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Rolex Fastnet Race: A Class Apart

Thirty nine Class40 will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in August © Breschi/Sables Horta 2021 Thirty nine Class40 will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in August © Breschi/Sables Horta 2021

The fleet showing the biggest growth within the Rolex Fastnet Race is the Class40. Currently 39 of these mini IMOCAs are entered, a significant increase from the 19 that competed in 2019. The Rolex Fastnet Race now forms part of the official Class40 calendar, which these days features a packed international schedule.

17 years on, from when the simple Class40 box rule was created by French journalist sailor Patrice Carpentier, 172 examples have now been built, or are in build. A jaw-dropping 70 (including 25 brand new) are expected on the start line of next year’s Route du Rhum, when entries for the first time are having to be capped.

From the outset, the Class40 rule has aimed to restrict costs by, for example, prohibiting carbon fibre, aramids, honeycomb core and pre-preg resin in the hull, deck, interior structure and rudders. Carbon fibre, but of restricted modulus, is permitted for the spars. Otherwise the box rule limits the principle dimensions and minimum displacement to 4580kg.

While this might seem restrictive, creative forces in the French yacht design community have recently been having one of their most creative periods. Despite attempts to resist it, the trend for scow bows, as seen in the IMOCAs and Minis, has reached the Class40 and all the latest designs are of this type. What they lack in looks they more than compensate for in performance and one example, a David Raison-designed Max 40 recently set a new 24 hour record of 428.82 nautical miles; a similar distance to that which Lawrie Smith’s Whitbread 60 Intrum Justitia covered when she set the outright monohull 24-hour record in 1994. Another Max 40, Axel Trehin's Project Rescue Ocean, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Antoine Carpentier has a supreme pedigree in the Rolex Fastnet Race aboard Géry Trentesaux's various Courriers, including winning overall on Courrier Du Leon in 2015. However this year Trentesaux is racing on Carpentier's Mach 40.4, named Courrier Redman. © Alexis Courcoux /AC Sailing Fafa Pictures/AC SailingAntoine Carpentier has a supreme pedigree in the Rolex Fastnet Race aboard Géry Trentesaux's various Courriers, including winning overall on Courrier Du Leon in 2015. However this year Trentesaux is racing on Carpentier's Mach 40.4, named Courrier Redman. © Alexis Courcoux /AC Sailing Fafa Pictures/AC Sailing

In the Rolex Fastnet Race will be five other Class40 'scows'; the Marc Lombard-designed Lift v2 Crosscall, plus four examples of the popular, latest Sam Manuard-designed, Mach 40.4, built by JPS Production in La Trinite-sur-Mer (whose proprietor Nicolas Groleau is a Rolex Fastnet Race regular with his Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom).

One of the hottest contenders is likely to be the Mach 40.4 Courrier Redman skippered by Antoine Carpentier, nephew of the Class40’s creator. Already this season Redman has finished second in the RORC Transatlantic Race, third in the Normandy Channel Race and won the highly competitive Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race by a mere 3 minutes and 14 minutes, after 2540 miles of racing, from Project Rescue Ocean (the Class40 championship’s present leader).

According to Antoine Carpentier the Mach 40.4’s biggest development over the 40.3 (of which there are six in this Rolex Fastnet Race) is the scow bow but also the mast, keel and engine moved further aft. “It seems to be quite good, except the Lift 40 is faster in light wind,” he says of how Courrier Redman has performed against the other scows over the last year. “When the wind increases a little we are fast downwind and reaching also.”

Carpentier comes with a supreme pedigree in the Rolex Fastnet Race. This will be his sixth or seventh, and all but one have been sailed with Géry Trentesaux, including on the French grand master’s JPK 10.80, Courrier Du Leon, when she won the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2015. This year he says he is proud to be returning the favour: Racing on Courrier Redman will be Trentesaux, plus two other Courrier regulars, Francois Lamiot and Arnaud Aubry. “We know the race well, but not everyone knows the boat – it is quite new for Francois and Géry, but they came to train and we’ll make the delivery to Cherbourg all together.”

