Fastnet course speed record tumbles by over three hours
One of the most exacting of sailing records, the Fastnet record, was pared back to just over a day on 6 April when the MOD70 trimaran Powerplay set a new record of 25h 4m. Owner Peter Cunningham and seven crew stormed from Cowes to the lighthouse and back to Plymouth at an average speed of 23.7 knots.
They broke the previous record for the 595mile course by well over three hours. That had been held since 2015 by another MOD70, Lloyd Thornburg’s Phaedo3.
“The Fastnet course has been raced for nearly 100 years, so to be the fastest is a brilliant achievement, and the Powerplay crew is fantastic,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham bought the MOD70 (formerly Concise 10) in 2018. With no major races possible because of the pandemic, he decided to do some ‘pot hunting’ for records close to the boat’s UK base – the wafer-margin round the Isle of Wight and Fastnet records were at the top of the wishlist.
WHAT IT TAKES
A ridge of high pressure over the British Isles in early April presented the possibility of breaking both records in one swoop, and early on 5 April Cunningham set off with skipper Ned Collier Wakefield, navigator and weather expert Miles Seddon and crew Tom Dawson, John Hamilton, Paul Larsen, Jack Trigger and Martin Watts.
Powerplay would need to sail there and back at a true wind angle of 80-120°, ideally a wind range of 18-24 knots so that the boat could be reefed (and preferably double-reefed) to minimise manoeuvres and reduce drag, and as smooth a sea state as possible.
That day, the weather routing was showing a round the island record could be done “within a minute” of the record, and the crew set off with the goal of lapping the Isle of Wight before going straight into the Fastnet course. But as they made a timed run down the Western Solent, it was clear that the odds of the first were too low. “In the northerly, it was so puffy, with peaks of 26 knots and lulls of 11 coming off the New Forest. At 1000 we decided it wasn’t going to happen,” explains Seddon.
At 1138 they crossed the startline off Cowes and shot out past the Needles with the last of the ebb. As they skirted the Dorset coast, conditions were sporting.
“It was a strong and very cold wind, dense and with very powerful gusts. As the wind came off the land we were getting these big cat’s paws.
“At Anvil Point we had 22 knots and suddenly big 30-knot
downdraughts. When you are doing [speeds of] 30 knots and get hit by those it is pretty frightening,” explains Seddon.
By nightfall they were nearing Land’s End. The low temperatures dropped further to -10°C with wind chill, and continual spray. “You had to think about crew management with 40-50 knots of wind all the time across the deck and the boat so wet. There was quite a bit of shivering going on,” says Seddon.
Powerplay weathered confused seas at Land’s End but it was, admits Seddon: “heinous, with a north-flowing tide and very powerful gusts.”
“It was very violent. We had five guys queuing up to be sick off the trampoline. It was not a good advert for record-breaking.”
On the way to the rock, the record time slipped, and Cunningham and his crew found themselves ‘chasing the ghost boat’. But once round the lighthouse and on the way back to Plymouth, Powerplay lengthened her stride. Dawn broke, the sun came up and the sea flattened. They finished at lunchtime on 6 April with three hours and 42 minutes to spare, having made a single gybe at the Fastnet Rock.
Seddon says: “As we were sailing back to the Scillies at sunrise, doing 32 knots, Peter was driving and he looked at me. I thought he was going to say we’re not doing any more records, but he said: ‘Have you started looking at any more?’.” Not bad for someone who is 80!
On 22 April, Powerplay followed this up by joining in a race for the Cowes-dinard record with Giovanni Soldini’s Multi70 Maserati. Both boats broke it, though Maserati was 3 minutes 43 seconds quicker on the 138-mile course, and set a new time of 4h 30m. Both teams logged boat speeds in excess of 40 knots.