UK Fastnet Race Preview

17 Mini’s will set off from Plymouth today in search of the iconic Fastnet Rock. The course was changed yesterday and we are now going from Plymouth straight to Coningbeg then onto the Fastnet Rock, down to Bishop Rock then back to Plymouth, a total of 561 miles.

The change was to allow a less brutal Irish Sea crossing. Rather than a hard beat all the way to the rock we will now have a one sided fetch just off the wind, at around 80 degrees twa (true wind angle).

There is a massive low sitting in the Irish Sea which could spit anything at us. We’re all on for a bit of a beating with winds expected up to 35 knots. With the changing wind direction the sea will be very lumpy, not ideal conditions for the mini.

We start at 1200 in about 20 knots, upwind all the way to Lands End via Eddystone Lighthouse. From there we go straight to Coningbeg a cardinal marker off the SE corner or Ireland. Afterwards we head towards the Fastnet Rock on the SW coast. The wind is due to swing North East by this point so we will be in full upwind mode, purely on starboard tack. Round the rock we will hopefully get the kite up for the first time and enjoy a downwind blast towards bishops rock.

As we reach Bishop Rock and the Scillies a high pressure system will bring us light winds and we will most likely round in as little as 4 knots of breeze. A welcomed break by this point I imagine. With the wind filling in from the North we’re then on for another power reach back to Plymouth.

With such testing conditions we’ve packed a large amount of food and special treats to keep energy and motivation high. A new edition to the mini this race is two hot water bottles – a hopeful attempt to keep us both toasty warm at night. With my iPod still broken from my qualifier we will be music less – I officially apologise to Lizzy now as I will start singing due to the lack of tunes very early on!!

With recent changes to the ISAF rules and TSS’ there will be some interesting tactical decisions to make. We are required to cross the TSS (trafic seperation scheme) at 90 degrees or to avoid the system completely. The rules relating to Traffic Separation Schemes are enforceable in the courts for all vessels, including boats racing, and heavy fines can be, and frequently are, imposed for non-compliance. We potentially have 5 TSS’ to navigate through, Land’s End, just off Bristol, Fastnet Rock then two off Bishop Rock.

Over the last couple days there has been great debate on what 90 degrees is, whether it’s your boats heading or your course over the ground. Where in the rules it states your heading, how one proves your heading is unknown to me with leeway and tide both effecting your course over ground. Many sailing races have brought in rules to require competitors to avoid the TSS’ completely. The Vendee Globe being one, of which 7 boats were given penalties in this years race due to infringements. Henry Bomby, Artemis Graduate and Figaro competitor wrote a brilliant article explaining it all in great details.

Certainly an interesting race ahead.

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