Luke Berry's Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création was Class40 winner in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, but since then her bow has been modified. Photo: © Pierre Bouras Luke Berry's Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création was Class40 winner in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, but since then her bow has been modified. Photo: © Pierre Bouras

While his boat Lamotte - Module Création is not latest generation, Luke Berry’s Mach 40.3 was Class40 winner of the last Rolex Fastnet Race and remains competitive. She finished fifth in this year’s Les Sables-Horta race but beat Courrier Redman to second place in the Normandy Channel Race.

Berry’s boat has been modified since winning in 2019. “We cut 3m off the bow. It is not wider and scow-like now, it is more ski-like - we moved the bow up by about 30-40cm so downwind it is a lot faster and now it stops less so VMG downwind we are quite fast now,” he explains. “A lot of IMOCAs and Minis and a couple of Class40s are doing that same mod now.”

However, at times the scows are much faster. “They are very fast reaching and upwind as well,” continues Berry. “When we came back from the Azores, I was fourth and there was a scow next to us and it averaged 1.5 knots faster than us over 30 hours, reaching at 90-100° in 25 knots and I am not even sure they were the fastest!” And their bows don’t dig into waves as much at speed, so their ride is much drier.”

While in 2019, on board with Berry were several top French sailors, this time he has more of a mix, including his shore crew and French former Olympic 470 sailor Mathilde Géron, plus a young, up-and-coming sailor from Berry’s original home town of St Malo.

As to the new course finishing in Cherbourg, Berry notes it will make the end more stressful. “Going to Cherbourg a lot more things can happen with all the big current around the Raz Blanchard. But in these races [in the Channel], we often see it means it is not just about having the fastest boat, because you generally all stop and start multiple times during the course of the race.”

Hiroshi Kitada and Arisa Moriya on Class40 Kiho © Japan Offshore Sailors Association JOSAHiroshi Kitada and Arisa Moriya on Class40 Kiho © Japan Offshore Sailors Association JOSA

One of the joys of the Class40 is its international appeal. The Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes boats from Switzerland, the UK, USA, Croatia, Belgium, Netherlands, Finland and, impressively, two from Japan.

Hiroshi Kitada has raced in the Class40 since competing in The Transat bakerly in 2016, successfully completing that and the Route du Rhum two years later. “I succumb to the charm of the Fastnet Rock any time I turn around it during this race,” says Kitada. “I have already enjoyed it two times - in 2017 with my Class40 Kiho, and in 2019 on the IMOCA La Mie Caline skippered by Arnaud Boissières. This year I am very happy because a 25-year-old Japanese sailor, Arisa Moriya will experience for the first time the fascination of this mythical race.

“In Japan, the Rolex Fastnet Race is one of ocean sailor's favourite races. I am looking forward to being on the starting line of this international challenge for a third time.”

Strangely the Class40 also seems to attract sportsmen from completely different disciplines. Sadly, Olympic pole vaulting gold medallist Jean Galfione’s brand new Guillaume Verdier-designed Pogo S4 scow, Serenis Consulting won’t be ready in time to compete, however on the Rolex Fastnet Race start line will be two former giants of skiing.

The latest generation Class40 in the Rolex Fastnet Race is the Lift v2 Crosscall, skippered by Aurélien Ducroz. Taking up sailing in the Classe Mini in 2011, Ducroz has twice won the Freeride Skiing World Championship and podiumed in it seven times. Meanwhile sailing an older generation Mach 40, Croatia Full of Life, once campaigned by Britain’s Phil Sharp, is Croat Ivica Kostelic. Skiing fans will recognise this name as, between 2002 and 2013, he was a quadruple Olympic medalist, won 26 World Cup events and was World Slalom Champion in 2003.

British Vendée Globe heroes past and present are also to be found in the Class40. British legend Mike Golding, who completed solo non-stop around the world race three times, finishing third in 2004-05, is racing with American Alex Mehran on the Akilaria RC3 Polka Dot, a boat first campaigned by former Formula 1 team boss Mike Gascoyne.

