France galvanised its reputation as the world’s greatest offshore racing nation by dominating the results across the majority of the classes in the Rolex Fastnet Race for a third consecutive occasion. Of the 11 main prizes, French boats failed to win just three, and of these one (Dongfeng Race Team) was raced by a largely French crew.
The Royal Ocean Racing’s biennial flagship event this year attracted another record-sized fleet of 362 boats, six more than 2015. It continues to be the world’s largest offshore yacht race, and also the most popular – when registration opened, the IRC fleet’s maximum limit of 340 boats was reached in just 4 minutes and 24 seconds!
As ever the course took the giant fleet west down the English Channel, either side of the prohibited ‘traffic separation scheme’ zone between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles, across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock, four miles off southwest Ireland, back south leaving Bishop Rock and the Scilly Isles to port and then, on past the Lizard, to the finish off Plymouth – in total 605 nautical miles.
Last night crews braved the elements for a successful prizegiving for the Rolex Fastnet Race and a lively final evening of entertainment at Plymouth Yacht Haven.
For a third time running the Rolex Fastnet Race has been a story of French domination, Le Tricolor flying on this occasion from the top spot in IRC 1, 2, 3 and 4, the Class40 and IMOCA 60, the Two Handed and IRC Overall. Even the Chinese boat Dongfeng Race Team, that won Volvo 65 competition, had a largely French crew. This left IRC Zero to American Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer while, surprisingly, the only British class victory went to Tony Lawson’s MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10, in the usually French-strong Multihull class.
Friday 11 August 2017 - AM
Probably the toughest battle in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race was the duel for the lead in the largest class of the smallest boats, IRC Four. This was an all-French affair, both in French-built JPK 10.10 sisterships and both teams from northern France. However one was doublehanded from Cherbourg; the other fully crewed from Le Havre. And they have considerable history.
In 2013 the father and son team of Pascal and Alexis Loisin aboard Night and Day became the first doublehanded crew ever to win the Rolex Fastnet Race not just in their class, but outright, ahead of all the fully crewed boats. But in second place overall that year was Noel Racine’s Foggy Dew. This was also the case two years ago when Night and Day finished fifth overall with Foggy Dew ninth. And while it would be nice to say that it was third time lucky for Racine’s Le Havre crew, in fact, Pascal Loisin, the Cherbourg-based orthopaedic surgeon and his professional Figaro sailor son Alexis prevailed once again. This time both boats were racing in the same class, Night and Day’s time correcting to out to 2 hours 13 minutes ahead of her rival, although this year neither made an impression on the overall IRC results, which favoured larger boats.
Thursday 10 August 2017 - PM
IRC Three went to wire this afternoon in the Rolex Fastnet Race between two French JPK 10.80s. Coming into the finish Timeline, of past class winner Marc Alperovitch, seemed to be the victor but when Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret’s lower rated Dream Pearls arrived 33 minutes later, her time corrected to 1 minute 11 seconds ahead of her compatriots.
Thursday 10 August 2017 - AM
Overnight and into a magnificent West Country morning, boats have been streaming across the Rolex Fastnet Race finish line and into Plymouth Yacht Haven. With this, the leaders in the bigger classes have begun firming up along with the prospects for the boat that will be the crowned overall winner under IRC in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial flagship offshore race.
The most successful sailor in the world currently, Peter Burling has been busy recently. Since impressing everyone through winning the 35th America's Cup in cool as a cucumber style in Bermuda, ‘pistol Pete’ has finished second in the 240 boat fleet at the Moth Worlds on Lake Garda and since Sunday has been competing on a very different vessel - the 115ft Baltic-built Nikata, the largest yacht in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.
So has the double Olympic 49er medallist, former Moth World Champion and America’s Cup winning helm sailed offshore before? “I’ve done a little bit,” says the New Zealander modestly. Deep down his sailing resume is New Zealand’s top offshore race, the Coastal Classic and also the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
Wednesday 9 August 2017 - PM
Aside from the Volvo Ocean Race seven, another tight competition in the Rolex Fastnet Race has been between the twenty six Class40s racing.
These boats are designed to a box rule created in France in the early 2000s. With more than 150 examples launched in the last 13 years, it is also highly international with boats competing from crews as far afield as Oman, South Africa and Japan, ranging from professionals (both old timers and budding youngsters) to enthusiastic amateurs.
The Class40 leaders arrived in Plymouth this afternoon, with victory finally going to V and B skippered by Frenchman Maxime Sorel. He arrived at 14:32 after 3 days 3 hours and 22 minutes.
Wednesday 9 August 2017 - AM
Some of the world’s most high profile ocean racing yachts arrived in Plymouth in the early hours of this morning at the end of the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Following Rambler, Ludde Ingvall’s 100ft maxi CQS and Nikata, (at 115ft LOA, the longest yacht in the race), came the fleet of seven identical VO65s competing on Leg Zero of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race. However, in an exceptional performance, arriving before all of these fully crewed heavyweights was a nimble French two handed IMOCA 60.
American George David’s Rambler 88 arrived in Plymouth to claim monohull line honours. The silver maxi crossed the finish line off Plymouth breakwater at 22:14:21 BST in a time of 2 days 9 hours 34 minutes and 21 seconds. This was more than six hours faster than they had managed in 2015 when they ghosted in just four minutes astern of Jim Clark’s 100ft maxi, Comanche. But it was considerably outside of the monohull race record of 1 day 18 hours and 39 minutes, set in 2011 by the Ian Walker-skippered VO70, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
“This was our fourth [Fastnet] race,” said George David upon his arrival in Plymouth Yacht Haven. “We have had two that were fairly windy and one with no wind, two years ago, and this one with decent wind but a tough windward-leeward course. 360 miles upwind is a challenge and it is cold, but it is okay. We sailed well and we did a good race. We’ll see what happens.”
For a lengthy period this morning Rambler 88 appeared set to achieve ‘the double’ ie win both line honours and overall on handicap. However she has since been displaced from the top spot overall under IRC by the 115ft giant, Nikata and Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer. “You can always hope, but you can never tell, especially when you have boats out there for three or four more days and the weather may change and tomorrow it’ll blow harder and they’ll come up behind us,” observed David.