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News 2015

Light airs are forecast for the 46th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race which sets off tomorrow from Cowes, Isle of Wight. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo Light airs are forecast for the 46th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race which sets off tomorrow from Cowes, Isle of Wight. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Dieting and Anchor Cable

A forecast of profoundly light winds is forcing crews to take drastic action before setting off tomorrow on the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

With high pressure mid-Atlantic and over Norway, little gradient wind is forecast for the 600 mile race course from Cowes to the Fastnet Rock and back to Plymouth before a front passes through on Wednesday. As a result chandlers are doing a roaring trade in anchor line, as competitors ensure they can kedge, to prevent themselves drifting backward on the tide, in deep water. Similarly anything not bolted down –in some cases including crew – is being left on the dock in the interest of shedding speed-sapping weight.

“It is going to be very pleasant!” quips Stan Honey, the eminent American navigator, former Jules Verne Trophy record holder and Volvo Ocean Race winner, from Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark’s 100ft Comanche. “It might be one of the nicest weekends of the year in southern England, but it is pretty rotten for sailing - really light, right on through until the morning of Wednesday the 19th.”

This forecast for the 90th anniversary Rolex Fastnet Race firmly favours the small boats which will be able to make the most of the wind when it does fill in later in the week. The mighty Comanche for example, recently confirmed as the world’s fastest offshore racing monohull, is likely to take somewhere around three days to complete the course, twice as long as expected. Honey predicts: “We will get some breeze tomorrow afternoon, but once that glasses off tomorrow night, we will struggle in extremely light air.” While Comanche may finish before the breeze properly fills in, the smaller boats could spend more than 50% of their race in good conditions.

With the first three days set to be stop-start with the tide turns, the race will come down to who can sail smartest, finding what wind there is, who can kedge most effectively, etc. For example it should be possible to make progress by playing the thermal breezes – the onshore ‘sea breeze’ in the afternoon and the ‘land breeze’ during the night. But there are risks, as Honey puts it: “You can make gains by going offshore at night, but then you can often get pasted in the morning when there is a big light spot. It is a very uncertain situation.”

These thermal breezes rely on the temperature differential between the sea and land, which are more significant if it is sunny. However Campbell Field, navigator on Peter Harrison’s TP52 Sorcha warns that cloud cover might prevent this. “I am not seeing huge temperature gradients, so you might be dubious about whether there will be much sea breeze. There is an argument for getting offshore, but it is basically undecided. I think I will make that decision about 3pm tomorrow afternoon as we get flushed out past the Needles!”

The most significant moment will be when a front crosses the Celtic Sea on Wednesday – the boats that pass Land’s End late Tuesday in the building southerly and then reach the Fastnet Rock as the breeze veers into the west on Wednesday should do well.

Making tidal gates will also be a part of the tactical plan. While the boats leave the Solent on the ebb, the top part of the fleet would normally expect to get past Portland by the time the tide turns foul. “I am wondering whether we’ll make it,” says Field. “We’ll have to keep our eyes out of the boat and see what’s happening over land. If we can get a little nudge, then we can sail with some speed towards Portland. I think there is a going to be some skilled anchoring happening during the race. We are wondering how deep it is in the Celtic Sea and if we have enough rope with us!”

Given the present forecast, Field is anticipating that Sorcha will finish sometime on Thursday. “But you only have to have a subtle change in wind speed and the angle for that all to change.”

So what would be the ideal boat given this forecast? Stan Honey reckons a small boat that sails well in light air or a medium-small boat “because in light air there is always a bit of an advantage to a taller rig.” Campbell Field: “A Folkboat! Or a JPK - any of those smaller light boats that can trickle along and sail well to their rating.”

The smallest boat in the fleet is exactly this: the Cabo 30 Santana, being raced two handed by Ashley Perrin and her yacht designer partner Merfyn Owen. The Cabo is a design from the US west coast, with a hull shape that Owen says slips along in light winds. The boat has also been modified to compete on the Lakes in the US with a larger rig. More recently it has had a new keel fitted, a bowsprit and some new sails such as a Code 0, and an asymmetric kite to go with her symmetric kites.

“It looks like a glamour for the smaller boats,” Owen agrees. “I ran the model and at Start Point the Class40s were only 12 miles ahead of us. But it is light airs, so anything can happen.”

The latest routing has Santana reaching Plymouth on Friday lunchtime. 

Eddie Warden Owen, RORC CEO introduces a panel of skippers from across the fleet, competing in the 46th Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo: RORC/Rick Tomlinson Eddie Warden Owen, RORC CEO introduces a panel of skippers from across the fleet, competing in the 46th Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo: RORC/Rick Tomlinson

Going Backwards Is Slow

This morning at the RORC’s new Cowes clubhouse, a select cross-section of competitors in this Sunday’s Rolex Fastnet Race shared their observations about the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial 600 mile flagship event.

