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A worthy 50th Rolex Fastnet Race

The 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes, England to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France via the Fastnet Rock proved near perfect as a celebration of the 50th running of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com The 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes, England to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France via the Fastnet Rock proved near perfect as a celebration of the 50th running of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

The 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race proved near perfect as a celebration of the 50th running of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event. As a reminder of what a brutal race it can be, its giant fleet set off from the Solent into a southwesterly gale. Over the 695 miles to the Fastnet Rock and back, for a second time, to the finish in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the slower boats had to deal over four to five days with weather they might normally expect in twice that time, including strong winds associated with three cold fronts. The Fastnet Challenge Cup’s worthy winner on this occasion came from a class where much new hardware had been built especially for this special race.

As ever, the fleet was hugely diverse, from the 32x23m Ultim trimarans, the world’s fastest offshore yachts, to the 60ft flying IMOCAs of the Vendée Globe, Class40s and multihulls to the bulk of the fleet in the IRC classes - ranging from maxis, to purpose-built 50-footers, to substantial turn-outs of manufacturer classes, a record doublehanded entry down to yacht club, association, family, sailing school and charter boat entries. It was again record-sized: while seven had set sail in 1925, this year 430 started (the previous record was 388 in 2019). 

Come start day on Saturday 22 July crowds congregated by the Royal Squadron Yacht and along Cowes Green while others braved the wind and rain elsewhere on the Solent shore to see off this historic gathering. This year, to improve safety and avoid pre-start collisions, the RORC had increased the gap between start times from 10 to 20 minutes. Given the severe forecast they then reversed the IRC fleet start order with the largest/fastest first away and the gap between starts reduced to 15 minutes. Also, any boats OCS <30 seconds from the gun would receive a two-hour penalty. In the event there were no start line collisions but several penalties, notably among the Class40s when eight boats were called over. 

Many compared the conditions to 2021 but in fact the wind on the line was less, at around 20 knots, although gustier; the overcast sky bringing intermittent rain. However as the bulk of the fleet negotiated Hurst Narrows, the Solent was in full ebb, the wind 30+ knots ahead of the front - combining to kick up a vicious wind-against-tide sea state. Over the course of the night, conditions deteriorated with winds gusting to 40+ knots (F9/severe gale) and a sharp 5-6m sea.

RORC Photographer Paul Wyeth captured the brutal conditions faced by the fleet at the start of the 50th Edition Rolex Fastnet Race  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comRORC Photographer Paul Wyeth captured the brutal conditions faced by the fleet at the start of the 50th Edition Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Thousands of spectators braved the inclement conditions to watch the start of the world's largest offshore race  © Martin Allen/pwpictures.comThousands of spectators braved the inclement conditions to watch the start of the world's largest offshore race © Martin Allen/pwpictures.com

This year more competitors erred on caution, exiting the Solent via the calmer waters of the North Channel. Just south of the Needles at 17:00 the Sun Fast 3600 Vari, sailed by Yann Jestin and Romain Baggio, began sinking due to a severe leak in her engine compartment. The experienced doublehanders issued a May Day and took to their liferaft. Within 15 minutes of their discovery, Vari had sunk. As Ju Kyu stood by, after 10 minutes in their liferaft, they were recovered by the Yarmouth lifeboat and taken ashore.

In addition were four dismastings – Royal Naval Sailing Association’s Yoyo; Nick Martin’s Diablo, Bertrand Daniels’ Mirabelle and Tapio Lehtinen's yawl Galiana, while others suffered steering and rigging issues and Richard Matthews’ Oystercatcher XXXV retired with structural deck issues.

There were also injuries. The Swanage all-weather lifeboat assisted a yacht where one crew had been knocked on the head and fallen overboard. Held on by their tether the crew had been recovered but was semi-unconscious. As the Coastguard helicopter was unable to lower a paramedic, instead the yacht headed for calmer waters where the casualty was transferred to the lifeboat and then to an ambulance in Poole Harbour.

Over the first night HM Coastguard answered 28 ‘incidents’ (albeit some involving the same boat) while in many other incidents HM Coastguard was not involved, including the mast foot breaking on race veteran Géry Trentesaux’s Long Courrier, which retired to Cowes.

Many crews showed excellent seamanship, choosing to seek shelter until conditions abated. Some continued, others did not. 24 hours into the race more than 100 yachts had retired. In the final tally 166 retired from this year’s race, roughly 39% of the fleet (compared to 45% in 2021 and 76% in 2007). Ironically the next day competitors were contemplating how to negotiate light winds.

Naturally the French pro offshore classes took the conditions in their stride. First home was the François Gabart-skippered 32m Ultim trimaran SVR Lazartigue in a new record time of 1 day 8 hours 38 minutes 27 seconds; 58 minutes 16 seconds ahead of the Armel le Cléac’h-skippered Banque Populaire X. Outbound, the two had split at the Casquets TSS with Banque Populaire heading due south of it. Just off the Cotentin peninsula where they tacked, le Cléac’h suffered a head injury when the screen protecting the helm position was shattered by a wave. From there on they were on the back foot. (See the full report HERE).

First home to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin was the François Gabart-skippered 32m Ultim trimaran SVR Lazartigue in a new record time of  1 day 8 hours 38 minutes 27 seconds; 58 minutes 16 seconds © ROLEX/Carlo BorlenghiFirst home to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin was the François Gabart-skippered 32m Ultim trimaran SVR Lazartigue in a new record time of 1 day 8 hours 38 minutes 27 seconds © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

In the MOCRA multihull class, Erik Maris’ MOD70 Zoulou was first home in 2 day 5 hours, but close behind were the Ocean 50 trimarans. The lead duo in this enjoyed a high-octane match race: Viabilis was ahead at the Rock but Franco-Brit Luke Berry’s Le Rire Medecin Lamotte won by just 1 minute 26 seconds – the tightest finish in the race. (See the full report HERE). 

However none of the tris could beat defending champion, Adrian Keller’s catamaran Allegra, on corrected time. The 84ft Nigel Irens-designed luxury fast cruiser (complete with five bathrooms) has become a heavy weather specialist and was hitting 30+ knots returning from the Rock. Ken Howery's Gunboat 68 Tosca was second by almost two hours under corrected time. (See the full report HERE).

Adrian Keller's team on on Allegra celebrate their consecutive MOCRA class win with a course record of 3 days 7 hours 22 minutes 37 seconds on corrected time © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com Adrian Keller's team on on Allegra celebrate their consecutive MOCRA class win with a course record of 3 days 7 hours 22 minutes 37 seconds on corrected time © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Luke Berry (right) and Antoine Joubert celebrate their narrow victory in the Ocean Fifty class on Le Rire Medecin Lamotte  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comLuke Berry (right) and Antoine Joubert celebrate their narrow victory in the Ocean Fifty class on Le Rire Medecin Lamotte © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

With the next Vendée Globe in 2024, there was a bumper fleet of 29 IMOCAs, including top skippers such as winner of the last Vendée Globe, Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ. There were also many extraordinary new examples, such as MACIF Santé Prévoyance, the brand new CDK-built Verdier design sailed by defending IMOCA champion Charlie Dalin and Ocean Race winner Pascal Bidegorry.

The newness of MACIF didn’t deter her crew from foiling upwind at 20+ knot speeds in the western Solent and later hitting 40 knots reaching back from the Rock. Leading for the majority of the race were Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès on Paprec Arkea, but from Bishop Rock they were locked in an intense match race with MACIF. Ultimately, MACIF won in 2 days 7 hours 16 minutes 26 seconds, four minutes six seconds ahead of her rival, the top nine IMOCAs arriving within one hour, with three female skippers - Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur), Clarisse Cremer (L'Occitane en Provence) and Justine Mettraux (Teamwork) - finishing fifth to seventh.

On elapsed time MACIF was exactly 15 minutes faster than Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky, formerly George David’s multiple line honours winner Rambler 88 and the fastest IRC yacht - the first time an IMOCA has secured monohull line honours. MACIF also set a new monohull race record, bettering Skorpios’ time by 1 hour 17 minutes 29 seconds.

With the next Vendée Globe in 2024, there was a bumper fleet of 29 IMOCAs, including top skippers such as winner of the last Vendée Globe, Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ. There were also many extraordinary new examples, such as MACIF Santé Prévoyance, the brand new CDK-built Verdier design sailed by defending IMOCA champion Charlie Dalin and Ocean Race winner Pascal Bidegorry.

The newness of MACIF didn’t deter her crew from foiling upwind at 20+ knot speeds in the western Solent and later hitting 40 knots reaching back from the Rock. Leading for the majority of the race were Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès on Paprec Arkea, but from Bishop Rock they were locked in an intense match race with MACIF. Ultimately, MACIF won in 2 days 7 hours 16 minutes 26 seconds, four minutes six seconds ahead of her rival, the top nine IMOCAs arriving within one hour, with three female skippers - Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur), Clarisse Cremer (L'Occitane en Provence) and Justine Mettraux (Teamwork) - finishing fifth to seventh.

On elapsed time MACIF was exactly 15 minutes faster than Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky, formerly George David’s multiple line honours winner Rambler 88 and the fastest IRC yacht - the first time an IMOCA has secured monohull line honours. MACIF also set a new monohull race record, bettering Skorpios’ time by 1 hour 17 minutes 29 seconds.

Charlie Dalin & Pascal Bidegorry's IMOCA MACIF Santé Prévoyance set a new monohull race record of 2 days 7 hours 16 minutes 26 seconds. As the fastest IRC yacht, it was the first time an IMOCA has secured monohull line honours © ROLEX/Carlo BorlenghiCharlie Dalin and Pascal Bidegorry's IMOCA MACIF Santé Prévoyance set a new monohull race record of 2 days 7 hours 16 minutes 26 seconds. As the fastest IRC yacht, it was the first time an IMOCA has secured monohull line honours © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

With Peter Morton’s Maxi 72 Notorious not starting due to the conditions, IRC Super Zero became a race between Lucky and two VO65s. The Polish Ocean Race team on Wind Whisper appeared to have won until receiving a 5% time penalty for using gear not on her IRC certificate. This handed IRC Super Zero to American Clarke Murphy and his team (including Ian Budgen, Mike Broughton and Dee Caffari) on the VO65 Team Jajo. (See full report HERE).

