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Graceful Ladies Set Course for the Rolex Fastnet

Maybird, the gaff rigged ketch. Photo: Den PhillipsNot many sailors setting off from Cowes next Sunday will experience what it must have been like for the first ever competitors in the 1920s, but four boats in particular will give spectators a unique glimpse of what some of the original fleet must have looked like. The elegant old ladies Maybird (GBR) and Nordwind (GER), will be flanked by the modern classics: Morwenna (GBR) and Edith Gray (GBR).

Maybird is a Fred Shepherd 1937 gaff rigged ketch, skippered by owner Darryl Hughes. Still on her original planks, she was lovingly restored over three years in Southampton's Saxon Wharf by Darryl Hughes and is now ready to take her place on the start line of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2011 - one of only four wooden classic yachts taking part this year. "Four of Maybird's crew raced on Morwenna, a replica Bristol Pilot Cutter in the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race, but sadly had to retire 100 miles from the rock, which inspired this 2011 campaign. She (Maybird) may not be the fastest boat in her class, but we hope we can share some of the joys of traditional sailing with the rest of the fleet," comments Hughes.

Nordwind is a true classic. This Marconi Yawl was built for the German Navy in 1939 and will be skippered by owner Hans Albrecht. Nordwind is a racing veteran having participated in the 1939 Fastnet Race in which she took line honours and established a new record that held for 24 years until it was broken by Gitana IV in 1963. She came to England after the Second World War and was bought by Lord Hugh Astor who raced her for many years in the Solent and on the North Sea. In the late 70's, Dutch naval architect Gerard Dijkstra turned her into one of the earliest classic yacht restoration projects. Since further restoration work to repair a faulty hull in the early 2000s, she has participated in many classic races including the 2005 Transat, when she was beaten by Sumurun by two hours and 34 minutes. More recently, Nordwind has rounded Cape Horn, navigated the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and the south coast of Chile and in the summer of 2012, she will attempt to sail the Northwest Passage.

Morwenna is a gaff rigged replica of a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, designed by Ed Burnett and skippered by Stuart Jenkins of the Traditional Sailing Company. Built in Bristol in 2009 using traditional oak and larch, Morwenna is as traditional as modern regulations will allow. There are no winches and all mechanical advantage is gained by block and tackle, so her crew really do learn traditional sailing.

Skipper Stuart Jenkins says: ""We want to show that traditionally built boats are strong, reliable and safe and to encourage people to learn traditional ways of sailing. The Rolex Fastnet Race will be the highlight of the training programme for our crew of 12 who have different levels of experience. There is great team spirit on board and we really want to try and beat the record of 6 days, and 2 hours set by the pilot cutter Jolie Brise in the very first Fastnet Race in 1925."

Another traditional replica racing this year is the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, Edith Gray. She is the latest Pilot Cutter built by RB Boatbuilding Ltd of Bristol (also builders of Morwenna) and is designed along the lines of the smaller transom sterned Pilot Cutters which were renowned for their seaworthiness and reliability and are reputed to be at the pinnacle of working sailing boat design.

"We are looking forward to racing head to head with some formidable opponents in the Rolex Fastnet Race, one of the most iconic offshore races in the world. We hope to do very well in our class which will, as in the earliest years of this race, feature Pilot Cutters and Classic Boats. For our crew on Edith Gray, it promises to be a unique experience in an exceptional boat," comments skipper, John Raymond-Barker.

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