By way of introduction, RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen said he was delighted with the record-sized fleet of 370. “We thought that it was pretty special in 2013 when we had a record entry of 336. This year we have ten IMOCA 60s and over 22 Class40s, while down in the middle orders there are the J/109s and Sigma 38s where people are doing this for passion, for an adventure.”

The main feature of this year’s race looks set to be the light forecast. RORC Racing Manager Nick Elliott put a positive spin on it: “It is looking very light at the start, but there is a good possibility for a light sea breeze as the afternoon wears on.”

Warden Owen wisely advised: “In light airs, it is as demanding as it is in strong winds. Going backwards is slow, if you really want to win this race you are going to have to be good at kedging!”

Even Ken Read, skipper of Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark’s 100ft Comanche, technically the fastest monohull in the race and least likely to kedge, agreed: “I have never anchored more in my life than in this race! We have all visited Portland Bill a few times as a group.”

Ian Walker, whose VO70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing which set the present monohull race record in 2011 had been in contact: “He said, ‘just to remind you there is another isobar approximately in Iceland’. Ian is feeling safe about his record right now,” Read continued. “I don’t think any of us do very well in absolutely no wind, but we all have to play the same game. Whatever the breeze is we just have to adapt. Certainly dragging around a boat with an 7+ m beam in very light air is no fun.”Ned Collier Wakefield (Concise 10), Griff Rhys-Jones (Argyll) & Matt Brooks (Dorade) Photo: RORC/Rick Tomlinson

Read observed that Comanche only needs five knots of breeze (if there is flat water) to get going. The same is true of the multihulls taking part where the three MOD 70s and the 80ft trimaran Prince de Bretagne will be chasing the world’s fastest offshore boat, Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s 40m Spindrift 2. Newest to the 70ft trimaran class is Concise, who’s young skipper Ned Collier Wakefield admitted: “Looking at the forecast we are trying to work out how to kedge the thing: If you are a 70ft boat or 32ft boat in no wind, it doesn’t really matter - you still go the same speed. We have to keep her trucking. We might have some breeze later on and a little bit of sea breeze gets us going - we’re up into the 20s if we have 10-12 knots of breeze.”

One team not looking forward to the forecast is the brand new IMOCA Ocean Masters 60 footer Safran, sailed by Morgan Lagraviere and Nicolas Lunven. She and Armel le Cleac’h’s Banque Populaire feature radical new L-shaped side foils, designed both to prevent leeward and provide vertical lift, reducing wetted surface area. Lagraviere admits that the foils have been effective, but only reaching in moderate to strong winds: “I’m not sure this year’s Fastnet will be for us. We will try to do our best. It will be very interesting learning how to use this new boat with the foils and to race with other IMOCA boats, especially Banque Populaire.”

In addition to the IMOCA Ocean Masters 60s, 59 boats in the IRC fleet are also sailing doublehanded. Lowest rated is Lucinda Allaway and Tom Barker’s Contessa 32, Hurrying Angel. Their Rolex Fastnet Race will certainly be long, but could favour their slower, lower rated boat on handicap.

Allaway’s personal objective is to reach Plymouth in time for the party celebrating the 90th anniversary of the race. “In the last ten years, no Contessa has made it in for the Friday night party, so that is our aim, although we have catered until Sunday.”

A slightly different battle is between the S&S classic yawls of the 1930s and 1940s: Matt Brooks’ 52ft, Dorade (Fastnet Race winner in 1931 and 1933 in the hands of her skipper/designer Olin Stephens), Christopher Spray’s 53, Stormy Weather (winner in 1935) and the 57ft Argyll of Welsh comedian Griff Rhys Jones.

The boats have done battle previously, but the Rolex Fastnet Race is their most ambitious race. For Brooks this is the last event in a series Dorade has done emulating Dorade’s 1930s successes. “We are pleased because just four years ago, anyone we talked to said it was impossible and thought it was crazy,” he said.

Griff Rhys Jones was hoping for a stronger wind Fastnet for his boat to stand a chance in the ‘yawl-off’. “If it blows up we win. If it gets quiet then Dorade wins. But if we get out of the Solent, we’ll be lucky!” Personally Jones has only been sailing for 10 years, has owned Argyll for five and been racing for even less. “Our boats have to be completely authentic - there is not one shred of carbon fibre. All the spars are wooden. Our spinnaker pole takes three people to lift up into place! We sail pretty much in original form.”

The largest fleet in the race is the Class40, with 22 boats competing. Spain’s Gonzalo Botin, whose famous yacht designer brother Marcellino conceived his boat, Tales, came close to winning in 2013. “Class40 is a marvellous offshore class, always very competitive. In most races there are 15-20 boats and maybe ten can win. That is the case this time around and with the weather it opens up the game even more.”

Also racing a 40 footer, the Beneteau First 40 La Réponse, is Admiral of the RORC Andrew McIrvine, a competitor typical of the bulk of the race’s giant fleet, for whom the Fastnet is the height of his annual racing calendar. For McIrvine, the IRC race among the 40 footers is a competitive one. “There are a whole bunch of First 40s and 40.7s and the Australians have come over who won the Rolex Sydney Hobarts in the same boat - we beat them by six minutes on corrected time last time. There are some very close battles within this fleet and you always tend to race the boats that you know and are similar.”