IRC Zero was bristling with both experience and race-winning hardware: Jean-Pierre Barjon’s Botin 65 Spirit of Lorina; Stefan Jentzsch’s Botin 56 Black Pearl; two-time winner Niklas Zennström’s CF520 Rán; Arto Linnervuo’s DSS-equipped Infiniti 52 Tulikettu; Max Klink’s Botin 52 Caro; Christopher Sheehan’s PAC52 Warrior Won; Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer; Eric de Turckheim's NMYD 54 Teasing Machine; the NMD 43 Albator and the new Carkeek 45 Ino Noir of RORC Commodore James Neville.

Caro edged ahead from the outset, arriving at the Rock 50 minutes ahead of Warrior Won. Under IRC she was 8 minutes 19 seconds ahead of Ino Noir, with Teasing Machine 23 minutes 10 seconds back in third. Heading back across the Celtic Sea, Caro, Warrior Won and Teasing Machine broke away and eventually it became a match race between Caro and Warrior Won, with Caro eventually beating her opponent by 2 hours 36 minutes with Albator completing the podium. Also putting in exceptional performances were two classic maxis finishing sixth and 12th in IRC Zero: Ermanno Traverso’s Stormvogel (the 1961 line honours winner) and the 1964 73ft S&S yawl Kialoa II, famously campaigned by Jim Kilroy and now by Paddy and Keith Broughton.

IRC Super Zero went to American Clarke Murphy and his team (including Ian Budgen, Mike Broughton and Dee Caffari) on the VO65 Team Jajo © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comIRC Super Zero went to American Clarke Murphy and his team (including Ian Budgen, Mike Broughton and Dee Caffari) on the VO65 Team Jajo © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

In IRC Zero Chris Sheehan's Botin 52 enjoyed a match race back across the Celtic Sea with Caro © ROLEX/Kurt ArrigoIn IRC Zero Chris Sheehan's Botin 52 enjoyed a match race back across the Celtic Sea with Caro © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

Paddy Broughton was awarded the Coates Scholfield Trophy for the yacht whose crew had sailed the furthest to compete. The vintage S&S 73 Kialoa II had sailed 14,136nm from Sydney, Australia © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comPaddy Broughton was awarded the Coates Scholfield Trophy for the yacht whose crew had sailed the furthest to compete. The vintage S&S 73 Kialoa II had sailed 14,136nm from Sydney, Australia © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Like the IMOCAs, the Class40 turn-out of 21 included much new hardware sailed by accomplished skippers. Early leader was Italian favourite, Ambrogio Beccaria and Nicolas Andrieu’s Alla Grande Pirelli, with Amelie Grassi and Anne-Claire Le Berre on La Boulangere Bio a worthy second. At the Rock the Italians were 18 minutes 41 seconds ahead of La Boulangere Bio, with Erwan Le Draoulec’s Everial, being sailed four-up, a further 8 minutes 17 seconds behind. The first eight rounded within 25 minutes. 

Back into the Channel the lead 40s fanned out with Alla Grande Pirelli defending the south, with Everial and William Mathelin-Moreaux and Pietro Luciani on Dékuple nearby. This trio would lead into Cherbourg, Everial in front having been first to gybe back to the northeast. The Verdier-designed Pogo S4 with her young crew (average age 26) won by 14 minutes, with the first six arriving within half an hour. Second home, Alla Grande Pirelli was relegated to sixth following her OCS, leaving Dékuple to take second with Andrea Fornaro and Corentin Douguet’s Influence2 third. (See full report HERE).

Above: After an intense contest amongst the 21 x Class40s it was eventually Erwan Le Draoulec’s Everial, a 2022 vintage Verdier-designed Pogo S4, that prevailed © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comAfter an intense contest amongst the 21 x Class40s, it was eventually Erwan Le Draoulec’s Everial, a 2022 vintage Verdier-designed Pogo S4, that prevailed © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

In IRC One was a mix of well proven race winners and new hardware, notably 2017 overall winner Didier Gaudoux with his new MN35 Lann Ael 3. While he previously raced fully crewed, this time Gaudoux was doublehanded with top shorthanded sailor Erwan Tabarly (nephew of Eric). Having made some modifications to their defending champion, Tom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise III had jumped a class to IRC One where they would race sistership Ed Bell's Dawn Treader. Also returning was 2015 winner, Géry Trentesaux on the Sydney 43 GTS Long Courrier; Jacques Pelletier's 41ft L'Ange de Milon and Gilles Fournier and daughter Corinne Migraine on the J/133 Pintia, lightened and optimised with bigger spinnakers.

At Land's End, Sunrise was leading Dawn Treader, followed by Pintia and the Humphreys 39 Ginkgo, skippered by German Dirk Clasen, with Sunrise III ahead of Pintia under IRC. At the Rock Pintia was 36 minutes ahead of Sunrise III, followed by Dawn Treader. On the run back the lead four extended. Ginkgo and Pintia performed better to the east, leading Sunrise III into Bishop Rock. Into the Channel with the wind going light Ginkgo split heading into the Cornish coast as those astern were closing in with pressure. Gingko was first home, but under IRC Pinta held first, 1 hour 21 minutes ahead of Sunrise III. While the slenderer 2005-vintage J/133 was superior upwind, lightening Pintia had improved her downwind performance and she had done well to fend off her lighter, higher-rated opponent. (See full report HERE).

IRC Two and Three both had two overriding characteristics. They included large ‘manufacturer’ fleets providing a competitive ‘race within a race’: In IRC Two there were sixteen Sun Fast 3600s, thirteen JPK 1030s and six JPK 1080s. Both were also dominated by doublehanded entries.

Winning IRC One - Gilles Fournier and daughter Corinne Migraine on their J/133 Pintia © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comWinning IRC One - Gilles Fournier and daughter Corinne Migraine on their J/133 Pintia © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

In IRC Two, at Start Point the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier skippered by Major Henry Foster and Philippe Girardin’s J/120 Hey Jude had pulled out a nice lead. Taking the east route past the Land's End TSS, Hey Jude pulled ahead and Sams White and North on the JPK 1010 Mzungu! and Maxime Mesnil and Hugo Feydit on the J/99 Axe Sail caught up. Rounding the Rock in light winds, Hey Jude was leading Axe Sail and Mzungu! both on the water and corrected time with more than an hour separating them.

Back into the Channel the leaders fanned out with Hey Jude still leading, Fujitsu British Solder losing out in the north and Karavel holding the south. Southwest of the Lizard, Hey Jude’s hard-won lead evaporated, the 2006 J/120 not enjoying the stronger downwind conditions as much as her more modern, stable rivals, with Thomas Bonnier and David Prono’s JPK 1030 Juzzy and Jean-Francois Hamon and Alex Ozon on the Sun Fast 3300 Festa 2 rolling her. Festa 2 was first home ahead of Juzzy and Hey Jude. Under IRC, France owned the podium with Juzzy 1 hour 22 minutes ahead of Axe Sail, 22 minutes ahead of Karavel. Hey Jude finished fifth while Festa 2 was eighth having been penalised for being OCS. Of the podium finishers only Karavel was fully crewed. (See full report HERE).

Mairie de Cherbourg-en-Cotentin Benoît Arrivé presents the winners of IRC Two -Thomas Bonnier and David Prono - JPK 1030 Juzzy - with the Foxhound Cup for their class win © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comMairie de Cherbourg-en-Cotentin Benoît Arrivé presents the winners of IRC Two -Thomas Bonnier and David Prono - JPK 1030 Juzzy - with the Foxhound Cup for their class win © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier skippered by Major Henry Foster were awarded the Inter Regimental Cup for Best Service Yacht Overall and the Culdrose Trophy for Best IRC Services Yacht round the Fastnet Rock on corrected time © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comSun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier skippered by Major Henry Foster were awarded the Inter Regimental Cup for Best Service Yacht Overall and the Culdrose Trophy for Best IRC Services Yacht round the Fastnet Rock on corrected time © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

In IRC Three British duo Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews made a strong start on the Sun Fast 3200 Cora. Short tacking around the West Country headlands, Cora led around the Lizard ahead of Jérôme Fournier Le Ray’s A-35 Locmalo, Australians Jules Hall and Jan Scholten on the J/99 Disko Trooper-Contender Sailcloth and the JPK 1010s Loeiz Cadiou and Stéphane Bodin’s Tracass, and Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil’s Les P’tits Doudous en Duo.

After passing east of the Land’s End TSS, Locmalo and Cora were initially laying as they crossed the Celtic Sea, with the French boat edging ahead and those astern catching to form a lead pack of nine. At the Rock Locmalo led Cora on the water by almost 15 minutes, with Ludovic Menahes and David le Goff’s JPK 1010 Adeosys another 42 minutes behind. However under IRC Cora was still 37 minutes ahead of Adeosys with Les P'tits Doudous en Duo up to third and Locmalo fifth.

Downwind in big breeze to Bishop Rock, the chasing pack again closed. Most left the westerly Bishop Rock TSS to port but Juan Emigdio Bedia Cagigal’s Spanish crew on the J/99 Gorilon gained going east of it. Into the Channel, in strong southwesterlies the French boats seemed better able to handle the challenging conditions than Cora, and under IRC Les P'tits Doudous en Duo won by 17 minutes from Tracass, with Adeosys 25 minutes behind in third, leaving Cora in fourth and Locmalo fifth. After Pintia, Les P'tits Doudous en Duo added more silverware to La Société des Régates du Havre’s trophy cabinet.

