Rolex Fastnet Race 2003

The 245 strong fleet, split into seven classes, started in a 12 knot Easterly winds and a building West going tide in the Solent. These conditions resulted in a downwind start, the entire fleet setting spinnakers for the run West down the Solent.

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.

After a close fought dual over the final few miles, Alfa Romeo collected line honours in a thrilling finish at 19:12 in Plymouth on Tuesday evening. The Reichel/Pugh 90 foot monohull beat Zephyrus V, also designed by Reichel/Pugh, to the finish at the breakwater by 10 minutes to continue her already impressive resume of line honours for major offshore classics. The 18 man crew onboard Alfa Romeo spent 57 hours and two minutes at sea and missed the course record for the monohulls by some four hours.

It was to be another 2 hours before Nokia slid across the finish line, setting the IRC reference time to beat for the Fastnet Challenge Cup. First of the Open 60's Sebastian Josse's VMI, found the line off the breakwater at 01:30 on Wednesday morning. Although six boats had made it to the finish line in Plymouth, at 16:00 on Wednesday afternoon 90 boats had still not rounded the Fastnet Rock lighthouse 260 miles up the track. On Thursday the fleet still at sea were enjoying the steadiest winds of the race so far with 10-18 knots Easterlies blowing right across the Celtic Sea and the Western Approaches. All five Open 60's had finished on Thursday, the final three crossing the finish line in close formation with Dominique Wavre's Charman 3 beating Mike Golding's Ecover and Nick Maloney's Skandia Set Sail.

Winner of the 2001 race, Piet Vroon was back this year to sail his 20th Fastnet and although he won line honours in class his boat didn't perform as well in the light airs of this year's race. Class Zero was left to smaller boats this year and Jazz crossed the finish line at 01:02 on Thursday morning to take Class Zero honours from sistership Roxy 9 owned by Robert Davies. The Dutch Grand Soleil 44,Holmatro, owned by Holmatro NV, lead the Class 1 fleet at the Fastnet Rock by four and a half hours, finishing at 21:00 on Wednesday - their lead had grown significantly. Jonathan Goring's J109, Jeronimo, led the largest class, the 75 strong Class 2 fleet, finishing at 00:11 on Friday morning. The last boat in Class 3, Gareth Davis' Contessa 32 Kalimari rounded the Fastnet Rock at 13:10 on Thursday afternoon. The Easterly winds at this stage made progress for the fleet still at sea steady, but relatively slow, as they worked to windward in the building seas.


The Royal Ocean Racing Club programme, archives
The Royal Ocean Racing Club, Ian Dear - published by Adlard Coles 2000
The Champagne Mumm Book of Ocean Racing - An Illustrated History, Ian Dear - published by Severn House Publishers 1985