The Rolex Fastnet Race has had more than its fair share of high profile female sailors this year.
Of course Dona Bertarelli was the first to finish into Plymouth as the new co-skipper of the world's largest racing trimaran and fastest offshore race boat, the 40m long, Spindrift II. This boat won Rolex Fastnet Race line honours for a second consecutive time.
24 minutes later the Sidney Gavignet-skippered MOD 70 trimaran, Oman Air-Musandam, finished with a crew including not only round the world yachtswoman Dee Caffari, the only woman to have sailed around the world the wrong way, but young Omani sailor, Raiya Al Habsi (25). In a Muslim country where traditionally women haven't been encouraged to take part in sport, the women's squad of sailors at Oman Sail has been both breaking new ground culturally as well as being an inspiration to other young Omani women.
"I can hardly believe I finished the Rolex Fastnet Race," Raiya said on finishing. "It was a little bit tough but the guys were amazing - they took good care of me and taught me a lot and it felt good to be part of such a successful team," said just after they crossed the finish line."
Top sailors including Dee Caffari, as well as America's Cup sailor Katy Pettibone and Liz Rushall have been among those mentoring the Oman Sail women's squad, but Al Habsi's participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race has taken Omani women's sailing to a new level. Team SCA is fielding the first women's team in the Volvo Ocean Race since the Amer Sport campaign in the 2001-2 round the world race. They were competing on board their VO70 training boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race, their first official competitive outing since the sailing team was set up earlier this year. The crew includes British sailor Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies and Olympic women's match racer Annie Lush, however for the Rolex Fastnet Race it had three male crew acting as coaches.
In total nine women have skippered boats in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race, while there have been three all-women teams, including Girls for Sail, led by Susan Glenny, on the Elan 37, Jumbuck, and Captain Lucinda Allaway on the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre's Sigma 38, Redcoat.
However the winner of this unofficial championship has been Lucy Reynolds' team on the First 40, Southern Child.
While Lucy and her husband Christian normally run the Swan 51 Northern Child, for the Rolex Fastnet Race Lucy put together an all-female crew, mostly comprising paying guests. For this they chartered a First 40, Southern Child.
Southern Child arrived at 0847 BST on Thursday. "We had a slow last half hour to the race - we drifted across the finish line and then 18 knots immediately kicked in!" recounted Reynolds.
Of the record breaking-sized fleet of 337 boats that set sail from the Solent last Sunday at the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the majority has now finished in Plymouth. Just 14 boats are still racing with the classic Fife gaff yawl, Duet, bringing up the rear, having only broken the '200 miles-to-go' barrier earlier this morning.
One of the latest arrivals this morning has been the Sigma 33c, Elmarleen, sailed by Will Sayer and Tim Paull. Significantly Sayer won the Two Handed class in the Rolex Fastnet Race two years ago aboard Elmarleen.
He had been hoping to repeat his success this year. Unfortunately conditions conspired against Elmarleen, as Sayer observes: "We have come in about six hours ahead of last time but this time we haven't done half as well. This year it was neither a big boat nor a little boat race - Class 2 and 3 have dominated."
The smallest, slowest boats in the fleet had to endure a very light first 48 hours. Sayer adds that they were unlucky after passing Portland Bill, when the bulk of the fleet managed to duck into Lyme Bay to get out of the worst of the foul tide, while Elmarleen had remained offshore.
While the Maxis were being becalmed off the Scilly Isles on the way back from the Fastnet Rock, the smaller boats suffered the same fate only with the return journey across the Celtic Sea still ahead of them. Sayer reckons it took them a whole day just to crawl from Land's End to the north of the Scillies. "We were lolloping around doing 2-3 knots, knowing that everyone else was in better wind ahead - it was very painful."
Todd Wells, owner of J/109, Je Vante, has a dry sense of humour, cultivated from decades of working with top rock bands, including Dire Straits.
There were 21 J/109s entered into this year's Rolex Fastnet Race - the 45th edition - creating the largest one-design class racing under IRC. Todd Wells' Je Vante crossed the finish line nearly two hours ahead of the rest, to win the battle of the J/109s. Todd and his crew are all amateurs; none of them even work within the maritime industry. For them, the Rolex Fastnet Race is the pinnacle of a long hard season of offshore racing with the Royal Ocean Racing Club.
"Having sailed on other people's yachts for years and annoyed most of the owners, I realised that I would have to do the Rolex Fastnet Race in my own boat because nobody wanted to have me," laughed Todd with a wry smile.
The father and son team from Cherbourg, France sailing the JPK 1010 Night n Day have won the overall Fastnet Challenge Trophy on handicap, some 33 minutes ahead on corrected time of another JPK 1010 Foggy Dew in second. This is the first time in the Rolex Fastnet Race's 88 year history that a two-handed entry has won.