Les P'tits Doudous en Duo also won IRC Two-Handed ahead of Tracass and Juzzy. France claimed the top five spots with Cora sixth ahead of US doublehanded veterans Chris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby and talented father-daughter combo Jim and Ellie Driver 10th on their Sun Fast 3300 Chilli Pepper. (See full report HERE).

Victory in IRC Three and Two-Handed - Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil’s JPK 1010 Les P’tits Doudous en Duo  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comVictory in IRC Three and Two-Handed - Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil’s JPK 1010 Les P’tits Doudous en Duo © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Having been robbed of the class win in 2021, François Charles and his Morlaix-based marine industry friends on Sun Hill III were the IRC Four favourites. True to form, his Dehler 33 CR led into Weymouth Bay as Marc Willame and Antoine Jeu doublehanded on JPK 960 Elma headed offshore ahead of Belgian Jon Toussein's Swan 38 Leda. By Lyme Bay, Sun Hill III was already nine miles ahead on the water but approaching Start Point, Elma had closed by heading offshore.

Due to an anticipated major left shift, only the three leaders sailed east of the Land’s End TSS. Others, led by Chris Choules’ Sigma 38 With Alacrity, left it to starboard and some, like Niek Spiljard’s X-332 Vanilla, went even further west, leaving the Isle of Scilly to starboard. The Celtic Sea crossing was trying on the Tuesday with no breeze, leaving them floundering for hours. At the Fastnet Rock Sun Hill III led Elma and With Alacrity on the water and under IRC.

For the leg to Bishop Rock, the wind had backed into the SW/S leaving the leaders on a tight reach southeast. Here With Alacrity was being challenged by Leda and Samuel Dumenil and Antoine Runet on the JPK 960 Casamyas, but comfortably 15 miles ahead of the next group.

Once into the Channel a broad reach to the finish left the rich getting richer. Ultimately Sun Hill III arrived in 4 days 20 hours 54 minutes, correcting out to 3 hours 44 minutes ahead of Elma with With Alacrity third, 13 minutes behind. Among many noteworthy performances was that of Maluka, Australian Sean Langman’s 9m 1932 vintage gaff-rigged, 10th in class under IRC. (See full report HERE).

François Charles' Dehler 33 CR Sun Hill III won IRC Four favourites © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comFrançois Charles' Dehler 33 CR Sun Hill III won IRC Four © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

The race’s overall winner and recipient of the Fastnet Challenge Cup was Max Klink’s Caro, the IRC Zero winner. For the race the Swiss team had recruited British tactician Adrian Stead, previously a two-time winner of the race with Niklas Zennström’s Rán team. The rest of Caro’s crew were Justin Ferris, Wade Morgan, Andrew Green, Andrew McCorquodale, Cian Guilfoyle, Harry Hall, James Paterson, Jonno Swain, Ryan Godfrey and William John Parker.

Klink commented: “This is a legendary group of sailors, with whom I have been fortunate to sail for a few years now. When we set out on this race I never expected we could win. It’s a dream come true - all the more special as this is the 50th edition of such an iconic race.” (See full report HERE) and HERE.

Disappointingly there were no British winners. Of the 12 classes, France won eight, Switzerland three and the USA one.

Summarising the 50th edition, RORC Racing Manager Steve Cole said: “This Rolex Fastnet Race had everything: a superb range of boats from all over the world, and challenging conditions, a powerful reminder that this event may happen in mid-July but can still have teeth. I would like to thank Rolex and our partners in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin for their continued support. Special mention should be made of the rescue services on both sides of the Channel for their bravery and professionalism looking after our competitors. We look forward to seeing you all again for another special edition in 2025, which will coincide with the centenary of both the race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club.”

By James Boyd

In honour of a father’s memory

A poignant moment for Will Le Fevre Jr on board Kali as he rounds the Fastnet Rock in memory of his late father, Bill Le Fevre A poignant moment for Will Le Fevre Jr on board Kali as he rounds the Fastnet Rock in memory of his late father, Bill Le Fevre

Onboard Kali, the First 47.7 racing this year in IRC One, there was a deep-rooted motivation within one crew member specifically, not just to compete in, but to complete the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. William (Will) Le Fevre Jr is the son of William Le Fevre, one of the 15 competing yachtsmen lost during the 1979 Fastnet Race disaster. Will Le Favre Jr was only 12 years old at the time of his father’s death.

His father was sailing onboard Ariadne, the only American entry not to finish the race. Her owner, Frank ‘Hal’ Ferris and three others of her six crew were killed. While running before the storm in the Celtic Sea, Ariadne had twice been rolled and, dismasted and sinking, her crew had chosen to abandon ship in favour of the liferaft. Unfortunately, as the Coastguard was en route to rescue them, the liferaft capsized and Le Fevre and two others, including Ferris, were lost as they attempted to board the ship’s ladder in the rough sea state. 

Bill Le Fevre and his son, Will, on holiday sailing in Greece ahead of the ill-fated 1979 Fastnet RaceBill Le Fevre and his son, Will, on holiday sailing in Greece, weeks ahead of the ill-fated 1979 Fastnet RaceIn 2019, Will attended the Memorial Service at Holy Trinity Church, Cowes to commemorate the 40thanniversary of the 1979 Fastnet Race. He was welcomed warmly by various Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) members who invited him to the RORC Clubhouse in Cowes afterwards for drinks. He credits that memorial service to "creating in me the desire to want to understand the man that I never knew."

Bill Le Fevre, wearing his RORC member's tieBill Le Fevre, wearing his RORC member's tie

In the last photograph Will has of his father before he was lost, he was proudly wearing his RORC tie. After various discussions, Will was determined to obtain a Royal Ocean Racing Club tie as he felt it would create a connection to his father. But, to obtain the prestigious tie, you must complete the 500 miles of offshore racing that enables you to become eligible to become a full member of the RORC.

Will was then put in touch with Benedikt Clauberg, the owner of Kali. After a 30-minute phone call between the two, Benedikt told Will: “I love your story, and I want to be part of it. Can you be ready in a week for the Myth of Malham Race?”  The Myth of Malham Race took Kali 54 hours to complete. 

“This was my first ever yacht race,” says Will. “I was on board Kali in the 2021 Myth of Malham Race. The starting gun was at midday on Saturday, and I got off the boat at 7pm on Monday! I had no concept that I would be 54 hours on board. My first offshore was a baptism of fire.”

After finishing the "scary, exhilarating and daunting" Rolex Fastnet Race, Will has a better understanding of who his father was:

“It's amazing what emotion does to you and what purpose does to a person. I'm now in Cherbourg and I've completed the Rolex Fastnet Race! I just can't believe I've done it. I am hugely emotional about it and very proud.”

Will wants to share the message that “no matter how painful grief is, it doesn't have to negatively affect you through your life. You can use it as a power strength; out of adversity comes opportunity.”

Will spoke about the changes that have been made to the Rolex Fastnet Race since the 1979 disaster.

“I've reflected on that a lot while I've been away for the last six days and I'm proud that something so good has come out of something so tragic. I am incredibly gratified that through the tragedy of ‘79, which was a freak of nature event, should create a sport that enables people to push themselves and their equipment to the limit in a safer way.”

Will is immensely grateful to the crew onboard Kali. “I could not have gone through the last six days without the Kali team, who have their own reasons for doing the race. Through their support I am proud that I feel now my family now know why my dad did what he did and how much he loved it.”

Will Le Fevre completed the Rolex Fastnet Race on board Benedikt Clauberg's First 47.7 Kali, pictured here before the start in Cowes Will Le Fevre (bottom row, far right) completed the Rolex Fastnet Race on board Benedikt Clauberg's First 47.7 Kali, pictured here before the start in Cowes

By Abby Childerley

Reminder of a bygone era

Stormvogel, the van der Stadt/Laurent Giles 74-footer, rounds the Fastnet Rock© ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo Stormvogel, the van der Stadt/Laurent Giles 74-footer, rounds the Fastnet Rock© ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

While the Rolex Fastnet Race course may be the same for all, the ‘experience’ of the race can be very different from boat to boat. There are the Ultims and IMOCAs, which blaze around the course within a matter of hours as their crews endure a boneshaker ride in an enclosed cockpit, while the majority take several days to complete the race, in varying degrees of comfort, most often with crew relentlessly perched on the rail. 

The classic yachts competing in this year’s 50th Rolex Fastnet Race offered a different experience again. Firstly they often have bulwarks which preclude sitting out and, given their substantial displacement, common practices like hiking and sleeping to weather, are overlooked. However a classic on which few performance compromises are made, is Stormvogel.

One of the most famous classic maxis, plywood pioneer Cornelius Brunzeel’s groundbreaking 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner has been moderately modernised for manoeuvres (some powered winches and modern ropes, etc) while maintaining her original hull design, spars and sail plan. 

Thanks to the scrupulous care and maintenance carried out on this van der Stadt/Laurent Giles 74-footer on behalf of her ‘custodian’ of the last 40 years, Italian Ermanno Traverso, Stormvogel is raced as hard today as she was by her original owner 62 years ago. As a result Stormvogel excelled for a second consecutive race: In 2021 she finished 7th in IRC Overall from a field of 269. This year she was 11th among 358 IRC starters and 6th in IRC Zero.

Stormvogel's current owner Ermanno Traverso and crew collectors their prize for Best Classic at the prize-giving © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comStormvogel collect their prize for Best Classic at the prize-giving © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

At the start of this year’s race, Traverso noted that there was slightly less wind than in 2021 and Stormvogel set off with one reef and the No.4 jib, whereas they could have hoisted full main. “But then when to pass the Needles, we went to two reefs and it was really very similar to last year - the same swell, same movement, etc. For Stormvogel it was a serious sea, but we were comfortable and in control.” This was helped by her 31.7 tonne displacement, which was ultra-light when she was launched, but more than twice that of a modern day Volvo Open 70.  

