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Rolex Fastnet Race set to attract diverse fleet

Monohulls and Multihulls, Maxis and Super-Maxis, Open 60s and Class 40s all prepare to make their mark

Entries are streaming in for the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race; the 608-miler considered one of the world's classic ocean races. The 2007 fleet will start on 12th August from the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes, then race out through the Solent continuing westward down the English Channel to Land's End and then across the Celtic Sea, before rounding the Fastnet Rock off the south-west tip of Ireland and returning to the finish off Plymouth.

The fleet is expected to be both diverse and large, ranging from 100-foot super maxi monohulls to 60-foot multihulls to 35-foot cruiser-racers. And, with interest in offshore racing at a high, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) believes that to ease some of the logistical issues, a cap on entries at 300 boats is a prudent measure. In 2005, the fleet numbered 283 and the RORC race management are optimistic that this figure will be exceeded by close of entries on 27th July.

The bulk of the fleet will race under IRC where the star attraction is likely to be Mike Slade's Farr-designed Leopard 3 due to be launched early summer. Said Slade, "We had a fantastic time with Leopard of London (the old Leopard boat) in the 2003 Rolex Fastnet and it was a great moment to win the Fastnet Rock Trophy (best overall in IRM) in that event. This year, with the new boat, we will be aiming for line honours but it will be a tough race. In light winds we are likely to struggle against some of the other super maxis like Alfa Romeo and Rambler, but given a bit of breeze I think we will be able to get going and show how fast she will be."

 

Elsewhere, four ORMA 60s have expressed interest, including Yvan Bourgnon with Nuku Hiva II and Sopra Group. The Open 60s will have their own start and the line-up of 10 or more is expected to feature Jonny Malbon and Graham Tourell on Artemis, Alex Thompson and Andrew Cape on Hugo Boss and Roland Jourdain's Sill et Veolia. Taking part in their first Rolex Fastnet will be a number of the Class 40, of which first to enter is Novidea/Set from France.

First sailed in 1925, the Rolex Fastnet Race is renowned for offering up an extreme range of conditions, from ghosting along the Solent in light summer breezes with tacticians forced to work hard to gain small advantages, to potentially gear-breaking and treacherous conditions in the western approaches to the English Channel and Celtic Sea.

Testament to the tactical challenges of this race lie with the course records that were set in 1999 and still stand despite the considerable technological advances in yacht design and build. RF Yachting (a water-ballasted, 80-foot Maxi One Design) holds the fastest monohull mark at an average speed of 11.48 knots over the course. The multihull record is held by the 60-foot trimaran Fujicolor at 15.03 knots. There will be no shortage of owners and crew hoping to break those benchmarks and put their own record in the books.

Back again will be New Zealander Neville Crichton on his latest Alfa Romeo, the 100-foot canting-keeled super maxi that had a string of successes in 2006 including Line Honours at the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the Giraglia Rolex Cup, together with overall victory at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. "There is no doubt that the Rolex Fastnet is one of the highlights of the season," says Neville Crichton, owner/skipper of Alfa Romeo. "We have made some changes to Alfa Romeo for the 2007 season, including new, larger sails, but I will not say anything more than we plan to be amongst the front runners. This is because the conditions on the Fastnet can be so varied, even changing significantly during a race, and this is why it's such a challenge and why it's so hard to pick the winner!"

An interesting contrast will be American George David's 90-foot maxi, Rambler (ex-Shockwave VI/Alfa Romeo, formerly owned by Crichton), which will be skippered by fellow American Ken Read, recently named as skipper of the Puma Racing Team for the 2008/9 Volvo Ocean Race. The water-ballasted Reichel/Pugh maxi has just had a "top to bottom refit" in Newport, Rhode Island. David campaigned his N/M 50-footer Idler in the 1999 Admiral's Cup (the first one not to feature a Fastnet as part of the racing schedule) and while he is relatively new to distance racing, he has Read assembling a top-notch crew including offshore veterans Earle Williams, Jerry Kirby, and Chris Nicholson.

Two new 46-footers, Nick & Annie Haigh's DK46, Dark and Steamy, and RORC Commodore David Aisher's Rogers 46, Xeoman XXXII will mix it up again after competing at a number of international regattas over the winter, including Acura Key West Race Week and the International Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas in March. The Haigh's have had some positive history with the race, taking the Fastnet Rock Trophy for overall IRM win in the 2005 Rolex Fastnet with their Farr 40, Too Steamy.

The Rolex Fastnet is typically considered a 'big boat' race - as the bigger boats have the advantage of getting through the tidal gates early on in the race before the tide turns against the fleet. The latest generation of high-tech maxi flyers make their own wind and tick off the miles even in little or no breeze. But once in a while the little boats have their day and should never be discounted.

In 2005, conditions were perfect for the smaller yachts as the breeze filled in from behind and it was Jean-Yves Chateaus's Nicholson 33, Iromiguy that corrected out to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup. Up until 2005, the last time a boat under 40 feet won this offshore classic was thirty years prior in 1975, and once again it was a Nicholson 33 - Golden Delicious. 2005 was the French skipper Chateau's fourth Fastnet; he came in 2nd in 2003 and after coming so close, he was determined to try again for a win.

New to this year, it will be mandatory for yachts to carry an OC Tracker unit for the race. The OC Tracker is a self-contained, battery-powered, lightweight, tracking device capable of reporting a boat's position, speed and course at pre-determined intervals, and is programmable remotely. The device works on battery power alone and is capable of sending over 4000 position reports on one battery - the equivalent of every half- hour for 80 days at sea or almost 14 days at 5-minute intervals. The units are standalone and will be supplied by the RORC. "Following a call to industry after the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race for help in developing a system that could cope with up to 300 entries, the RORC approached OC Technology for the right solution," commented David Aisher, Commodore, RORC. "Our objective was to provide an effective tracking system in the numbers necessary to look after the Rolex Fastnet in the coming years and we firmly believe we have succeeded in that task."

In addition to the main trophy for overall victory under IRC - the Fastnet Challenge Cup - there are more than 30 additional trophies that will be awarded at the prizegiving on Friday, 17th August at the historic Royal Citadel, home of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooking Plymouth Harbour. Introduced this year is the Seahorse Magazine trophy for Class Super-Zero. The RORC, in conjunction with Cowes Combined Clubs (CCC), has created a trophy for the overall class winner, taking part in the three events: Skandia Cowes Week Super-Zero Series, the RORC Channel Race, and the Rolex Fastnet Race. The Super-Zero class has been created specifically for any boat wishing to race that is between 14 and 30 metres LOA and with an IRC rating of 1.420 and upwards, whether it has a fixed or canting keel.

The first signal for the start of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 0950 on Sunday 12th August.

Further information about the RORC and the Rolex Fastnet Race can be found at www.rorc.org and competitors are encouraged to keep a close eye on the Rolex Fastnet web pages since all administrative documentation and race notices will be posted there.

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