The writing was on the wall when they claimed the RORC Channel Race outright at the end of July, but the French father and son team of Alexis and Pascal Loison have pulled it out of the hat again, successfully winning the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race.
While the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier offshore event has featured a doublehanded class for a long time, this is the first occasion in its 88-year history that the Rolex Fastnet Race has been won by a doublehanded crew.
Night And Day, the Loisin's 33ft long JPK 1010, crossed the finish line off Plymouth Breakwater at 07:19:57 BST this morning (Thursday 15 August), with an elapsed time for the 611-mile course of 3 days 18 hours 29 minutes and 57 seconds. Under IRC, their time corrected out to being 33 minutes and 17 seconds ahead of the second placed yacht, another example of the French-built JPK 1010, Noel Racine's Foggy Dew.
The Rolex Fastnet Race Village has burst into life with a flurry of finishing boats arriving in Plymouth during the night. Over 200 yachts have finished the 45th edition of the race and with entries from 20 different countries and crew from many more, there is a cosmopolitan blend of sailors enjoying the atmosphere in the purpose-built village situated within Plymouth Yacht Haven.
The camaraderie between the competitors in this year's race is typified by Géry Trentesaux, skipper of Courrier Vintage and Piet Vroon, skipper of Tonnerre de Breskens, who have been sharing a few memories over coffee in the Rolex Fastnet Race Village. The two great grand masters of corinthian yacht racing hail from different countries and have enjoyed fierce competition over many years but they are also good friends. "We have known each other for about 40 years and there is mutual respect, not just for sailing but also in terms of personality. I am sure that will never change," commented Piet Vroon, 83, who has completed his 25th Fastnet Race.
At just 24 years of age, Nikki Curwen wasn't even born when Piet Vroon has completed over a dozen Fastnets but the budding British sailor crossed the finish line in Artemis 77, winning the Figaro Class. "It hasn't sunk in yet, but today I am just going to chill out and enjoy the Race Village, chatting with my friends and catching up with my Dad who was racing on a Class40. I don't think it is very different for a girl to be here amongst all the male crew, we are all racing sailors and that is what really matters."
For the first time in its 88 year history, the Rolex Fastnet Race has been won by a doublehanded crew.
The father and son team of Pascal and Alexis Loison from Cherbourg, France on the JPK 10.10, Night and Day, arrived at 07:19:57 BST this morning making their elapsed time 3 days 18 hours 29 minutes and 57 seconds for the 611 mile race.
Winning the overall IRC prize in the Rolex Fastnet Race means that Pascal Alexis Loisin will receive the Fastnet Challenge Cup as well as a Rolex Chronograph.
More Race information will follow in our Evening Race Update.
A French whitewash seems on the cards among the IRC results in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race. The overall leader continues to change by the hour, but at present nine of the top 10 finishers on handicap are French.
As anticipated, Géry Trentesaux, one of France's best known keelboat sailors, well remembered on this side of the Channel for helping turn the 2006 Commodores' Cup in France's favour, performed well in his powerful MC34 Patton Courrier. He seems likely to remain in the top five overall under IRC and is in good shape to claim honours in IRC Two.
"The boat is very good," said Trentesaux. "We didn't sail so badly, but ours is a small boat, so it was quite difficult. We were lucky to have some reaching between the Pantaenius mark and the Scilly Isles. We hit 15 knots - not bad for a small boat. This time it is a race for the small boats, like Foggy Dew and Night and Day."
Trentesaux says that he has promised his wife that this will be his last Fastnet, but he has fond memories of the race. "It is magic - you start from Cowes and you have got the Celtic Sea and the Fastnet Rock and come back and drink a lot of beer in Plymouth!"
Hiding amid the big monohull finishers that arrived into Plymouth this morning in the Rolex Fastnet Race's, the closest was between the top IMOCA 60s.
Vendée Globe winners François Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux on the former's MACIF and her sistership Maître Coq (formerly Armel le Cleac'h's Banque Populaire), sailed by Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt, crossed the line off Plymouth breakwater, separated by just 57 seconds after 611 miles of racing.
Most impressively MACIF, sailed doublehanded, arrived at 07:32:19 BST this morning. To put this into context, on the water she beat both of the leading Mini Maxis, Bella Mente and Rán 2, as well as the VO70 Team SCA; all of these boats at least 10ft longer and being sailed with a full crew.
Alex Thomson and Spaniard Guillermo Altadill on Hugo Boss, arrived six minutes after MACIF, behind Team SCA but still ahead of the Mini Maxi. By coincidence this IMOCA 60 podium was the same as this year's Vendée Globe, with Alex Thomson doing an excellent job to hang on to the coat tails of the newer VPLP-Verdier designs.