In the most recent edition of the Vendée Globe Miranda Merron brought her Campagne de France home in 22nd place in a field of 33. Having previously raced in the Class40 continuously before that since 2009 on both sides of the Atlantic, across the Atlantic, in a round the world race, solo, two-handed with Halvard Mabire, or fully crewed, she returns, with the Rolex Fastnet Race being her first race since finishing the Vendée Globe. “The Class40 is my spiritual home, even if I do want to do another Vendée Globe,” she says. “It was an absolute pleasure to be back on a Class40 where everything is ‘human-sized’, the sails are really light, etc.”

She will race on board Kite, the Mach 40.3 (previously Maxime Sorel's V&B) being campaigned by UK-based American Greg Leonard and his 17-year-old son Hannes. Although use of their Class40 has been severely limited by the pandemic, they have managed to compete in two Normandy Channel Races plus a few RORC races this year.

Given her lengthy tenure in it, Merron observes that a development that may transform the Class40 is its giant race program (there’s a class for them in most RORC races) including two new round the world races. Taking place over 2022-23 the Globe 40 sets sail from Tangiers on an exotic route taking in not the regular destinations but the Cape Verdes, Mauritius, Auckland, Papeete, Ushuaia, Grenada, finishing in Lisbon. The Race Around over 2023-24 follows a more classic route from France, to Cape Town, New Zealand, Brazil and finishing in Portugal. At a time when the Vendée Globe has record fleets, both Class40 events have strong entries already.

While an increasing number of pro sailors from the Mini and Figaro circuits are typically grabbing the headlines, a strong group of amateur sailors, remain at the core of the Class40. In fact, both pros and amateurs can be found across the breadth of the fleet, from the newest boats where the Mach 40.4 Palanad 3 is campaigned by Antoine Magré, who has a ‘real job’. Similarly, Emmanuel Le Roch at one point in his youth looking like he might be an Olympic hopeful in the Tornado, but instead pursued a career and only in later life has returned to sailing, campaigning the Mach 40.4 scow Edenred.

Mach 40.4 Palanad 3 is campaigned by Antoine Magré © Pierre Bourras/E. Leclerc Ville-la-GrandMach 40.4 Palanad 3 is campaigned by Antoine Magré © Pierre Bourras/E. Leclerc Ville-la-Grand

Many of the fully tricked-up latest generation scows are providing little change from 1 million Euros fully equipped, but older and much cheaper Class40s are widely available and the Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes an original Pierre Rolland-designed Jumbo – one of the boats around which the Class40 rule was written. Then there is UP Sailing, originally Tanguy de la Motte's 2007 vintage Rogers-designed steed that won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2009 and 2011. She is entered for a second time by Ursault Poupon, daughter of French sailing legend, Route du Rhum winner and triple Solitaire du Figaro winner Philippe Poupon.

Ursault Poupon and Julia Virat will race on the Class40 UP Sailing - See their latest news: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CRrXsmKHNUq/ - @morgane_ursaultpoupon Ursault Poupon and Julia Virat will race on the Class40 UP Sailing - See their latest news: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CRrXsmKHNUq/ - @morgane_ursaultpoupon

Dare to Dream - IRC Four in the Rolex Fastnet Race

Predominantly corinthian sailors will battle it out in the 70-strong IRC Four fleet on some of the smallest boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Kurt Arrigo/Rolex Predominantly corinthian sailors will battle it out in the 70-strong IRC Four fleet on some of the smallest boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

More than 70 boats are expected to be on the start line racing in IRC Four for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Nearly all of the 500 plus sailors racing in the class are amateurs, and all bar a few boats are under 40ft. For the small boat class, the race is a labour of love and in many respects the toughest challenge of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

First established for the race in 2011, IRC Four is a relatively new class to the Rolex Fastnet Race. Jean-Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33 Iromiguy won the class in 2011, following on from Iromiguy’s famous overall victory in 2005.

