A brutal first night at sea in this 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race has seen numerous retirements and many others seeking temporary shelter from the gale force conditions in the English Channel.

For example, wind data from Hurst Castle at 20:10 BST last night recorded 38 knots, gusting 43. Yesterday evening off St Alban’s Point, the crew on Stuart Lawrence's J/120 Scream II reported 46 knots.

At the time of writing, from the 430 official starters (excluding 15 DNS), 86 have officially retired, comprising 78 across the IRC fleet (the biggest number being 27 in IRC Two) plus two Class40s, two IMOCAs, three MOCRA multihulls and one Ocean 50 trimaran. In the severe conditions HM Coastguard reported involvement in 28 incidents, including one sinking. Of the latter, in a statement the Rolex Fastnet Race race committee stated: “At approximately 16:30 yesterday afternoon the Sun Fast 3600 Vari began to take on water southwest of the Needles. Thanks to the swift response of the emergency services both crew members were evacuated to Yarmouth, Isle of Wight and are safe and well. The boat is believed to have sunk although the exact reasons are not yet confirmed.”

Several calls to HM Coastguard were to do with injured crew. Otherwise, four yachts dismasted – Heather Tarr’s Yoyo from Ireland; Nick Martin’s Diablo; Bertrand Daniels’ Mirabelle and Tapio Lehtinen's Swan 55 yawl Galiana (due to compete in the Ocean Globe Race shortly). In addition Azora sustained broken steering, Dulcissima a loss of rigging, while Richard Matthews’ CF520 Oystercatcher XXXV sustained deck failure and Oida ran aground after her anchor dragged. There were several other incidents in which HM Coastguard was not involved, including the mast foot exploding on Long Courrier who retired to Cowes – the only occasion race veteran and 2015 winner Géry Trentesaux has retired from this race.

In addition 15 registered entries didn’t start yesterday, including one of the race favourites - Peter Morton’s Maxi 72 Notorious in IRC Super Zero. Many more sought shelter after starting. A trio of French offshore racing legends were among a group that returned to Cowes: Marc Guillemot's WellnessTraining/MG5, Roland Jourdain's Outremer 59 We Explore and the Fife classic Moonbeam on which round the world record breaker and former Vendée Globe race director Jacques Caraes is skipper. Round the corner in Osborne Bay was Michael Orgzey's Swan 48's Dantes, in Newtown Creek was Martin Andrews Cork Malt II, with an additional 13 in Yarmouth. Having braved Poole Bay, four were in Poole Harbour; five in Studland Bay, one in Swanage, three in Weymouth and 15 in Portland Harbour. The majority resumed sailing this morning as conditions abated.

“The strong winds last night were forecast well in advance,” commented Rolex Fastnet Race Race Director Steve Cole. “The club would like to thank HM Coastguard and the RNLI for their assistance. It is thanks to their effort and skill that the incidents were dealt with professionally and those who required assistance were recovered safely. Now the front has passed the wind and sea state have dropped, and conditions are even set to be light over the next 24 hours.”

This morning the wind has dropped to 10-15 knots in the western English Channel and is expected to drop further to 5-10 knots in the Celtic Sea for the crossing to the Fastnet Rock.

First to the Fastnet Rock

This morning at 08:15 BST the François Gabart-skippered Ultim SVR Lazartigue was the first to round the Fastnet Rock. SVR Lazartigue's lead came about when she shaved the north side of the Casquets TSS, while Banque Populaire XI went south of it (the TSSes, or traffic separation schemes, are considered obstructions and entering them is prohibited). Thanks to this, as SVR Lazartigue was passing the Lizard shortly before 22:00 BST last night she was already 15 miles ahead. Both passed south of the TSS off Land’s End and overnight were making 26-30 knots upwind across the Celtic Sea. After making landfall just west of Cork, they tacked along the coast.

SVR Lazartigue rounded the Fastnet Rock at 08:04:31 BST this morning, in an elapsed time of 19 hours 4 minutes 31 seconds. This was outside of the multihull record time to the Rock set in the 2019 race by Maxi Edmond de Rothschild in 2019 with an elapsed time of 18 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds.

Source : Rolex Fastnet Race