All was going well overnight until Stormvogel suffered a collision with something solid, but unidentified, in the water. Traverso explains:

“We were taking in a little bit of water on the starboard side. In the morning we entered Lyme Bay and heeled the boat and Ian [Hulleman- skipper] made some temporary repairs just above the waterline.”

Stormvogel rounded the Fastnet Rock in daylight and, with breeze, the crew braced themselves as their waterborne museum piece headed off towards Bishop Rock with blistering pace.

“During the first few hours downwind we struck 21.5 knots - that’s the top speed I’ve ever seen, although we heard that they did 22 in the Transpac (in 1967). She was thundering along, but very comfortably under S2.” With her flat run aft, Stormvogel is considered the first maxi able to plane. Downwind in breeze typically they use full sails on the main mast, with mizzen staysail and no mizzen. 

However all good things must come to an end and as Stormvogel passed south of the Casquets TSS, the wind lightened and she found herself unable to make much progress against the foul tide, which Traverso believes lost her a couple of places.

“I had a very good team this year,  but the race was more challenging. What is incredible is that we were racing neck and neck at various time with high performance modern boats.”

It is hoped that Stormvogel will return to gain the result she deserves in the next Rolex Fastnet Race that coincides with the centenary of the RORC in 2025.

S&S Yawl Kialoa II skippered by Paddy Broughton came from Australia to participate © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comS&S Yawl Kialoa II skippered by Paddy Broughton came from Australia to participate © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Anglo-Aussie brothers Paddy and Keith Broughton bought the classic maxi Kialoa II in 2016 with the aim of following the footsteps of her original owner, the legendary American maxi yacht campaigner Jim Kilroy. Following a substantial refit, they competed in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race and then set sail for Australia to compete in that year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. Since then the programme has included the Transpac (another favourite of Kilroy’s) before sailing the 1964 vintage 73ft S&S yawl back to the UK for this 50th edition of the race (in which Kilroy achieved line honours with his subsequent Kialoa III in 1975). 

Today, while some modifications have been made to the bow layout below, Kilroy would recognise much of his original boat, including her doghouse, nav station, galley and especially her famous gimballed table. This was involved on one of the few moments of drama they experienced during this year’s race: Residing on the gimballed table is a Nespresso coffee machine, allowing the crew to ‘caffeine up’ whatever the time. All was going well until a crew banged into it and, as Paddy tells it: “the coffee machine flew off the gimbal and went straight through the screen of the laptop.” As a result all of their routing software went down forcing navigator Lindsay May (veteran of 49 consecutive Rolex Sydney Hobarts) to revert to paper charts and the Shipping Forecast. “The last time we had to do that was probably on our Swan 51 Grandee back in 1996.”

As to how racing offshore on a classic like Kialoa II differs from life onboard a modern day race boat, Broughton continues: “It is a lot more comfortable. We eat well. Everyone has a bunk. We don’t sleep to windward, because it doesn’t make much difference on this. That limits the crew, so we generally go with 17 or 18. We always have a hot meal, then toasted sandwiches at 4am and coffee whenever you need it. Plus there is no rail to sit on:  You are still thinking about things to make the boat go fast, but you are not rail meat.” 

Of this year’s race Broughton continues:

“It was a classic Fastnet Race. You had everything: three gales, a becalming and we got our money’s worth of sightseeing at the Fastnet Rock - we parked up there, putting paid to our ambitions for doing well. We still came 12th in class, which for a 60-year-old boat is not bad. We were very happy with the result, just a bit unlucky with the weather. If we hadn’t parked we would have been famous.”

While the 1960s maxis sped around the course in 3 days 22 hours 1 minute 46 seconds (Stormvogel) and 4 days 14 hours 7 minutes 52 seconds (Kialoa II), for the small/older yachts it was a different story. 

Amokura and Maluka arrived on Friday night, just missing the prize-giving, with course times of 6 days 1 hour 52 minutes 14 seconds and 6 days 3 hours 40 minutes 43 seconds respectively.

Amokura is a 50ft Bermudan yawl, built by Moodys in 1939 originally for Lord Mountbatten's Aide de Camp, Ernest Harston. Appropriately she is believed to have been the first British yacht to visit Cherbourg after WWII. It took Amokura three attempts to complete the Rolex Fastnet Race which she finally achieved in 2021, remarkable as owner Paul Moxon was then racing his heavyweight classic doublehanded. This time Moxon returned, but sailing six up. His extra crew came with racing experience, including in previous Rolex Fastnet and Sydney-Hobart races. 

While the classic maxis took the big upwind conditions in their stride, they were less easy for the generation older Amokura.

“We very much liked it downwind and across the wind, but upwind is very hard,” admitted Moxon. “In a choppy sea we don’t make the ground we’d like to, but we do get there. We had about six hours where we made no progress. There were a few low spirits but we plugged on. 

“When you turn around and head off the wind, the boat really picks up speed and you can survive the big seas and plug on through the waves and make great progress. We missed a lovely strong belt of wind that went through and if we had caught it would have carried us through to Cherbourg and probably saved us 24 hours. For an hour or two after the Rock, it got really very windy and we had it full on. Once you are in those conditions downwind, you fly; the boat really comes into its own.”

Maluka's crew may have missed the prize-giving but they were awarded their prize, the Iolaire Block for the oldest boat to complete the course, on the dock © Arthur Daniel/RORCMaluka's crew may have missed the prize-giving but they were awarded their prize, the Iolaire Block for the oldest boat to complete the course, on the dock © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Of the race generally, Moxon added: “It was a pretty tough race: we had two big storms and a big calm for a day. We got through it and survived it. Tough race but a good race. I am certainly interested in doing the Fastnet again. We are proud to just be part of the race.”

Another yacht to arrive from Australia specifically for the 50th Rolex Fastnet Race was Maluka. This 9m 1932 vintage gaff-rigged classic belongs to well-known Sydney boatyard owner and yacht racer Sean Langman, himself a veteran of 30+ Hobart races. The origins of the annual Boxing Day ‘excuse to not meet the in-laws at Christmas’ (as the locals know it) was as a cruise south from Sydney to Tasmania, and Maluka achieved this passage some nine years prior the first Hobart Race. She was restored by Langman in 2006 for the race’s 70th edition. 

“Last year I was in the UK visiting some friends and was around Cowes and Devon and Cornwall and I thought it would be so nice to cruise here,” explained Langman. “We hatched a plan to ship Maluka over to do some cruising as well as the Rolex Fastnet Race. The Fastnet is right up there with the greatest ocean races in the world. I never dreamed of actually doing it before.”

Compared to the Hobart race, Langman says of the Fastnet:

“It is far more challenging in that there are so many corners to go round. It is a race that just doesn’t stop giving. We had a string of upwind conditions for 16 hours. Then we had champagne sailing. Then we were becalmed. Then we had another front. Then we had to miss the TSSes which, with the current in a little boat, is really hard work. Then we footed for a little bit, got into that sloppy Atlantic swell and then fully parked with people around us anchoring…”

With much of the course in the Southern Ocean and having to cross Bass Strait, there is greater likelihood that competitors will see more extreme conditions in the Hobart race. Certainly Langman has: “We have been in over 70 knots in this boat. I have actually rolled her over in Bass Strait… Fundamentally - you look after her and she looks after you.” So the first hours of the race were familiar territory. 

Their rounding of the Rock also came good: “We passed it in daylight. It was misty as we approached and we couldn’t see it, but then it just burst through! We had a cheeky little Pinot as we sailed around…” 

Sean Langman of Maluka, a tough little 9m classic built in 1932 © Arthur Daniel/RORCSean Langman of Maluka, a tough little 9m classic built in 1932 © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Compared to racing modern boats, Maluka is also one where even the Hobart veteran Langman permits creature comforts such as pillows and sleeping to leeward. Compared to European boats of her vintage Maluka has considerable beam, which Langman attributes to her working boat origins. However for average mortals there are aspects of her which would represent a handful. For example her tiller has to be operated by block and tackle: “It has a vertical rudder post and no balance. It doesn’t have weather helm it is just difficult to change direction,” admits Langman. 

It is hoped that the next edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club will encourage more classics to come and compete. 

Multinational all-female team arrives back to home port

Emma, the Garcia yacht was sailed by a multinational all-female crew © Arthur Daniel/RORC Emma, the Garcia yacht was sailed by a multinational all-female crew © Arthur Daniel/RORC

A week after the start in Cowes, there was a warm welcome on the dock in Cherbourg for the all-female team on board Martin Jensen’s brand new Cherbourg-built Garcia yacht, Emnma. Finishing the race the day after the final prize-giving, the multinational crew completed the course in just over 6 days 21 hours and were very happy to back in the boat’s home port. The crew from six different countries all met on the build and delivery of the yacht, and the plan to compete in the 50th edition of the Race with an all-female team was hatched.

“Clothilde and I were working for Garcia Yachts and the other crew are either owners of existing Garcia yachts, or future owners of boats, yet to be built. The opportunity came up when we were delivering Emma from Cherbourg to her new owner. We were joking about the fact that we could see people bragging about being such good sailors – and it was mostly men - and we said ‘that’s funny, we’re sure we could all do the same’. Martin Jensen said, ‘OK, why not, just go for it’. So, we had a brand new boat to do it on! How lucky were we?”

Once safely tied up in Marina Chantereyne, co-skipper Marie Schiewe spoke to the media team before celebrating with friends on the dock and heading to the Crew Bar in the Race Village. “Personally, this was my first Fastnet Race – it was quite something! How amazing! I have not done much offshore racing, but I’ve crossed the Pacific and been working on yachts and superyachts. On board we have six female sailors, all with different sailing experience; some dinghy racers and some offshore sailors like Kate (Colins). Co-skipper Clothilde-Marie Bernard also comes from a racing background, but usually races more inshore – although it turns out she’s good at offshore too!” laughs Schiewe.

