While there was some serious 40ft competition and much new hardware in IRC Zero, some of the most impressive offshore racers of this size were competing in the Class40. Remarkably after 20 years of existence, boats still come from a variety of different designers and builders and it produces some of the tightest racing outside of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC fleet. While there was a clear leader to the Rock, the downwind passage to Bishop Rock levelled the playing field before negotiating a complex route east, the eventually winner only emerged as the fat-bowed offshore speedsters negotiated the Channel Islands and the final run into the Cherbourg finish.
After this intense contest it was eventually former Mini Transat winner Erwan Le Draoulec’s Everial, a 2022 vintage Verdier-designed Pogo S4, that prevailed. The young crew of four (Le Draoulec, plus Julien Herey, Pep Costa and Robin Follin, with an average age between them of just 26) finished at 23:52:02 on Tuesday in an elapsed time of 3 days 10 hours 22 minutes 2 seconds. This bettered the record set in 2021 by Antoine Magré's Palanad 3 of 3 days 10 hours 27 minutes 25 seconds by a mere five minutes and 23 seconds.
They were followed at 00:02:53 this morning by Ambrogio Beccaria and Nicolas Andrieu on Alla Grande Pirelli and at 00:06:17 by Dékuple, raced by William Mathelin-Moreaux and another Italian, Pietro Luciani. However Alla Grande Pirelli was one of eight boats that had been called OCS at the start on Saturday (in addition to her was another Italian race favourite, IBSA, plus Edenred-Enjoy Racing 2; BT Blue Alternative Sailing; Zeiss-Weecycling and La Manche évidence nautique plus two boats that subsequently retired - TrimControl and The 3Bros).
Under new rules, instead of having to fight her way back to the line to restart correctly, she had a 120 minute time penalty imposed on her upon finishing. In such a tightly grouped fleet, this was devastating, dropping the Italian race favourites to sixth place. However it served to bump Dékuple up to second. Italian presence on the podium was fortunately maintained by Influence2, a Musa 40 sistership to Alla Grande Pirelli, raced by Andrea Fornaro and Eduardo Blanchi, plus experienced 2005 Mini Transat winner (and past Rolex Fastnet Race Class40 winner) Corentin Douguet.
Exiting the Solent the 21Class40s had split equally between the North Channel and those braving the sea state passing the Needles. Alla Grande Pirelli was among the latter group and first to tack west which, with the wind gusting into the low 40s, put her a nose in front as the two groups reunited off Swanage where the Italians seemed to play the current better. From here the fleet put in a long port tack past Portland Bill right into the coast, just north of Torquay before short tacking to avoid tide around the coast to round Start Point.
At this point Alla Grande Pirelli led with female duo Amelie Grassi and Anne-Claire Le Berre on La Boulangere Bio a worthy second. En masse the Class40s then put in a long leg out into the Channel before short tacking northwest on the shifts to pass the east side of the TSS at Land's End.
Crossing the Celtic Sea, the boat initially headed north with Alla Grande Pirelli further west with La Boulangere Bio furthest east, with Everial and Influence2 still up with them, as they anticipated a right shift on which to tack for the Rock. Being on the 'inside' Alla Grande Pirelli made the best of this, slowly extended to round the rock at 09:35:37 on Monday, followed 18 minutes 41 seconds later by La Boulangere Bio with Everial a further 8 minutes 17 seconds behind. The first eight boats rounded within 25 minutes.
Heading due south from the Rock on starboard gybe for 80 miles Alla Grande Pirelli remained out in front, with five boats immediately astern and Dékuple out to the east. At this point the Class40s were trail-blazing, sitting on 18 knots non-stop. Timing of the gybe back east was key and Pirelli appeared to nail the layline to Bishop Rock, however the leaders seemed to have a change of heart, gybing south, eventually passing 20 miles south of the Isles of Scilly TSS. After continual gybes, Alla Grande Pirelli had lost her advantage trying to remain the most southerly boat.
“It was difficult there, because you had to sail a lot of miles, but it was good in the end because the wind filled in from the south first and we had a good angle to come back in on,” explained Ambrogio Beccaria later.
The trio of her plus Everial and Dékuple would end up finishing first into Cherbourg. At this point Everial was just to the north and, in what would prove her ‘race winning manoeuvre’, was first to gybe northeast, crossing everyone coming back on starboard. From there she led, the tide having just turned in her favour, shaving the north coast of Guernsey and on close around Cap de le Hague to the finish, where she arrived two miles ahead.
The hotly contested, tightly knit ‘hunting in a pack’ type racing in the Class40 today resembles that of the Figaro class. This comes as little surprise as many have competed in that, including winner le Draoulec (who after winning the 2017 Mini Transat, at the tender age of 20, did three seasons before joining the Class40) and several of his crew. Le Droulec won despite this being his first Rolex Fastnet Race, although like other Mini and Figaro sailors he has rounded the Fastnet rock countless times in other races.
“We knew it would be a hard race – and that’s true!” he commented. “It had complicated conditions and strong winds. It was not easy to get out of the Solent. The first night and the first day were hard but the team is good and the boat is strong. We had no problem – it was perfect.”
Of their taking the lead at the Channel Islands, Everial crewman Robin Follin commented:
“We were just faster downwind. It is funny, because you see all the competition between the different designs, but all at similar speeds - that’s why this class is absolutely crazy.”
On second placed Dékuple, Pietro Luciani was racing his fifth Rolex Fastnet Race on a Class40. He commented:
“The first half of the race was tough, especially in the Channel – it was not huge, but it was rough. We had no idea of the wind speed because at the Needles we lost our anemometer. That was tough doublehanded because we couldn’t use the autopilot in the ‘true wind mode’, which would have been useful in a race with a lot of VMG where you use the ‘true wind mode’ mostly.”
Luciani noted that the run back from the Fastnet Race had been incredible as they had managed to sail the entire rest of the course under their big kite – useful with just two of them on board, even allowing them to get some rest.
Wearing his Class40 Vice-President hat Luciani concluded:
“It is true that newer boat are more demanding and probably tougher on the crew, but it is still very approachable. It is a very successful class and we are very proud of it. And we keep on giving a nice show, because the fight in the C40 class in this race again was brilliant. We were so close to each other.”
Meanwhile... the first IRC One arrivals are due this evening.
Read Andy Rice's IRC Two update: Three-way fight for the top of IRC Two
and Louay Habib's IRC Three update - Isles of Scilly Ahoy!
and Louay Habib's IRC Four update - Heading south
By James Boyd