Camera boats and spectator boats followed the fleet all the way to the Needles, with one yacht attracting a disproportionate level of interest. This was the old 1985 Maxi, Arnold Clark Drum, skippered by Simon Le Bon. Exactly 20 years earlier, the lead singer of Duran Duran had set out on this very same race in the very same boat. But he never got to see the Fastnet Rock that year. Battling through storm-force winds near Falmouth, Drum's keel wrenched away from the hull and the Maxi capsized. Le Bon and crew were rescued by the RNLI. Twenty years later, the crew had got back together, this time determined to see that elusive Rock.
Ecover led away the Open 60's, whilst in Super Zero Charles Dunstone's Nokia had the lead start in a class that included the glamour boats, Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo and Robert McNeil's Zephyrus V. Class Zero started with the 2001 winner, Piet Vroon's Tonnerre de Breskens first across the start whilst the majority of the fleet in Classes 1, 2 and 3 had to fight to find space. The multihull start ranged from 40 foot trimarans to Tony Bullimore's 100 catamaran Team Pimsic.
Alfa Romeo rounded the Fastnet Rock on Monday at 00:37 followed an hour later by Zephyrus V. The first multihull, Team Pimsic rounded the Fastnet Rock at 11:25 on Tuesday morning. Consolidating on their breakaway tactics around Portland Bill at the beginning of the race, Jazz followed Tonnerre de Bresken around the Fastnet Rock just 60 minutes later on Tuesday morning, the smaller boat correcting out to lead by more than 2 hours at this point.
The winner of the Fastnet Challenge Cup, for Best Overall in IRC was Piet Vroon from Holland, racing his Lutra 52, Tonnerre de Breskens. Piet took 3 days 02hrs 23mins and 31secs to complete the course, winning it for the first time in 20 attempts.
The excitement of the start was heightened by 28 knots of wind and square beating conditions. A decent breeze prevailed to enable some boats to stay offshore at Portland Bill. However, the fleet split and the front of the fleet experienced totally different weather patterns to the middle and back markers.
Since this time the legendary Fastnet race has gone from strength to strength with improved communications and safety regulations in force, the race is considered a supreme challenge to ocean racing yachtsmen in British waters.
Since 1957 the Fastnet race has been the final race of the Admiral's Cup competition but in 1999, major innovations to the Admiral's Cup led the Management Committee to introduce a number of changes in the race programme. These included re-designing the event as a stand-alone series outside of Skandia Life Cowes Week, limiting the number of professionals on board each boat and incorporating the Wolf Rock Race as the principal offshore race.
The Fastnet race now retains its place in the racing calendar immediately after Skandia Life Cowes Week and is open to all but does not form part of the programme for the Admiral's Cup.
The 1965 Admiral's Cup had also attracted teams from Sweden, Holland, France and the US. Irish and Australian teams also took part as relative newcomers. In 1967 the Australians took the Admiral's Cup trophy back to Sydney showing they were now in the same league as the Americans and Europeans.
The early Fastnets saw a high proportion of yachts failing to complete the course. This was mainly due to the toughness of the course, inexperienced crews, old, slow and ill-equipped yachts and the traditional designs of the British yachts lagged behind their fellow competitors from across the pond. Bad weather was also a dominant factor and the 1931 Fastnet saw gale force conditions and many problems for participating yachts, with one person being lost overboard. The tragedy marred what otherwise would have been a classic Fastnet, as the four leading yachts raced the last miles in close company and finished within minutes of one another.
The first race catered for a new breed of yachtsman, the amateur cruising man looking for a challenge, which cruising alone could not satisfy. Typically, he would sail the yacht himself and perhaps only employ a deck hand or two, unlike the pre-war yachtsman who needed up to 30 men to sail his huge racing yacht.
After racing in the 1924 Bermuda race aboard one of the entries, Northern Light, a young Englishman named Weston Martyr was so impressed with the sport that he wrote a letter about it to an English yachting magazine. 'It is,' Martyr wrote, 'without question the very finest sport a man can possibly engage in for to play this game at all it is necessary to possess, in the very highest degree, those hallmarks of a true sportsman: skill, courage and endurance.'