As competitors for the 50th Rolex Fastnet Race start to arrive in the Solent for Saturday’s start from Cowes, focus is turning to the weather forecasts which get increasingly accurate the closer to the event, and five days out a few tentative observations can be made.
Volvo Ocean Race winning navigator Jules Salter, is racing on the Maxi 72 Notorious, owned Peter Morton observes:
“With the amount of heating we have got going on – it could easily be gusting over 30 knots by the time we start. It is really a day where you should be wind surfing or kite boarding!”
There may be less wind for the first starters, the multihulls at 1300 BST and followed by the IMOCAs at 1320. However, at that point the tide is still flooding in the western Solent and the water will be flatter. This year for safety reasons, the eight starts have been separated by 20 minute intervals so by the time the last, for IRC Zero and Super Zero, takes place, there should be a stronger sea breeze, but also a lumpy wind-against-tide chop, accentuated when the boats pass through Hurst Narrows at the western exit to the Solent.
It is looking likely that the race will be a beat in lively conditions all the way to Land’s End. But after this, it is anybody’s guess.
“It is quite complicated because the European model has a secondary low spinning up off the front that goes through on Saturday and that is pretty ill-defined, hovering out there in the Western Approaches, but that secondary low hasn’t even formed yet – that is still something in ‘computer world’. Some models have you sailing through the middle of it in absolutely no wind and others have you on the back side of it in 25 knots. Some models show the low as elongated, more like a trough line, so you almost get northeasterlies on the other side of it off the Irish coast. So it is dynamic at the moment. Plus it is hot to the south and cold to the north and we are right on the boundary, so there will be some big breeze within that. It is just how it forms, where those lows form, how quickly they deepen, how much warm air mixes with how much cold air. The secondary low could be 30 miles north or 30 miles south and suddenly you have got a different scenario depending on if you are on the right or wrong side of it. There is always the chance that the small boats might end up getting left a long way behind, but might get a 25-30 knots southwesterly and just beam reach in and then run up the Channel at the end. It is pretty open at the moment.”
What seems certain is that in this 50th Rolex Fastnet Race competitors could well end up using their entire sail wardrobe before they reach Cherbourg. The winner may come from whichever part of the fleet is able to reach to, and back from, the Fastnet Rock in the best pressure.