Marie Schiewe talked to Trish Jenkins about her race on board Emma © Arthur Daniel/RORCMarie Schiewe talked to Trish Jenkins about her race on board Emma © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Emma is a ‘local boat’ as she was built by Garcia Yachts, a shipyard in Cherbourg. The aluminium-hulled yacht has a lifting centreboard, “which was very handy during the race,” explained Schiewe. Of the race she said:

“It was harder than expected, although we knew it would be having seen videos from the Solent and race two years ago. We hoped it would be less than that, but it turned out it was more difficult. That’s alright – we made it. There were also more storms in the race this year that we didn’t expect. I think the most tricky part was actually avoiding the number of fishing boats we came across, as there were so many of them.”

“We rounded the Fastnet Rock in daylight, but it could as well have been night-time as there was so much rain and fog that we barely saw it at first. Turns out we got caught in a net or lobster pot and that is where the centreboard made it easy to pull it up and get free. At this precise moment the Fastnet Lighthouse and Rock revealed itself. So, we saw it after all!

“There were lot of emotions crossing the line back in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin – relief and pride. Because we are an all-female crew and it’s not very often that you see that in the race, we are so proud we didn’t give up – we saw so many had retired.”

Emma’s Crew: Clothilde-Marie Bernard - French, Fiona Muir - Australian, Katherine (Kate) Collins - Canadian, Marie Schiewe - French, Rebecca Hirsch - British, Sylvia Junge - Swiss

Winners and crews celebrate their Rolex Fastnet Race Challenge

Caro, Overall winners of the Fastnet Challenge Cup in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Caro, Overall winners of the Fastnet Challenge Cup in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Winners and competitors taking part in the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race were celebrated on the stage at the prizegiving on the final evening in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. With the majority of boats having completed the 695-mile race from Cowes, RORC CEO Jeremy Wilton, Race Director Steve Cole and Rear Commodore Deb Fish congratulated all who took part and welcomed spectators, visitors, family and friends who had gathered in the Race Village on the Plage Verte at the Marina Chantereyne to watch the awards unfold. Opening the finale with a spectacular highlights video, it was then time to present all class winners with their trophies, along with a host of special prizes, before the overall winner of the Fastnet Challenge Cup was congratulated.

Welcomed on the stage to present individual awards were Jean-Louis Valentin, President of the Association Arrivée Fastnet Cherbourg; Mr Benoît Arrivé, Maire de Cherbourg-en-Cotentin; Manuela Mahier, representing the Communauté d’Agglomeration du Cotentin; Isabelle Fontaine, representing the Département de la Manche, and Augustin Bœuf, representing the Region Normandie.

MUSTO Media Awards

During the race, competitors were invited to send in blogs, photos and videos to the Media Team to keep race fans up-to-date. MUSTO Media Awards were given to: 

1st (winning a £500 MUSTO voucher) - Philip Schröderheim of the IRC One yacht, Dehler 45, Solong, whose video had ½ million views on RORC social media. 

2nd (winning a £350 Musto voucher) - Helena Darvelid on Allegra, the Irens catamaran racing in MOCRA multihull class, for her epic footage onboard in rough seas and capturing the MOD70 Zoulou launching off huge waves.

3rd (winning a £200 Musto voucher) - Zeb Fellows on the Sun Fast 3300 Orbit racing in IRC Two for his fun onboard footage. At just 16 years old, maybe one day in the future he'll be an onboard reporter.

The Challenge Cup on display at the Rolex Fastnet Race prize-giving in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin © Arthur Daniel/RORCThe Fastnet Challenge Cup on display at the Rolex Fastnet Race prize-giving in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Prize Winners

Croda Wave Trophy for 1st in MOCRA Multihull class – Allegra - Custom Irens catamaran sailed by Adrian Keller

Mocra crystal trophy for Best MOCRA under 50 feet - Morpheus – Shuttleworth 39 sailed by Andy Fennell

RORC Bowl for Best Swan in the Cowes Dinard St Malo and Rolex Fastnet Race combined -  Eve – Swan 65 sailed by Steven Capell and Fraser Welch, skippered by Benjamin Roulant

Clipper 68 Class

3rd - CV2 Ambitious

2nd - CV8 Tenacious

1st - CV3 Adventurous

IRC Four

3rd - With Alacrity - Sigma 38 sailed by Chris and Vanessa Choules

2nd Elma – JPK 960 sailed by Marc Willame

1st  Sun Hill III winning the Iolaire Trophy – Dehler 33 CR sailed by François Charles

IRC Three

3rd ADEOSYS – JPK 1010 sailed by Ludovic Menahes

2nd Tracass – JPK 1010 sailed by Loeiz Cadiou

1st Locmalo - A 35 sailed by Gautier Normand

1st IRC Three and IRC Three B winning the Favona Cup and 1st IRC Two-Handed winning the Brunskill Trophy - Les P'tits Doudous en Duo – JPK 1010 sailed by Romain Gibon

IRC Two

3rd IRC Two - Karavel – JPK 1010 sailed by Frederic Nouel

2nd IRC Two - Axe Sail - J/99 sailed by Maxime Mesnil

1st IRC Two A - Black Sheep - Sun Fast 3600 sailed by Trevor Middleton

1st IRC Two B and IRC Two winning the Foxhound Cup - Juzzy – JPK 1030 sailed by Thomas Bonnier

IRC One

3rd IRC One - Dawn Treader – JPK 1180 sailed by Ed Bell

2nd IRC One - Sunrise III – JPK 1180 sailed by Thomas Kneen

1st IRC One A - Ginkgo – Humphreys 39 sailed by Dirk Clasen

IRC One B and 1st IRC One winning the West Mersea Yacht Club Trophy and Fastnet Rock Trophy - Pintia – J/133 sailed by Gilles Fournier/ Corinne Migraine

IRC Super Zero

3rd IRC Super Zero Erivale Trophy and Irish Lights Trophy for 1st IRC yacht on the water - Lucky - 27m canting keel sailed by Bryon Ehrhart

2nd IRC Super Zero - Wind Whisper – VO 65 sailed by Pablo Arrarte

1st IRC Super Zero winning the Gesture Trophy and the Kees Van Dam Memorial Trophy for 2nd BCT Overall - Team Jajo – VO 65 sailed by Clarke Murphy

IRC Zero

3rd IRC Zero - Albator - NMD 43 sailed by Philippe France

2nd IRC Zero - Warrior Won - PAC 52 sailed by Chris Sheehan

Winning the Alf Loomis Trophy for navigator of the yacht winning the Fastnet Challenge Cup - Andy Green (Caro)

Winning the Joe Powder Trophy for Best IRC yacht round the Fastnet Rock on corrected time
Erroll Bruce Cup - 1st yacht home IRC Zero
Hong Kong Cup – BCT IRC Zero 
Arambalza Cup - Best Non-British yacht overall and Fastnet Challenge Cup for Overall winner - Caro – Botin 52 sailed by Max Klink

Special prizes

Coates Scholfield Trophy for the yacht whose crew have sailed the furthest to compete in the race: Paddy Broughton’s classic boat sailed 14,136nm to take part - Kialoa II - S&S 73’ yawl sailed by Paddy Broughton

Clarion Cup for First British Yacht Home - Ino Noir - Carkeek 45 sailed by James Neville

Dorade Cup for BCT IRC Classic Yacht - Stormvogel – ketch sailed by Ermanno Traverso

Joggernaut Trophy for BCT Irish Yacht - Nieulargo - Grand Soleil 40 sailed by Denis Murphy

Berrimilla Dogbowl for Bct Two-Handed Yacht In Irc Four - Elma – JPK 960 sailed by Marc Willame

Royal Thames Spirit Cup for the Best Yacht owned or skippered by a Royal Thames member, and the Swinburne Trophy for First Yacht Home owned/skippered by an Irish national - Darkwood – J/121 sailed by Michael O’Donnell

Roger Justice Trophy for Best Sailing School - Stortebeker – Carkeek 47 sailed by Max Gartner

Hobo Bowl for IRC One Design - Woozle Hunter - Sigma 33 sailed by Alex Thomas

Whirlwind trophy for Best Swan on corrected time - Balthasar - Swan 50OD sailed by Louis Balcaen

Inter-Regimental Cup for Best Service Yacht and the Culdrose Trophy - Fujitsu British Soldier – Sun Fast 3600 sailed by Maj Foster of the Army Sailing Association

Sparkman & Stephens Trophy for best Sparkman & Stephens Design - Flycatcher of Yar - Contessa 38 sailed by Henry and Edward Clay

Bloodhound Cup for Best Corporate Yacht – Sun Hill III - Dehler 33 sailed by Francois Charles

Duncan Munro Kerr Trophy for Skipper aged between 18-30 - Mark Spearman sailing Dawn Treader

Maite de Arambalza Trophy for Best Female Skipper – Christina Wolfe sailing Red Ruby

Martin Illingworth Trophy for Teams of three yachts nominated by an Affiliated Club – Lucky, Ino Noir, Sunrise III

Iolaire Block for the oldest boat to complete the course – Maluka sailed by Sean Langman

Dennis Doyle Memorial Salver for the skipper who has done the greatest number of Fastnet Races - Peter Hopps, sailing Sigma 38 Sam

See the photos from the prize-giving here

50th Edition Grows the Legacy

The Fastnet Rock © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo The Fastnet Rock © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

The 50th Rolex Fastnet Race is winding to a close following a superb Prize-giving on Friday 28 July at the Race Village in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. As the final boats make their way to the finish, it is time to start looking back at another thrilling edition of this iconic race. 