Since its conception, IRC Four has always been won by a French boat and for the last four editions by a team racing a JPK 10.10. Noel Racine’s JPK 10.10 Foggy Dew won in 2013 and 2019, but having changed his boat to a JPK 10.30, Foggy Dew will not be racing in IRC Four. This year’s edition has nine JPK 10.10s in action, several can be considered favourites for class victory.

Emmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the 2019 race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comEmmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the 2019 race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Emmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the last race in 2019, co-skippered by his brother Etienne. "Gioia means joy in Italian and this race is a dream for us," commented Emmanuel. "As children, sailing in St Vaas, Normandy, we dreamed of doing the Fastnet Race together.” Just to add a little charm to the Gioia story, in 2013 racing as Night and Day in IRC Three, the boat was the overall race winner.

Richard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt © Arthur Daniel/RORCRichard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Among the 40 or so British teams competing in IRC Four, perhaps Richard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt, Jangada has an enviable track record: 2020 RORC Boat of the Year and winner of the 2019 RORC Transatlantic Race. Richard Palmer is competing in his tenth Rolex Fastnet Race. “It’s the world's most competitive offshore IRC event,” commented Richard. “We are looking forward to the increasing level of competition in the Two-Handed fleet and the new route into Cherbourg. The most difficult part this time will be strategies for the main tidal gates.”

Eleven Sun Fast 3200s are set for a battle in IRC Four; the majority are from France, but the best result for the Jeanneau design in the Rolex Fastnet Race came last year, and by a British boat. In 2019, Nigel Goodhew’s Cora, racing with son Tim was fourth in class. Cora is back for a crack at IRC Four, but this time Tim Goodhew is racing Two-Handed with Kelvin Matthews. Cora has been in fine form this season, especially for the longer RORC offshore races; winning class in the Myth of Malham and second in the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race.

Seventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity - the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season  © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.comSeventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity - the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season © Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com

Six Sigma 38s will have their own private battle within IRC Four. Designed in 1985 by David Thomas in collaboration with the RORC and the Royal Thames YC, the one-design sloop was built to stand up to tough offshore conditions using data from the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race. Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity is the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season, including a second overall in the De Guingand Bowl Race. Since 2009, With Alacrity has completed all six editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, finishing in the top three Sigma 38s every year, winning in 2017 and 2019.

At least 18 classic yachts have entered the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Four. These yachts are typically owned by seasoned veterans of offshore racing - true Corinthians that race for passion not for profit.

In 2017, Jonathan Rolls’ Xara was undoubtedly the star of the elegant classics racing in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Best Swan overall, best S&S design and the Dorade Cup for best corrected time under IRC for classic yachts. In 2019, Xara retained the title of best Swan Overall. Xara has a long history in the Rolex Fastnet Race, including surviving the tragic 1979 edition. Xara has been in top form for the 2021 RORC Season’s Points Championship prior to racing in the Rolex Fastnet Race, winning the Guingand Bowl Race overall in a fleet of 71 yachts and placing third in IRC Four for the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race.

Jonathan Rolls’ elegant Swan 38 classic Xara has good form in the Rolex Fastnet Race and recently won the Guingand Bowl  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comJonathan Rolls’ elegant Swan 38 classic Xara has good form in the Rolex Fastnet Race and recently won the Guingand Bowl © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

“We are old fashioned amateurs, very definitely not professional. The crew are all family and friends.” explains Jonathan. “Son Tom is Xara’s navigator, cousin Giles will be racing, plus Tom’s Best Man, Ashley Rudd and Sam Spencer; they all went to school together. The younger crew look after this ancient old man and we will do what we normally do – just keep trying.”

The Sparkman and Stephens Trophy for the best yacht of that design, will this year be defended by the S&S yawl Lulotte, owned by Ben Morris from Brixham, Devon, who will be competing in his ninth race.

"Going around the Fastnet Rock we have a little tradition - we have a family house on Heir Island overlooking the rock. In past events, as Lulotte rounded the Fastnet Lighthouse, all of the wonderful crew enjoyed roast lamb, cooked on board by Dan Ptacek. Lulotte goes to windward well, but off the breeze with a mizzen staysail up you are having to work the wheel quite hard, but she looks after us and you never feel in danger – she's a Devon girl!”

