Ten out of ten for French doublehanders
The writing was on the wall when they claimed the RORC Channel Race outright at the end of July, but the French father and son team of Alexis and Pascal Loison have pulled it out of the hat again, successfully winning the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race.
While the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier offshore event has featured a doublehanded class for a long time, this is the first occasion in its 88-year history that the Rolex Fastnet Race has been won by a doublehanded crew.
Night And Day, the Loisin's 33ft long JPK 1010, crossed the finish line off Plymouth Breakwater at 07:19:57 BST this morning (Thursday 15 August), with an elapsed time for the 611-mile course of 3 days 18 hours 29 minutes and 57 seconds. Under IRC, their time corrected out to being 33 minutes and 17 seconds ahead of the second placed yacht, another example of the French-built JPK 1010, Noel Racine's Foggy Dew.
Stronger winds and less headwinds later in the race certainly benefitted the smaller boats, but the JPK 1010 is clearly a competitive boat under IRC - five finished in the top 11 under IRC this year. "The JPK is an excellent boat in every condition - both upwind and downwind," agrees Alexis.
However the Loisins are clearly special too. Their victory this year follows competing in the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race aboard their previous Night And Day, a J/105, when they again won the doublehanded classes and were second overall in IRC Two.
From Cherbourg, Pascal, 53, is a surgeon while his son Alexis, 29, is a professional sailor who has spent the last eight years competing in the Figaro class. In La Solitaire du Figaro, effectively the world championship of solo offshore racing, his best result has been eighth last year, and ninth this year.
"Alexis is a very nice guy - he's low key, but good fun and performs very well in the Figaro," describes Gilles Chiorri, Race Director of La Solitaire, who competed in the Figaro class in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. "And the conditions we had weren't easy for doublehanded crews - a long reach under spinnaker, which is not easy to manage with only two on board."
Many top Solitaire du Figaro sailors competed in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race, including 2012 and 2013 winner Yann Elies, racing on the IMOCA 60 Cheminées Poujoulat, triple winner Michel Desjoyeaux, who was on the IMOCA 60 MACIF, while another double Solitaire du Figaro winner, Armel le Cleac'h, skippered the maxi-trimaran Banque Populaire.
"I think the boat is a good reason," says Alexis of why they won. "Plus we sail together all the time and we have good tactical knowledge - our tactics were good all the time. We made sure we slept well and we had good weather."
Otherwise, compared to the fully crewed JPK 1010s, Alexis said he couldn't put his finger on why they performed better than the fully crewed boats. "With Foggy Dew, it is not the tactics, I think we have a better spinnaker and speed."
During the race the toughest decision they had to make was over which side of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) they should go around off Land's End.
While it is Pascal's boat, Alexis is a professional sailor, so come crunch time, who makes the decision?
"Over big decisions we talk...but we don't always agree," admits Pascal. His son nods: "We talk..."
In the end they went north up the west side of the TSS, then tacked to head west leaving the Scilly Isles to port. When they tacked back to north for the Fastnet Rock it was into a big lift that caused them to sail a beautiful parabolic towards the turning mark.
After rounding the Pantaenius spreader mark, it was "fast, but not furious" as Alexis jokes. "We came back from Fastnet very fast under the small spinnaker. It was a great moment."
Like all the fast smaller boats, the passage to Bishop Rock was a tight reach, followed by a run down towards the Finish - both legs sailed directly to the mark and in good breeze, unlike the stop-start-stop sailing the bigger boats experienced on this part of the course.
A significant result
Eddie Warden Owen, CEO of the RORC was amazed by the Loisins' performance. "I think they have done a brilliant job. It is the first time that in the history of the race a doublehanded boat has won the race, so that is a very significant result.
"Night And Day's amazing achievement for me is that in a very tactical race they beat a fully crewed boat - and a really good one - of the same type." Foggy Dew was second overall this year and second in IRC Three in 2011.
However Night And Day's victory also highlights that it is still possible for well sailed small boats to win the Rolex Fastnet Race, just as the last French overall winner, the Nicholson 33, Jean-Yves Chateau's Iromiguy, did in 2005.
"That's one of the reasons the Rolex Fastnet Race is so successful," continues Warden Owen. "For people, family and friends, sailing in the middle of the pack and at the bottom, it is not just a challenge - they have a realistic chance of winning."
For their efforts Pascal and Alexis Loison will be awarded the Fastnet Challenge Cup as well as a Rolex Chronograph at tomorrow night's prize giving.