Following the long pause in arrivals in the Rolex Fastnet Race into Cherbourg after the two Ultims on Sunday night, the next home on Monday was Eric Maris’ MOD70 trimaran Zoulou, which crossed the line at 18:03:15. Among her formidable crew were multihull legend Loick Peyron and America’s Cup winner Thierry Fouchier.
The MOD70 trimarans have raced transatlantics previously and have proved to be robust, so they could cope with the winds into the high 30s and the vicious sea state, which they encountered in the opening hours of the race. They’d possibly even been too conservative, Maris felt:
“It was not survival conditions, but not far from it. It was pretty rough. We were going upwind at a steady state. I think we reefed a bit early coming out of the Solent. We caught up with the rest of the guys ahead of us. After the first 10 or 12 hours, the rest was easier. We had little wind going round the Rock. The rest of the night going to the Isles of Scilly was pretty light. We had some good wind this morning, I was helming at 30 knots - that was fun, and then the rest of the afternoon was very light, very very light. The boat was good; it did really well. It had the best of crews obviously…so all in all, pretty good!”
Sadly Zoulou was the only MOD70 competing this year, however while they should have been blazing around the race course free of competition, in fact the lead Ocean Fifty trimarans spent most of the race far closer to them than they should have been given their 20ft length deficit. According to Loick Peyron this was due to them often coming in from behind with the breeze.
After at least 20 years in gestation, the Ocean Fifty box rule trimarans are finally gaining traction in France. Of the five starters [around nine are shortly to be racing in anger], two retired, leaving Luke Berry and Antoine Joubert on Le Rire Medecin Lamotte, Pierre Quiroga and Justin Baradat on Viabilis and Petit Coeur de Beurre sailed by Matthieu Perraut and Vincent Lancien to fight it out. Tacking out of Christchurch Bay before the front runners put Petit Coeur de Beurre on the back foot for the rest of the race. For the remaining duo, the race proved to be the severest of offshore match races that would last all the way to Cherbourg.
Viabilis pulled out a small lead in the Channel and was five miles ahead as she led Le Rire Medecin Lamotte up the west side of the Land’s End TSS. Berry and Joubert played follow the leader across the Celtic Sea and as Viabilis rounded the Fastnet Rock at 18:33:39 on Sunday night, they were just 12 minutes 22 seconds behind. They spent most of the broad reach back from the Rock racing alongside each other, Le Rire Medecin Lamotte to windward, just able to roll her rival. Passing south of Bishop Rock at around 04:20 Berry and Joubert were just 1.5 miles ahead. For the remainder of the race east down the Channel and along the south side of the Casquets TSS, the Le Rire Medecin Lamotte crew tried to cover their opponent gybe for gybe, not always successfully, with the lead changing hands. Eventually both of the 50ft trimarans headed right in to hug the short west of Cherbourg.
Ultimately Le Rire Medecin Lamotte crossed the finish line at 19:59:04 on Monday evening, just 1 minute 26 seconds ahead of her opponent. The two boats had been so held up covering the final miles that Petit Coeur de Beurre was able to catch up massively. From being 6 hours 20 minutes 48 seconds behind the second boat at the Fastnet Rock, at the finish line she was just 49 minutes behind.
A delighted Luke Berry said the last moments of the Rolex Fastnet Race had again been heart-stopping:
“We nearly lost the race a couple of times today: the first near the Alderney Race where the wind dropped and we had a lot of current against us. They go a bit faster in light wind and managed to overtake us there. We managed to overtake them again, about an hour and a half before the finish – luckily in pure speed – Antoine was at the helm and we were really trimming the sails – we wanted this win! Then, just at the last gybe, we realised that they were closer to the shore and had less current, so we had to do a double gybe to get just in front of them. Well done to them – they did very well.”
Of the dramatic first night he commented:
“I’m not going to lie – it was the first time I’ve had these conditions at the helm of a multihull. We had gusts up to 43 knots and the swell was about 4m and the period was about 10 seconds which is not a lot, so we were really jumping up and down and bouncing around a lot. But surprisingly with these boats, if you do reduce sail and always have the traveller in your hand, it’s alright.
“I didn’t sleep much! It was just a long day – very bouncy and also we wanted to keep the performance side up and we did do all our tacks and went where we wanted to go. At Start Point we did a double tack to stay inside with less current. We said we’d be safe and we stayed safe, but we didn’t neglect performance.”
In fact the hairiest moments were on the fast reach back from the Fastnet Rock under the big gennaker.
“There was one moment when we put the bows in, so we quickly rolled that up and put the little one on. There was a bit of mixing between our gennakers which quite interesting because we had a real battle with them over who could change gennakers the quickest!”
Berry was doubly pleased about his victory as his boat, built in 2009, is the oldest Ocean 50 still racing.
“I am very happy, because I won it in 2019 in the Class40. In the last edition I was very close to doing the double but I was overtaken in exactly the same place I was overtaken today – last time I lost two places off here - this time, it could have gone either way. They’re very good sailors, we just got them in the last tack.”
By James Boyd