiting for their smaller rivals to arrive. Co-owner of the 98-foot New Zealand speed machine, Charles St Clair Brown, felt the biggest threat would come from the new TP52 Patches. But the wind was not kind to Eamon Conneely’s crew on the final run into Plymouth, and Patches finished at 0922 hours this morning, just over three hours outside the time they needed to beat the Maxi. However, a new threat has arisen from the smaller boats in the fleet, with a new weather system bringing stronger winds from the north-west. A number of 30-footers have now come into the frame such as Derek Copeman’s Elan 31 Aye! If the breeze holds, we could see the first small boat victory in a Rolex Fastnet Race for many years.
One of the pre-race favourites for IRC honours was Patches, but a windless Celtic Sea did them no favours. However, Conneely was still pleased with his team’s performance despite missing overall victory. The Irish businessman has only been in the sport for four years, and this was his first Rolex Fastnet Race. “We sailed a very good race. We made good gains on the Sunday night early on, Ian [Walker, the skipper] was really focussed and we made loads of sail changes. That first night was probably the highlight. As for winning the race, well, we knew ICAP Maximus were going well when we saw them coming south from the Fastnet Rock. But you can only sail with the wind you’re in.”
Ian Walker was surprised to have been racing boat for boat with the bigger, more powerful Open 60s. They had proved a useful gauge for their performance and progress through the fickle breezes on the way back to the Scilly Isles. “We went further south than most of our rivals, and it was the right way to go. Every time an Open 60 went further south, it made a gain, so we did the same. I dread to think where other boats like Aera are now, the ones that went further north. We could still be out there now.”
The race in the Open 60s appeared to be going down to the wire, with Virbac-Paprec just overhauling Cheminées- Poujoulat in the dying miles to Plymouth. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Dick beat Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm on the water by just 17 minutes. Dick was delighted to have crossed the line first, not only beating Stamm but Mike Sanderson and Pindar, which had led for the first three-quarters of the race. As with Patches, the secret to Dick’s success was heading further south, while Pindar and the leading pack of 60s had held more to the rhumb line between the Fastnet Rock and the Scilly Isles.
However, Dick’s victory would not last for long, because the skipper had to report a grounding incident way back at the start of the race. As Virbac-Paprec was exiting the Solent by Hurst Castle, her deep canting keel struck the bottom and the French boat was stuck. The only way for her to break free was with the help of a rigid-inflatable motorboat nudging her bow away from the stony shore. Having received outside assistance, which is illegal under the racing rules of sailing, Dick had no option but to declare the incident to the race committee. In accordance with the race rules, the Virbac-Paprec accepted a 10% place penalty, which demoted the French team to second, promoting Cheminées-Poujoulat to first in the Open 60s.
After leading the Open 60s for much of the race, Pindar finished over seven hours behind Virbac-Paprec. Emma Richards, sailing with Mike Sanderson, said they felt they had done the right thing with the weather information available to them. “Based on what we knew we would do the same thing again,” she said. “The plan didn’t work for us. We sailed into a hole and the others sailed around us.” Roland Jourdain’s Sill et Veolia finished a clear third, with Mike Golding’s Ecover beating Pindar to fourth place by just six minutes.
Another close finish took place between the British Maxi Leopard of London and the Volvo Open 70 Movistar. Mike Slade steered Leopard into Plymouth at 0517 this morning, less than two minutes in front of Bouwe Bekking’s professional team. Two more contrasting ways of racing the Rolex Fastnet Race it would be hard to imagine. While Bekking’s men were operating in full ocean racing mode, working constantly to trim the boat in between undigestible meals of freeze-dried food, Slade’s team were living like kings.
On-board cameraman Digby Fox said: “This was my sixth time to the Fastnet Rock, but by far the most luxurious. The food was amazing – beautiful salads, hot stews – and we managed to watch a few DVDs in our little two-row cinema down below. We used sail bags for chairs and watched the League of Gentlemen and American Pie – the Wedding.” With a few city financiers on board, there was a complex game of share and options trading based on the predicted finish time in Plymouth. “You could buy and sell your position,” said Fox. “In the end it was the owner, Mike, who came closest to the right time. So he won the money, but he put it straight behind the bar for some drinks when we came ashore.”
While 15 boats have now reached Plymouth, the vast majority of the original 283-boat fleet remain at sea battling through the light airs. This morning, all but the last eight had rounded the Fastnet Rock, with another eight having retired from the race, including Simon Le Bon and his crew on the old Maxi, Arnold Clark Drum.

Picture: Daniel Forster/Rolex