Incident-packed first day for Rolex Fastnet Race fleet with rescues, retirements and one yacht sunk

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Incident-packed first 24 hours for Rolex Fastnet Race fleet led to multiple rescues, retirements and one yacht sunk in early stages of the race

After yesterday’s strong wind start for the Rolex Fastnet Fleet, the number of boats that have retired from racing has continued to multiply. At 0700 this morning over 80 of the 445 entries had officially retired from racing, and by this afternoon that had increased to 112.

It was an incident-packed first day and night for many competitors in the fleet, and for rescue services along the south coast of England and Isle of Wight.

Wind speeds in the western Solent were particularly high, with data from Hurst Castle last night recording 38 knots, gusting 43 shortly after 2000 hours.

HM Coastguard reported that they responded to 28 incidents involving yachts participating in the Fastnet Race.

Lifeboats and coastal rescue teams from Yarmouth, Poole, Weymouth, Swanage, Portland and Wyke were all deployed to multiple incidents, with Yarmouth RNLI in the western Solent being called out six times alone. The Coastguard helicopter was also deployed to assist injured crew members.

Fastnet sinking and dismastings

The most dramatic incident was the sinking of a French double-handed yacht in the western Solent. A search and rescue helicopter and two RNLI lifeboats were deployed after reports that the Sunfast 3600 Vari was taking on water. The two crew members were found in their liferaft – both were safely recovered safely and taken ashore to Yarmouth.

The Rolex Fastnet Race race committee issued a statement saying: “At approximately 16:30 yesterday afternoon the Sun Fast 3600 Vari began to take on water southwest of the Needles.

“The boat is believed to have sunk although the exact reasons are not yet confirmed.”

With near back-to-back callouts for many rescue crews, the Coastguard and RNLI were tasked to assist included yacht Azora with steering failure, and another vessel with medical assistance for a head injury.

In other incidents, one yacht ran aground off Beaulieu (after the anchor dragged), and Richard Matthews’ CF520 Oystercatcher XXXV suffered deck failure.

Though there was at least one MOB/EPIRB alarm, it turned out to be a false alarm and all crew are accounted for.

There were also four dismastings. Golden Globe Race skipper Tapio Lehtinen was dismasted on his 1970 Swan 55 Galiana, which is entered in this September’s Ocean Globe Race – a crewed ‘retro’ style race being held in homage to the 50th anniversary of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Lehtinen posted on Facebook: “Galiana WithSecure was dismasted at 22.30 local time South East of Portland Bill. Main mast fell down at the lowest spreaders. 

“Everyone onboard and the boat itself is sound and safe. We were able to get the rig and sails onboard. Coastguard and RORC informed. 

“Now slowly drifting towards the Needles and waiting for the daylight to motor back to Gosport. 2/3 of the team are resting.”

The Sun Fast 3200 Mirabelle was also dismasted, along with the Royal Naval Sailing Association’s Sun Fast 3600 Yoyo; and Nick Martin’s Sun Fast 2600 Diablo.

Meanwhile Gery Trenteseaux’s Sydney 43 Long Courrier retired after their mast suffered significant deformation near the base, though the crew rigged a jury system to support it (left).

“The strong winds last night were forecast well in advance,” commented Rolex Fastnet Race Race Director Steve Cole in a statement issued this afternoon.

“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.”

Fastnet teams wait out weather

Other teams opted to take refuge from the conditions before restarting. Crew member Jaime Torres, who is racing aboard the First 40 Olympia’s Tigress, posted: “Fastnet update: We are a charter boat racing with an amazing mix of a top pro sailor and several intermediate and advanced crew members  aged from 18 to 60 y/o. 

“We started at 14:00 in 25 knots and slack tide.  In prep for very tough conditions to come, we were sailing under storm jib and triple reefed main. That would turn out to be a wise choice. We went faster as the wind got stronger. 

“We kept a very sharp lookout as the gusty conditions, fast current and the fact that we were surrounded by 450 competing yachts made for a lot of close crossings. We were doing 7.5s on the [boat speed] and up to 9 knots on SOG due to current.

“The wind continued to build as we worked our way west out of the Solent. On approach to the west exit just inside the Needles, our skipper noticed the massive breaking waves caused by the super strong winds against an outgoing tide. 

“Safety is our number one concern so we made the call to temporarily turn back to Yarmouth and moor to let the worse of the weather pass. 

“Conditions are close to extreme and several boats have suffered catastrophic damage.”

“WE ARE STILL RACING. We intend to reengage at dawn when the conditions are forecasted to improve.”

Moonbeam, the 1903 Fife-designed gaff yawl took this plan one step further. The classic, which is skippered by the Vendée Globe Race director and French offshore racing legend Jacques Caraës, waited the worst of the weather out in Cowes overnight before restarting on Sunday morning.

The Ultime SVR-Lazartigue was first boat around the Fastnet Rock. Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

Line honours contenders

Meanwhile the hot competition for Rolex Fastnet Race line honours continues. Francois Gabart’s SVR-Lazartigue is leading the fleet, with less than 200 miles to the finish in Cherbourg after blasting back from Fastnet Rock at 30 knots. They are expected to arrive into Cherbourg late this evening

The 88-footer Lucky is in close contention with the IMOCA Arkea-Paprec for monohull line honours, and early predictions show the first monohull finishing early on Tuesday, 25 July.

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