81 teams from all over the world entered IRC Three for the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. The podium was dominated by the French JPK 1010s, but up to the Fastnet Rock it was Cora, the British Sun Fast 3200, which held pole position since the brutal start in Cowes.
Romain Gibon’s JPK 1010 Les P’Tits Doudous en Duo (FRA), racing with Alban Mesnil won IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Second in IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed by just over 17 minutes was Loeiz Cadiou’s JPK 1010 Tracass. Third in IRC Three was Ludovic Menahes’ JPK 1010 ADEOSYS. Fourth in IRC Three, and top British boat in IRC Two-Handed, was Sun Fast 3200 Cora, raced by RORC member Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews. The top fully crewed team in IRC Three, also taking class Line Honours is Gautier Normand A35 Locmalo from Société Nautique de La Trinité-sur-Mer.
Double-Fastnet class champions Romain Gibon and Albert Mesnil learned to sail in dinghies, competing against each other at the La Société des Régates du Havre. The duo continued to race offshore as crew for some of the French grandmasters of RORC races such as Géry Trentesaux, Noel Racine and Jacques Pelletier. Romain and Alban competed together in five editions of the Tour de France à la Voile.
“This was a very tough race with long periods of both strong and at times light winds,” commented Romain Gibon. “This created many strategic options, and we are so happy to have succeeded - this is a great achievement.” Alban Mesnil added: “We fought all the way to the end, we stayed strong and that was a part of our win.”
“This is a very good level of competition and before the race we aimed to be in the top ten, but we did not expect to win,” commented Romain Gibon. “We decided not to go full out for the lead at the start because the conditions were rough. For the first night we protected the boat and ourselves but even then Albert got a black eye - it was a rough night. From day two we really started to race.”
Les P’Tits Doudous en Duo rounded the Fastnet Rock almost exactly three days into the race, ranked in third place for IRC Three and fifth for IRC Two-Handed. The fresh westerly wind arrived and was building.
“Choosing when to attack and when to rest is all part of the doublehanded game. From Fastnet to the finish we broke down the course into three sections. We decided to attack in the last section from the Isle of Scilly to Cherbourg; our boat is very fast downwind in big seas and we are used to these conditions. To win IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed is beyond our expectations and we would both like to dedicate this win to Noel Racine, who has taught us so much.”
Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews racing Sun Fast 3200 Cora were proud of their achievement: “The most breeze was around Swanage, normally you see the most breeze at Hurst, but we saw 40 knots around Swanage with big waves there as well. I don’t think we made a mistake, certainly to Land’s End and probably even to the Fastnet. We were very happy with how we were going,” commented Tim Goodhew. Cora hung on to their corrected time lead in IRC Three but in the big breeze on the final night, the French JPK 1010s came on the attack.
“The conditions last night were the worst I’ve sailed in,” commented Kelvin Matthews. “We lost our wind instruments but it was mid-30s and the sea state was huge; the amount of power we got surfing down the waves was pretty frightening at times; we could get 15 knots sustained surfing. From the Isles of Scilly we were being hunted by the JPK 1010s. We started on the S4 – no reefs in the main - and made a gain, we were quicker. Initially we felt strong and they started to get smaller, but then the sea state started to build and we couldn’t hold on and were spinning out – and as soon as that was happening to us, it wasn’t happening to them. So we were being caught up quite rapidly.”
After changing through Cora’s range of symmetric sails, the team hoisted their A3. “One of the 1010s changed to an A3 but it was a smaller, fuller one and it just suited the conditions better,” continued Kelvin Matthews. “Eventually we tried our third option, the Code Zero. Initially it went really well, as it gave us stability. But then the breeze got so high that the Code Zero became almost unsailable and then it was stuck, because we couldn’t furl it. We eventually managed to put a few wraps around the forestay and had to ‘gorilla it’ down. We also didn’t have an autopilot to do that, because that had failed on the way to the Fastnet Rock. When you have to hand steer and do a one-person manoeuvre in 30 knots of breeze – that’s a hard one.”
“Last night was the worst night I’ve seen offshore – sea state, visibility…you couldn’t differentiate between sky and water,” commented Tim Goodhew. “At times I thought we had topped a wave, and we hadn’t; and vice versa – it was mind-boggling. The first night we had just as much wind and sea state but way more visibility, and for me that was the thing that made it quite intimidating. We were worried about the rig, then when the A3 pops in 30 knots of breeze and you’re just worried about the boat. When you can’t see anything other than your 100m circle that is bizarre. And all you want is a pint and a warm bed!
"I think it will be good for our season; we are 4th in IRC Three at the moment for the RORC Season’s Points Championship, pending other finishers. If we’d known that before the race had started we’d have taken that, we knew there were loads of good boats and good competition – but then we’d had a good first half of the race, so we are a little bit disappointed with fourth.”
The vast majority of the teams in IRC Three are expected to finish the race today, Thursday 27 July, and the Race Village Bar is brimming with sailors recounting their stories from the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race.
By Louay Habib