Ben Morris's Swan 55 yawl, Lulotte  © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.comBen Morris's Swan 55 yawl, Lulotte © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com

Paul Moxon and Steve Jones’ Amokura is the oldest boat in the race. The Fredrick Shepherd 50ft Bermudan yawl was built by Moodys, Swanwick in 1939, originally for Lord Mountbatten’s Aide de Camp, Ernest Harston. With a pitch pine hull on oak beams, teak deck and seven ton bilge keel, Amokura is a heavy displacement yacht. She competed in the 1959 Fastnet Race and again 60 years on in 2019, but finished neither. Amokura’s relationship with Cherbourg dates back to 1946 when she was credited as being the first British yacht into Cherbourg after the war. It is highly unlikely that Amokura will take line honours for the Rolex Fastnet Race, but there is no doubt that she will receive an ovation for finally finishing the race that she was built for.

For the yachts racing in IRC Four, the longer course for the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race is likely to result in at least four days and nights at sea to complete the race. The mental and physical stamina required is colossal. In many respects, the race is harder for this class than any other.

With crew positions hard to come by among the hi-tech modern yachts, IRC Four is where many young aspiring sailors get their first taste of offshore racing. One of the most advanced boats racing this year will be Alex Thomson’s IMOCA HUGO BOSS. Alex’s first offshore race was the 1995 Fastnet, racing a Sigma 33. Since that first race Alex has competed in five Vendee Globes. While IRC Four has never produced an overall winner, the teams can dare to dream - it is only a matter of time before that tribute is achieved.

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Diversity in IRC Three for the Rolex Fastnet Race

The largest class to compete in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race will be the 80+ boats in IRC Three  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com The largest class to compete in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race will be the 80+ boats in IRC Three © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

With less than a month before the start of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, IRC Three boasts the largest class competing with 88 teams entered from at least 10 different countries. IRC Three has a cornucopia of boat designs, mainly raced by amateur crews. However, amongst these Corinthian sailors is a rich vein of world class professionals, especially racing in the Two-Handed discipline. In recent editions, IRC Three has produced two overall winners of the Rolex Fastnet Race - Pascal and Alexis Loison racing Two-Handed with Night and Day (2013) and Gery Trentesaux’s fully-crewed Courrier Du Leon (2015).

Two-Handed Warriors
The vast majority of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC Two-Handed teams will be racing in IRC Three. The doublehanded discipline has become hugely popular, almost doubling in the number of entries over the last decade. The 49th edition is set to eclipse the 64 entries in the 2019 race.

2013 was a golden edition for the father and son duo, Pascal and Alexis Loison, racing JPK 1010 Night and Day to overall victory. Alexis Loison’s success continued in 2019 with JPK 1030 Léon. Racing with the boat’s builder Jean Pierre Kelbert, Léon was the winner of IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed. Léon was leading the Two-Handed Class by 17 minutes at the Fastnet Rock but won the class by nearly five hours by the finish. “After the Rock we had strong reaching conditions with big seas,” recalls Alexis Loison. “With the A5 spinnaker up we were surfing at 19 knots and by the time we reached the Scilly Isles we were with IRC One!”

For the 2021 edition, Alexis will race Léon with a rising star. Guillaume Pirouelle has excelled in the 470 Class, won the Tour de France à la voile and has been selected to skipper Region Normandie in the Figaro Class. Should the pair taste success in this year’s race, the two Normans will undoubtedly receive a hero’s welcome in Alexis’ home port of Cherbourg.

“We don’t think about the finish; all of our effort is put into preparing Léon for the race,” continued Alex. “The competition in the Two-Handed Class is very strong from the British Sun Fast teams and like Léon, they will be very fast in strong reaching conditions.”