The largest ever fleet participated with 430 yachts and nearly 3,000 sailors from 49 countries. The conditions varied from the brutal to the benign. As yachts finished in Cherbourg, two course records were broken, and a new champion was crowned. The Rolex Fastnet Race is organized by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and has been partnered by Rolex since 2001, as part of it 65 year association with the sport.

#RolexFastnetRace @RORCracing

 
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An adventure to remember for young crew on board Tall Ships Youth Trust entries

Challenger 2 was the top Challenger yacht out of the 3 participating © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com Challenger 2 was the top Challenger yacht out of the 3 participating © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com

Tall Ships Youth Trust entered 3 of their Challenger Yachts into the 2023 50th edition Rolex Fastnet Race. One of the Challenger boats, Challenger 2, was crewed by a group of the charity’s adult supporters, who have been fundraising to enable 12 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate free of charge. In addition to the crew, three younger sailors were also onboard racing the 57-tonne vessel. 

Onboard Challenger 2, Zoe d’Ornano has been raising money for Tall Ships Youth Trust, a charity that has provided disadvantaged young people with the opportunity to get involved into the sailing world since 1956. In 2021, Zoe raised £13,000 and in 2023 she raised a further £10,000.  

Zoe’s first Fastnet was in 2021 when she was only 12 years old. Comparing both Rolex Fastnet Races, she thought the start was more challenging in 2021, but the overall conditions in 2023 were much harder, although also more exciting. Zoe feels that the opportunities that the Tall Ships Youth Trust provides helps disadvantaged children feel a greater sense of ‘belonging to a community’ and enables them to ‘push the limits outside of what they think they can achieve’. Also onboard Challenger 2 was 12 year old Tom Marsh, who was the youngest male crew member competing in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Since a young age Tom has sailed onboard his parents’ 32ft yacht, which is based out of East Cowes. Prior to the Rolex Fastnet Race, Tom completed the necessary qualifying miles including sailing the Myth of Mallam Race onboard Challenger 2.

Zoe d’Ornano, Chris Frederick and Tom Marsh - the young sailors on board Challenger 2, one of the Tallships Youth Trust entries © Arthur Daniel/RORCZoe d’Ornano, Chris Frederick and Tom Marsh - the young sailors on board Challenger 2, one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust entries © Arthur Daniel/RORC

 Tom explained that onboard the Tall Ships Youth Trust boat, during the day the crew had a watch system of six hours on and then six hours off. During the night they reduced this to three four hour watches enabling there to be plenty of rest onboard. Tom’s highlight of the Fastnet Race was seeing all the dolphins that joined Challenger 2 in the Celtic Sea, on their return journey from the Rock. 

Chris Frederick was also onboard Challenger 2. He comes from the famous Greig City Academy in Harangey, London. He started sailing with the support of Tall Ships Youth Trust in 2016 and has progressed from dinghy sailing into offshore racing. 

 Chris’s first Rolex Fastnet Race was in 2019 and has since done several RORC offshore races like the St Malo Race and the Myth of Mallam Race. In 2019, Chris was on a 45 foot boat but much preferred being on Challenger 2 this year as it is 72ft. When comparing the Fastnets Chris explained that in 2019, it was more straightforward as the wind direction meant it was a reaching angle to and from the rock. Whereas this year, part of the race was an upwind slog, with lots of shutdowns and fronts to endure; ‘there was more of a tactical aspect to this Fastnet compared to 2019’.

 Chris got this opportunity through connections he has made in the UK Etchells Fleet. He began sailing as his friends sailed and it meant he got time off school! But as he progressed, he began to develop a passion for sailing as it got more challenging. ‘Every time you go sailing, it is not like the last. It always varies’.  

Challenger 2 was the top Challenger yacht out of the 3 participating. No doubt we will see these young sailors back out on the water in two years time for the next Rolex Fastnet Race.  

A Fastnet veteran at 24

Darkwood, Michael O’Donnell’s J/121, welcomed Matt Beecher as a late addition © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Darkwood, Michael O’Donnell’s J/121, welcomed Matt Beecher as a late addition © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Already a veteran of his third Rolex Fastnet Race, yet Irishman Matt Beecher is still in his early twenties. “When I was younger I read this book about the 1979 Fastnet Race, Left for Dead, and ironically it made me want to do this race. I was 14 years old, I read the book, and I was in awe of the story. I told myself one day I would do the race and somehow I achieved it when I was 19. I did it fully crewed, then did it doublehanded when I was 21 years old and now I’ll be 24 this year and I’ve done it for the third time on Darkwood.”

A last-minute recruit on to Michael O’Donnell’s J/121 Darkwood, Beecher says this was his toughest race to date.

“The first two days were really tough, really windy, a lot of suffering. I was seasick, four hours with my head in the bucket, but came back into it towards the end.”

However hard it gets, Beecher sees a long line of Rolex Fastnet Races ahead of him.

“Personally it’s my goal to do every Fastnet for as long as possible. I want to do it doublehanded next time, because long term I want to be a shorthanded sailor and to become a professional sailor. My five-year plan is to be in The Ocean Race. Shorter term I want to go and do the Solitaire du Figaro in France, but for now the goal is to do as much racing in the UK offshore series because it’s amazing. There are all kinds of opportunities for youth sailors like me, whether it’s coaching beginners in the class or sailing with the more senior members in the doublehanded class. We train all year to be better at shorthanded sailing.”

Not that Beecher is turning down any opportunity to get on an offshore race boat and he really enjoyed his experience on the six-man J/121.

“It slotted in nicely sailing on Darkwood because the boat runs a three-handed watch system, so it’s good training for shorthanded. But the highlight of the race for me was when we had everyone on deck on the last night, about 22 knots of breeze and we did a gybe at 17 or 18 knots. It was one of those moments where everyone was working perfectly together and it all came together in that one moment. That really put a smile on everyone’s face.”

By Andy Rice

Not all heroes wear capes

Henry and Ed Clay, father and son, on board Flycatcher of Yar, one of only six Contessa 38s ever built © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Henry and Ed Clay, father and son, on board Flycatcher of War, one of only six Contessa 38s ever built © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race will be remembered as one of the toughest tests in the 98-year history of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship race. At tonight’s Prize-giving, the overall and IRC class winners will be given a standing ovation in Cherbourg and rightly so. However, every sailor has their story from the Rolex Fastnet Race.

S&S Contessa, 38 Flycatcher of Yar - Henry & Ed Clay

Launched in 1973, the S&S Contessa 38 Flycatcher of Yar is one of only six ever built and is now fifty years old. Flycatcher was owned by RORC Commodore John Roome (1976-1978), who suggested the Round Britain and Ireland Race in 1976 and came second in Flycatcher, which also completed the notorious 1979 Fastnet Race. Flycatcher has been owned by the Clay family for 25 years and the father and son team of Henry and Ed Clay raced doublehanded in IRC Four this year, coming an impressive fourth in class and finishing in the top third of the 96 boats racing in IRC Two-Handed. Henry and Ed Clay were greeted in Cherbourg by their family including Felix and Charlotte, the next generation of the Clay family, and they will be cruising through the Channel Islands this summer.

“When I was growing up we cruised Flycatcher in Scotland and Ireland, Iceland and The Baltic, and in 2015-16 with Megan, my wife, we looped around the North Atlantic, Canaries, Gambia, Caribbean, USA and Greenland. So she really is a family cruising boat and we have been quite surprised how competitive she has been,” commented Ed Clay. 

“Despite the rough weather, we knew the boat would be fine as long as we didn’t do something stupid. The boat is wet but she is really solid. At Portland we went all the way in to get shelter and then a back eddy around The Bill, we made some gains there. Our northerly route after Land’s End was not really a gain but it worked out okay and we were in a good position as we rounded the Fastnet Rock. It built for the run back south, and we both said that we have never pushed the boat that hard before. We were hand steering about 90% of the time, so we didn’t get much sleep. We did take a look at the tracker at every headland but we sailed our own race. 

"Towards the end of the race, the hardest bit for us was approaching the Isles of Scilly; we were on a close reach to stay south of the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme), which was hard work on the helm. Despite pushing hard in big conditions, the only damage was a broken tack line, spinnaker halliard and the end fitting on our pole, nothing major, Flycatcher is solid.”

With Alacrity's crew, friends and family pile on for a celebratory photo at the end of another memorable race © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comWith Alacrity's crew, friends and family pile on for a celebratory photo at the end of another memorable race © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Sigma 38, With Alacrity - Chris and Vanessa Choules

The Sigma 38 was designed by David Thomas in 1985, in response to the tragic 1979 Fastnet, when the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Royal Thames Yacht Club collaborated to sponsor a design that would stand up to tough offshore conditions. This year seven Sigma 38s were racing in IRC Four. The top three Sigma 38s were Paul Scott’s Spirit, Sam of Hamble skippered by Peter Hopps, taking part in his 17th Fastnet, and the top Sigma 38 was once again With Alacrity owned by Chris and Vanessa Choules. With Alacrity is 35 years old, but you would have never thought it. Gleaming on the dock in Cherbourg, With Alacrity is immaculately maintained. 

“We have a good team, we have done all the qualifiers together and a training weekend and a lot of it is down to the trust in the boat, With Alacrity is the kind of boat you want to be on for a tough Fastnet, it is made for this race,” commented Vanessa Choules.

“ We pushed her quite hard but you have to know when it is right to do that and when to take your foot off the pedal a little bit, as we did when we went round the Fastnet Rock because it was full on there, so we kind of went into cruising mode. Having said that we did hit a top speed of 17 knots on the way into Cherbourg, which was like being in a dinghy."

Chris (Choules) is the skipper but we have a democratic process, so he talks to everyone and all the crew can give input, but we all respect Chris is the person in charge. When you are sleep deprived and soaking wet it is so important that you are all in it together, that keeps everyone’s spirits up, everybody pulls their weight on With Alacrity.”

