Fastnet Race: Many boats heading home.

A steady influx of boats has continued to stream into Sutton Harbour in Plymouth's historic Barbican quarter today, the first finishers in the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race. At the end of the afternoon, 17 boats have arrived including eight IMOCA 60s led by Sebastien Josse's BT IMOCA 60s, and including Volvo Ocean Race winner Mike Sanderson's Team Pindar, home in seventh place and fourth in the IMOCA 60 class.

"We have amazingly tight racing between quite different boats if you saw them lined up on the dock," commented Sanderson upon his arrival. "Seb Josse and Vincent Riou [former Vendee Globe winner, sailing on Akena Verandas] are incredibly experienced singlehanded sailors. I knew as soon as they were with us at Fastnet Rock that we were going to struggle."

According to Sanderson he lost distance on the leaders en route back to Bishop Rock from the Fastnet when he didn't direct Team Pindar far enough north. "North of the rhumb line was pretty advantageous. You saw Safran gain a lot there and Aviva lost a lot on the outside of us. So I need to learn my lessons and believe in the routing."

This was Sanderson's fifth Rolex Fastnet Race, his previous races on board boats like the maxis New Zealand Endeavour and Sayonara and the Volvo Ocean 60 Merit Cup. Otherwise it had turned out to be a challenging race, much better than the forecast had indicated before the start. "We always love some breezy reaching stuff in Open 60 world. A 600 mile windward-leeward isn't ideal for these boats but it was great, even though the course wasn't great for us to blast along." His blue IMOCA 60, designed by Juan Kouyoudmjian, who also penned ABN AMRO ONE, his 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race winner, is in the process of being sold but Sanderson hopes to remain involved with the boat when it transfers to its new owner.

While ICAP Leopard scored the elapsed time win for a second consecutive time, the all-important handicap victory is looking increasingly like it will go to Niklas Zennström's immaculately sailed 72 footer, Ran 2. Plymouth sailor Nigel Passmore and his IRC-optimised TP52 Apollo looked vaguely hopeful, but as the latest arrival their elapsed time corrected out to 3 hours 18 minutes outside of Ran 2's corrected time of 4 days 2 hours and 30 minutes. This left Apollo fourth overall with the two STP65s Luna Rossa and Rosebud/Team DYT between them and the race leader.

Aside from the handicap win, one of the toughest competitions remaining on the water is going on in the Class 40 fleet where, once again, French shorthanded sailor Tanguy de LaMotte is leading aboard his Initiatives Saveurs - Novedia Group. At 1600 GMT his blue and white Class 40 was rounding Bishop Rock.

"Once we got around the Fastnet, we've been pretty quick," commented round the world sailor, Liz Wardley, competing on board. Mid-afternoon they were "hooning along" in 15-22 knots of westerly breeze and relatively flat seas. Wardley reckoned the wind would veer to the northwest tonight and drop as they approached Plymouth tomorrow morning.

Having won the Transat and most recently the Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race, here on the Rolex Fastnet Race, Italian Giovanni Soldini is in the unusual position of not leading the Class 40 fleet. However, relishing the big broad reaching conditions, his boat has been closing in on the leader. From 13 miles behind this morning, late afternoon he has closed to within six miles. According to Soldini, the reason for catching up today has purely been one of his powerful boat preferring the stronger conditions.

The reason why Soldini is in catch-up mode is partly due to snaring a net around his yacht's keel bulb off the Lizard. "That was very bad for us," said Soldini. "We'll see if we can catch up Tanguy, but it is very difficult. We are catching up slowly, but I don't think it will be enough. So we need to hope for some tactical opportunity."

Among the large luxury rides that have reached Sutton Harbour is the well-appointed Performance Yacht 100, Liara, belonging to Tony Todd. Among the benefits of sailing on board this New Zealand-built super yacht has been the opportunity to shower and eat cordon-bleu food and a chance to delve into their extensive DVD collection, where we understand Bad Boys II was the favourite of the trip in the quieter moments.

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