Past winner, Alexis Loison will race Léon with Guillaume Pirouelle in IRC Three © Carlo Borlenghi/RolexPast winner, Alexis Loison will race Léon with Guillaume Pirouelle in IRC Three © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

British Two-Handed teams competing for glory in IRC Three include the leading team for the class in the 2021 RORC Season’s Points Championship. Rob Craigie’s Sun Fast 3600 Bellino, racing with Deb Fish. Bellino’s best Rolex Fastnet Race to date was 2017 with a  third in both classes. Between them, Rob and Deb have competed in 18 races.

“We're as always excited by the pinnacle race of the season,” commented Deb Fish. “It's a fascinating course with lots of challenges for the navigator and we have already started analysing the tides and strategies for passing Alderney for the new course. We would love to do better than our 2017 result, but that will be a tall order with the influx of boats and talent into the class.”

James Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo © James TomlinsonJames Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo © James Tomlinson

A new Two-Handed pairing this year and proven race winners are James Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo. Dee has vast offshore experience, including the Volvo Ocean Race, six Round the World races, the Vendée Globe, and was the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the world in both directions. James competed in 2019 on Gallivanter and is looking forward to the new course and tactical decisions that come with it. “I love the race for the adventure, excitement and challenge and am looking forward to the new finish destination of Cherbourg,” said Harayda.

Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson will be racing Sun Fast 3300 Swell in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Henry was second in the Two-Handed Class in 2019, racing Fastrak XI with Hannah Diamond. Four times Figaro sailor Henry Bomby also competed in the last Volvo Ocean Race and this will be his fifth Rolex Fastnet Race. Shirley Robertson was the first British woman to claim consecutive gold medals in the Olympics. This will be Shirley’s third race, but she is under no illusion that it will be a very different experience, racing doublehanded in the Rolex Fastnet Race for the first time.

2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries. Kelvin is an amateur sailor with decades of big boat racing success. Stuart is a two-time Etchells World Champion and double-Olympian. Stuart will be racing after returning from the Tokyo Games where he is Race Officer for the Finn Class. The Aries crew has a combined age of 126 years. Earlier in the 2021 season, Aries put in a winning performance beating both Bellino and Gentoo. "It’s all down to Stuart Childerley, I am only the labourer on the bow!" joked Rawlings. "Our aim is to win by sailing as best and as hard as we can. I enjoy every second of it.”

Veteran racer Alex Bennett will be racing Two-Handed with fellow pro-sailor, Conrad Humphreys in his 1984 Swan 46 Ginny B. The British teams accolades run off the page with Bennett excelling in the Mini Transat and Class40 arena, whilst Humphreys’ success includes winning skipper in the BT Global Challenge and completing the Vendée Globe.

“The challenge is always bigger when you go shorthanded and it offers the greatest challenge over this kind of course,” says Bennett, who is in awe of the IRC Two-Handed fleet. “It is huge - like the Mini Transat fleet in terms of numbers.” Bennett first sailed the Rolex Fastnet Race in 1995, when, aged 19, he led the Fastnet Youth Challenge to second place in class aboard a Sigma 36.”

Fully Crewed Internationals
Over half of the teams racing in IRC Three for the Rolex Fastnet Race will be competing with a full crew. With team rotation and all hands on deck for manoeuvres, these teams can push their boats harder for longer than their doublehanded adversaries. Whilst the Two-Handed favourites come from France and Great Britain, there is a rich diversity of nationalities racing fully crewed with British and French teams joined by crews from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia and the United States.

This will be the fourth Rolex Fastnet Race in a row for the Black Sheep crew. Trevor Middleton bought the Sun Fast 3600 from new to win the 2019 RORC Season’s Championship overall. “Always nice to round the Rock and I’m looking forward to seeing what the different route is like,” commented Middleton. The Rolex Fastnet Race is always a ‘must do race’ on the calendar. We like the bigger races, Rolex Fastnet, RORC Caribbean 600, Rolex Middle Sea etc. The most difficult part is getting to the start line with everything ready and prepared, but the race is simply a classic which will be hard to miss when the time comes to stop racing. I will be competing with a crew of friends who have sailed together for a while, skippered by Jake Carter.”