By Louay Habib

Grizzing it

Fujitsu British Soldier sending it at the start © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Fujitsu British Soldier sending it at the start © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

It started out well for Major Henry Foster and his crew of fellow troops on board the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier. “We were looking forward to the start of the race. The boat goes upwind like a rocket in big breeze and we’re trained to keep on going when we’re wet, cold and miserable, it’s where the Army background can really pay off. We knew with that with a big of grit and determination we could make gains over the two-handers in IRC Two in the first 48 hours.”

So it proved, with Fujitsu British Soldier taking the lead in the 98-boat IRC Two class in the early days. Even when the navigation computer got flooded and ceased to function, the team was still making good progress towards the Fastnet Rock. “Then it got light and that’s when we were struggling against the lighter crews in the two-handers and the boats with their modern scow designs.”

The downwind conditions from the Fastnet lighthouse back to Cherbourg played to the strengths of the doublehanders and Fujitsu British Soldier tumbled to 18th overall. The team narrowly missed out on winning the subdivision IRC Two A to Black Sheep, a Sun Fast 3600 campaigned by Jake Carter and Trevor Middleton. “It’s disappointing we didn’t do better in the end,” admitted Foster, “but it was a good race and we’re delighted with our performance in the first 48 hours.

“At least we have won the interservices prizes, which are always our main focus, the Culdrose Trophy and the Inter-Regimental Trophy. There’s some brilliant history behind these trophies and there’s quite fierce competition between the Army, the Navy and the RAF. The Royal Engineers on Trojan [J/109 skippered by Andy Motion] are still out there, still pushing, but it’s unfortunate that the Navy with its new boat suffered a dismasting early on in the race.”

Fujitsu British Soldier enjoyed a blistering initial run but en route to Cherbourg from the Fastnet Rock the conditions didn't play to their strengths and they finished in 18th place in IRC Two © ROLEX/Carlo BorlenghiFujitsu British Soldier enjoyed a blistering initial run but en route to Cherbourg from the Fastnet Rock the conditions didn't play to their strengths and they finished in 18th place in IRC Two © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Foster admits that even he was feeling ragged by the end of the race.

“A few hours after finishing I was hating this race, I didn’t think I was coming back, but a day later after a couple of beers and a good night’s sleep I’m starting to thinking about 2025 and how we’re going to do it better. It was coming through that third weather front, more 30 knot gusts, blasting down the Channel in huge waves, struggling to see any tankers because it’s pitch black. We hit 22 knots on one big surf, sailing under flying jib and at that point I was a little bit over the Fastnet. I just wanted to get everyone safely to Cherbourg and get showered and warm. But of course, we’ll be back.”

While Foster would love to do better in the next Rolex Fastnet Race, it could be harder than ever to make the time to make the necessary improvements to crew work and equipment.

“The UK is about to take the lead in NATO,” said Foster, “and with everything going on [in Ukraine and eastern Europe], that’s quite a serious responsibility.” Inevitably this is going to mean more time focused on doing the job and less on board the Sun Fast 3600.

“We’re very lucky to be able to do what we do, and it’s very much thanks to Fujitsu’s support that we’re able to do the sailing and racing that we do. No taxpayer’s money is spent on the campaign, we rely on Fujitsu to help us make the programme work. And I’m a strong believer that sport is great training and very relevant for the skills we need to build in the services.”

It’s also why the Army will always compete on a fully-crewed basis.

“We will never go down the two-handed route,” said Foster. “I think what’s going on in two-handed racing is brilliant, and we have really good close competition with them, but we always try to race with seven on board because we want to give as many people as possible the experience of offshore racing and competing in a Fastnet.”

Like the majority of the IRC fleet, Fujitsu British Soldier had ample opportunity to see the Fastnet Rock as they drifted around itLike the majority of the IRC fleet, Fujitsu British Soldier had ample opportunity to see the Fastnet Rock as they drifted around it

Foster is already looking back with fondness at some of the many memorable moments from a gruelling week. “There are some brilliant stories that will remain long after the pain and the misery have gone; like one of our crew sitting rigidly to attention on the rail, being sick over the rest of the crew and everyone just holding firm and keeping going.

"The thing about the Army is, you learn that as conditions degrade you have to get better. You’re trained to see a degrading of conditions as an opportunity, not a threat. Because when things get really tough, if you can outperform your adversaries in those conditions, that's when you win the fight. That’s when battles are won.”

Foster makes no secret of his love for offshore racing, although he also passionately believes it is directly relevant to his day job.

“It’s why we do competitive sport because it's such good training, and both are mutually beneficial to each other. In the Army we talk a lot about moral courage and the ability to do the right thing and the difficult thing when no one’s watching. Because what we’re seeing in Ukraine for example is proving that if you just get your doss bag out and get your head down and get some sleep, but you haven’t dug a shell hole, those things cost people their lives in the real world. What we do and the choices we make are the same in a sporting context. As the conditions degrade, and people around us are perhaps taking a foot off the accelerator, then if we can just grizz it out a bit harder, that’s the opportunity to make a gain.”

By Andy Rice

Doublehanded domination

Les P'tits Doudous en Duo finished first in IRC Two-Handed, the JPK 1010 ably co-skippered by Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil  © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Les P'tits Doudous en Duo finished first in IRC Two-Handed, the JPK 1010 ably co-skippered by Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

One of the strongest competitions within the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s 50th Rolex Fastnet Race was in the ever-swelling ranks of IRC Two-Handed, mostly populated from IRC Two and IRC Three. This has steadily grown since it was first introduced in 2005 - this year it was up to a record 96, a quantum leap from the 64 that raced in pre-COVID 2019. And this figure doesn’t include the IMOCAs and several Class40s, many competing doublehanded in preparation for this autumn’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

In the early hours of a wet, stormy Thursday, first to finish into Cherbourg in IRC Two-Handed was Lann Ael 3, raced by the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race’s outright winner Didier Gaudoux and former Figaro sailor Erwan Tabarly (nephew of the late Eric). Launched this April to replace Gaudoux’s previous 39ft Nivelt-designed winner, this special new purpose-built racer was designed to race doublehanded in a special co-operation between Mini/Class40/IMOCA designer Sam Manuard and French yacht design legend Bernard Nivelt. When she finished, Lann Ael 3 topped the leaderboard, but subsequent arrivals dropped her down it. 

Ultimately in IRC Two-Handed Romain Gibon and Alban Mesnil on Les P’Tits Doudous en Duo prevailed, also winning IRC Three in the process. This double win continued the tradition begun by Cherbourg-based father and son Pascal and Alexis Loison on their JPK 1010 Night And Day, who not only won both classes but also became the first and, to date, only, doublehanded overall winners of the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2013. They won IRC Two-Handed and Three again in 2017, Figaro sailor son Alexis going on to repeat this with ‘Mr JPK’ Jean-Pierre Kelbert in the latter’s JPK 1030 Léon in both 2019 and then again with Guillaume Pirouelle in 2021.

Romain Gibon's Les P'tits Doudous en Duo at the finish in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comRomain Gibon's Les P'tits Doudous en Duo at the finish in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

This year’s IRC Two-Handed victors were from Le Havre, like the 2023 IRC One winners on Pintia. However unlike Alexis Loison, Gibon and Mesnil are amateur sailors (Gibon is an engineer, Mesnil works in insurance) albeit highly experienced and heavily trained. For example when they acquired their JPK 1010 they already had the full measure of it having raced extensively on Noel Racine’s previous Foggy Dew. JPK 1010s also have a great track record – it is the third occasion this Jacques Valer-design has won this trophy and the fourth time a JPK has simultaneously lifted both trophies. Inside this year’s IRC Two-Handed top 10, the first, second, fourth and ninth-placed IRC Two-Handed finishers were all JPK 1010s, in addition to the a JPK 1030, J/99, Sun Fast 3200 R2 and three Sun Fast 3300s.

This year the spread of the IRC Two-Handed top ten fell equally across both IRC Two and Three. However such is the dominance today of those racing two-up, that the fully-crewed competitors in these classes have some work to do: This year there were eight doublehanded yachts in the top 10 in IRC Two and seven in IRC Three.

In terms of nationality, France claimed the top five places and ninth, with three British boats in the bottom half of the top 10 and one US boat. (In 2021 six in the top 10 were French and four Brits, while the last British IRC Two-Handed winners were Stuart Childerley and Kelvin Rawlins in 2015 aboard the J/105 Jester). 

Even if they were amateurs, who had only raced doublehanding for the past year and a half, Gibon and Mesnil managed to soak up knowledge from France’s many pro shorthanded sailors, notably Alexis Loison. Among the lessons was knowing when to push, but also how to make sail changes as efficiently as possible. This proved vital on the final night when, as they were negotiating this race’s third front, they blew up two spinnakers, forcing them to revert to their genoa.  

Cora, sailed by Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews, enjoyed a good race in IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comCora, sailed by Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews, enjoyed a good race in IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Putting in a top performance this year were Seattle-based husband and wife duo Chris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comPutting in a top performance this year were Seattle-based husband and wife duo Chris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Putting in a top performance this year were Seattle-based husband and wife duo Chris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby. “We come here because there are 100 boats on the start line that are pretty similar,” explains Justin. “We have raced with 100 boats doublehanded at home, but very rarely and the range is a Folkboat to a TP52. Here we were looking at 10 competitors on the water for the entire race. There were 21 other Sun Fast 3300s racing. There is nowhere else in the world you can get that.”

While the sport takes place on a smaller scale in the Pacific northwest, it has been around for longer - the Wolfes have been doublehanding now for 28 years. 

The Wolfes visited the UK to take part in some qualifiers prior to the Rolex Fastnet Race, but these took place in 8-12 knots and so were hardly good preparation for 40+ knots. “We had zero experience in this boat in those conditions,” admitted Justin.

