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.”
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