Michael Boyd, Commodore of the RORC concluded: “We are delighted that this is a record year and by the quality of the competition. There are a lot of fantastic sailors, who have put their effort, energy and money to be with us for this special race. We wish you all a very successful race and a safe passage.”

 

Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark's 100ft Comanche at the start of the Transatlantic Race 2015. Photo: Daniel Forster Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark's 100ft Comanche at the start of the Transatlantic Race 2015. Photo: Daniel Forster

Who’s Who of Sailing; Women on the Ascent

Marinas around the Solent are already bristling with activity in the build-up to this Sunday’s start of the world’s largest offshore yacht race, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

A record-sized fleet, at present standing at 372 boats (up from 335 in 2013), is entered in this 90th anniversary event. On Sunday this will be split between seven starts, setting off west down the Solent from the Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes. First away at 1200 BST will be the ‘non-IRC’ classes - the Multihulls, led by the world’s fastest offshore racing yacht, Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s 40m trimaran, Spindrift 2. They will be followed 10 minutes later by the Vendée Globe heroes in the IMOCA Ocean Masters class, plus the Class40s and Figaros. After these comes the huge IRC fleet, culminating in the largest monohulls, such as Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark’s 100ft Comanche and George David’s Rambler 88, among the last starters at 1340 BST.

Already boats and sailors are gathering from the four corners of the globe ready for the RORC’s biennial ‘classic’ 600 mile offshore race. Among the yachts, three – Comanche, Maximilian Klink’s Botin Partners 65, Caro, and Richard and Cathy Dobbs’ Swan 68, Tatiana - have made the trip from Australia where at the end of December they competed in the Fastnet’s antipodean equivalent, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Similarly many of the world’s top sailors have been descending on the Solent from across the globe including skipper of Rambler 88, four time America’s Cup winner Brad Butterworth and his AC main sheet trimmer Warwick Fleury, who is racing on Comanche. Also taking part are a proliferation of Volvo Ocean Race legends such as Kiwi multiple winners Brad Jackson and Tony Mutter, who are sailing on Rambler and Comanche respectively.

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Hap Fauth's Bella Mente competing in the recent RYS Bicentenary International Regatta on a blustery day in the Solent. Photo: Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com Hap Fauth's Bella Mente competing in the recent RYS Bicentenary International Regatta on a blustery day in the Solent. Photo: Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Rolex Fastnet winner – big, small or somewhere in between?

With a record-sized fleet of 335 in the running, the question ‘who will win the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race’ on handicap is a tough one.

As ever, the corrected time prize is raced under IRC, which this year aims to equalise a fleet as diverse as Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark’s VPLP-Verdier 100 Comanche (with a IRC TCC of 1.975) to the modest Contessa 32 Hurrying Angel 4 of Lucinda Allaway (TCC of 0.872); from state of the art carbon fibre racers, such as the new IRC 72 Mini Maxi Momo, to Matt Brooks’ classic Dorade, the 52 footer which won the Fastnet Race outright in 1931 and 1933 under young designer-skipper Olin Stephens. In between are every imaginable flavour of cruising yachts, cruiser-racers to out and out performance machines.

The winner will be partly determined by the weather. If the race has a strong start and a light finish then it is typically a ‘big boat’ race. If the opposite is true, and the wind only fills in later, then it is a ‘small boat’ race as occurred in 2005 when one of the smallest and slowest boats in the race, Jean-Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33, Iromiguy, claimed the victor’s Fastnet Challenge Trophy.

Whichever boats wins, IRC seeks to ensure that it is among the best sailed in the fleet.

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Morgan Lagraviere and Nicholas Lunven's IMOCA 60, Safran at the of the SNSM in Saint Nazaire, France © Olivier Blanchett/DPPI Morgan Lagraviere and Nicholas Lunven's IMOCA 60, Safran at the of the SNSM in Saint Nazaire, France © Olivier Blanchett/DPPI

IMOCA 60s to test their new foils in Rolex Fastnet Race

One reason the Rolex Fastnet Race is the world's biggest offshore yacht race - at present 390 boats are entered - was the decision of the Royal Ocean Racing Club to include non-IRC offshore classes: Volvo Ocean 65, the Class40, IMOCA 60, Multihulls, the latter three have their origins or being most popular in France.

The IMOCA 60s' participation this year will be particularly special as it will be the first time some of the newest generation boats destined for next year's Vendée Globe will line up. Of the 13 IMOCA 60s racing, four are new, built to the latest iteration of the IMOCA rule requiring one design masts and keels. But their most discussed feature is their giant new L-shaped foils, designed to not only to in prevent leeway, but also to operate like Dynamic Stability System-style foils, ie protruding from the leeward side of the boat to create vertical lift, added righting moment and ultimately enhanced performance

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