“The first one was hard, but we knew it was coming. We were prepared for it and we had the boat set up before the start for it. The second one going up to the Fastnet Rock was the hardest one, because it was really long and we didn’t really plan for that. And it was upwind, which is not the strength of our kind of scow boat.”

In their race, they managed to save the ‘best’ until last, blasting down the Channel towards the finish: “25 knots, gusting 30, jib reaching in pitch black with the autopilot - we couldn’t see the bow of the boat. It was SO dark, there was nothing to differentiate the water from the sky. We were looking on AIS and there were competitors right next to us and we never knew they were there. Just ahead a tanker was going up the Channel…and we were catching it! It was VERY fast. We did at least 230 miles in the last 24 hours.” Red Ruby ended up seventh in IRC Two-Handed. 

Aside from the duration they have been doublehanding, they have benefitted from some coaching from McKee. “We really share. We switch over driving, very frequently,” says Justin. Chris adds: “Justin does a lot of the navigation. We used to race triathlons so are used to managing the endurance and the concentration, so we switch over quickly if someone needs a break.” While husband and wife doublehanders are a rarity in the UK, there are some high profile examples on the US West Coast, including Stan and Sally Honey and Bill and Melinda Erkelens. “We have fun doing it. I actually have no interest in racing with someone else,” says Justin. 

Putting in a top performance this year were Seattle-based husband and wife duo Chris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red RubyChris and Justin Wolfe on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby round the Fastnet Rock

Bellino’s Rob Craigie and Deb Fish are one of the longest serving doublehanders on the UK circuit, both with lengthy experience of the Rolex Fastnet Race (for Fish this was her 11th). This year their priority was getting through the first 12 hours unscathed, after they were put out of the 2021 race when they were hit by a port tack boat. So, says Fish:

“We started with two reefs and No.4 jib and even though the port end was massively favoured, we started a little way north to keep out of the melee. And we took the North Channel just to avoid the Bridge. That first night - it churned - wind over tide, it was a bad sea state for sure. We saw gusts over 40 knots. It is the roughest Fastnet I’ve ever done.”

The violent seastate took its toll on Fish and even affected Craigie, the hardened seadog: “I was feeling rough for the first 24 hours - which was unusual for me.”

As with so many, they treated the opening hours as survival until the front had passed and conditions abated. But in the big conditions they did all they could to preserve Bellino, avoiding the tidal races off the headlands, for example.

“Slamming just damages boats,” says Fish. “Even if you don’t lose your mast, you do all sorts of little bits of damage. The fire extinguishers broke away. The electronics were playing up all race.”

Craigie continues: “I started disconnecting things and they started to work better. Then it stopped raining and 12 hours later everything was fine! Then it started raining again and after about three hours the pilot stopped working and all the numbers disappeared again!” Their ‘fair weather’ autopilot meant that they ended up hand steering, which meant that whenever they were just one-up on deck, they were unable to trim effectively. 

They made up ground on the boats ahead when the trough passed overall and then did well choosing the usually unfavoured route up the east side of the Land’s End TSS where the wind built and shifted, enabling them to more or less lay the Rock. “Red Ruby gained a lot there by just going deep and fast and were nearer the Rock when the wind changed. We just got pinned and couldn’t ease the sheets,” recalls Fish. 

Onboard JPK 1010 Jangada with father and daughter doublehanded team Richard and Sophie Palmer as they round the Fastnet RockOnboard JPK 1010 Jangada with father and daughter doublehanded team Richard and Sophie Palmer as they round the Fastnet Rock

Their Rock rounding was special, Craigie remembers: “That was the nicest part of the race. It was warm. There wasn’t a lot of wind. You could see the sun over the mountains of Ireland. I was thinking that would be a nice place to stop!” 

Again the big speeds came en route to the finish when Bellino hit 22 knots passing Cap de la Hague in 30 knots. “I couldn’t see the speedo because there was so much water in my face,” said Fish, concluding: “In our group, those who have won have sailed brilliantly because you had to sail upwind in strong winds, which is challenging, and keep the kite up in strong winds, which is challenging, and keep going in not a lot of wind.” Bellino finished 18th in IRC Two-Handed.

The 2022 RORC Yacht of the Year the JPK 1010 Jangada came home 25th, owner Richard Palmer enjoying sailing with his daughter Sophie. He remembers the most brutal conditions of the 2007 race, the start of which was delayed by 25 hours but still resulted in two thirds of the fleet retiring. Then just two doublehanded boats finished. This year in IRC Two-Handed there were three DNS and 46 retirements – ie half of the fleet finished. 

Given Jangada’s extensive racing programme, racing in 40+ knots was nothing new to Palmer and his daughter Sophie had previously experienced this in the Azores and Back Race. “We made the conscious decision to switch back to our old main which has three reefs in it, so we were able to change gears. At the start we had J4 and two reefs. By the time we got to Hurst we put the third reef in and we came out through the North Channel with a boat fully in control.”

During the race, Richard says he and Sophie adapted their three hour watch system, dropping it to 2.5 hours. “With two-handed racing you have got to find the balance that works for both of you and adjust accordingly.” Jangada also suffered pilot problems although Richard admits he likes to steer in waves. Being smaller, they saw the full brunt of all three weather systems that passed through. 

Of the doublehanded scene in the UK, Richard observes:

“It is growing in popularity and the standard across the fleet is increasing, but we have to put the miles in. They [the French] put in a huge amount of time and not all racing too - just getting out there practicing and training and working on boat-on-boat development.”

By James Boyd

Team Jajo Secures IRC Super Zero Victory

© Arthur Daniel/RORC © Arthur Daniel/RORC

In the IRC Super Zero category, the Dutch-flagged Team Jajo, skippered by Clarke Murphy, has emerged as the triumphant winner!

While Wind Whisper, skippered by Pablo Arrarte, came out on top on corrected time after beating fellow VO65 Team Jajo into Cherbourg by around 25 minutes, they were denied ultimate victory after the jury imposed a 5% time penalty on the Polish team. This involved a misunderstanding over the use of a jockey pole, an item which was not declared on their IRC Rating certificate. In the interests of good sportsmanship the error was reported to the race committee by the team themselves prior to crossing the finish line. This penalty dropped them to second place with Team Jajo now winners of IRC Super Zero.

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Third Time Lucky for Sun Hill III

Sun Hill III's crew celebrate victory in IRC Four © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com Sun Hill III's crew celebrate victory in IRC Four © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

IRC Four is the smallest IRC class in terms of numbers for the Rolex Fastnet Race but the passion has shone through in tough conditions. The last of the IRC Four warriors in the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race are still at sea, and for many of them the incentive for the last big push is to makes tonight’s Prize-giving in Cherbourg. 

The IRC Four podium is now decided. François Charles' Dehler 33 Sun Hill III (FRA) finished the race on Thursday 27 July, after nearly five days at sea. Sun Hill III have won IRC Four, and placed 22nd overall in a fleet of 358 boats racing under IRC. 

Second after IRC time correction is one of the smallest boats in the race, Marc Willame’s JPK 960 Elma (FRA), racing doublehanded with Antoine Jeu. Completing the podium is Chris and Vanessa Choules' Sigma 38 With Alacrity (GBR), the top fully crewed team in IRC Four and once again top Sigma 38 for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Samuel Duménil and Antoine Runet racing JPK 960 Casamyas was provisionally third in class, but received a scoring penalty for being over the line at the start.

Sun Hill III, François Charles Dehler 33, finished the race in first place after nearly five days of racing © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comComing into sight of the Cherbourg forts: Sun Hill III, François Charles Dehler 33, finished the race in first place after nearly five days of racing © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Launched in 1996, Sunhill III is raced by a group of four friends from Morlaix Bay, near Roscoff, Brittany. This was the third Rolex Fastnet Race for Sunhill III, third in class in both 2019 and 2021, and it was third time lucky for the 50th edition in 2023.

“This was the hardest Fastnet Race that we have ever done but we are very happy,” commented François Charles dockside at the finish. “The start was very tough and then we had another storm after Land’s End and the last 24 hours was very difficult - we flew the spinnaker during the day but at night it was taken down, because racing at 18 knots in the dark with big waves, you need to be in total control. This is always a hard race and after each one, we have said never again, but we keep coming back for the challenge. Also we are all riggers and we have a new type of carbon cable and this is a really good way to see how it performs. It is not difficult for us to enter the Fastnet, we have our own boat and our own team. Of course we are constantly looking at ways of improving Sun Hill III, but that is all part of the enjoyment.

"We have made the podium twice before, but never won our class so we are very, very happy to win as a team of friends. We have spent many good times together; we have laughed a lot in this race and many RORC races before.”

Today, Friday 28 July, the Sun Hill III crew of François Charles, Jean-Gabriel Jourdan, Jordan Ropars, and Olivier Leroux will lift the Iolaire Cup as winners of IRC Four at the Rolex Fastnet Race Prize-giving.

The marina in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin is fast filling with competitors; less than thirty yachts are still racing on Friday morning © Arthur Daniel/RORCThe marina in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin is fast filling with competitors; less than thirty yachts are still racing on Friday morning © Arthur Daniel/RORC

By Louay Habib

Challenge Accepted

© Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Winning the Rolex Fastnet Race is a dream for many passionate offshore sailors. For Max Klink, the owner and skipper of the 15.85m (52ft) Swiss entry Caro, the dream became reality in 2023. Demonstrating the necessary dedication and commitment to contemplate success at the 50th edition of the legendary 695nm race, the crew of Caro were deserved victors. Meticulous preparation ahead of the start was matched with skilled management of boat and crew through the difficult opening stages. And, at the very end, when an exceptional performance was required to make up time on their competition, the crew dug deep, displaying the spirit and cohesive teamwork that makes the difference between winning and losing. Caro is a worthy addition to the honour roll of this near 100-year-old race.

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