The fourth Rolex Fastnet Race for 2019 RORC Season’s Points Championship winners - Trevor Middleton's Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comThe fourth Rolex Fastnet Race for 2019 RORC Season’s Points Championship winners - Trevor Middleton's Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

One of the fancied French teams, racing fully crewed in IRC Three, will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee², which will be racing to their home port of Cherbourg. Racing Raging-Bee² raced Two-Handed in the 2019 edition and was third in class. The fully crewed Raging-Bee² was in fine form for the recent Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race, winning IRC Three. “It is wonderful to race again in Cowes and see all our English friends on the starting line,” commented Dussere. “We know that we are very good upwind against the top competition, so, we hope there will be a lot of upwind components to the race.”

Racing fully crewed in IRC Three back to their home port of Cherbourg will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee² © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comRacing fully crewed in IRC Three back to their home port of Cherbourg will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee² © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Denis Murphy and Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral, Annamarie Fegan will be racing Irish Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Tactician will be one of Ireland’s top sailors, Nicholas O’Leary, who has competed in three races, including doublehanded with Alex Thomson on IMOCA60 HUGO BOSS. The Nieulargo crew includes 21-year-old Harry Durcan, a champion Optimist, Laser and 29er sailor, and Killian Collins who represented Ireland in the 2004 Olympic Games.

“All of the crew are from Cork, including Denis’ two daughters Mia and Molly who are the principal drivers, and bow woman extraordinaire, Cliodhna Connolly,” commented Nicholas. “We had a good result winning the Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race overall this year, to add to a win in the Dun Laoghaire to Cork race in 2020. Nieulargo will be proudly representing the Royal Cork Yacht Club and as always, it will be a special moment in the race when we round the Fastnet Rock.”

Fifteen J/109 teams have entered the Rolex Fastnet Race for the J/109 Trophy, 12 will be racing in IRC Three. One of the fancied performers in the J/109s will be Mike Yates’ JAGO, racing Two-Handed with Eivind Bøymo-Malm. This will be Mike Yates’ first Rolex Fastnet Race after 30 years of racing, which includes winning the Commodores’ Cup (way back when), Etchells, Ultras, Skiffs, Mumm30, Ton-class racing, as well as various transatlantics. Yates is also aiming for a top 10 in the Two-Handed class.

Six classic design yachts have entered the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Three, including Robert Nichols’ Swan 48 Snow Wolf, Ben Morris’ Swan 55 yawl Lulotte and Swan 48 Dantes sailed by Michael Orgzey. Hiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 for the original owner Chuck Kirsch. In 2019, Hiro, with his all-amateur Corinthian crew, sailed to victory in the Transatlantic Race, taking first in class for the 3,200nm race.

Hiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 © Rick Tomlinson/https://www.rick-tomlinson.comHiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 © Rick Tomlinson/https://www.rick-tomlinson.com

The myriad of boat designs and crews racing in IRC Three mirrors the character of the Rolex Fastnet Race. From its inception in 1925, the race has proven highly influential in the growth of offshore racing and remains closely linked to advances in yacht design and sailing technique. As always, the winner of the class will be the team that sails a near perfect race. The weather then decides if the class winner will win the Rolex Fastnet Race overall, but with recent winners of the race coming from IRC Three, this class will be one to watch.

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IRC Two: Friends and family from every corner of Europe

Ed Bell's JPK 11.80 Dawn Treader will be one of several highly competitive teams in the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Two © James Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com Ed Bell's JPK 11.80 Dawn Treader will be one of several highly competitive teams in the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Two © James Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com

Among many hot boats in IRC Two will be the JPK 11.80, big brother to the JPK 10.10 Night and Day and 10.80 Courrier Du Leon, which won the Rolex Fastnet Races in 2013 and 2015 respectively. This year five of those potent IRC performers are entered in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event: Eric Fries' Fastwave 6 and Richard Fromentin's Cocody from France, Astrid de Vin's Il Corvo from the Netherlands and from the UK, Ed Bell's Dawn Treader and Thomas Kneen's Sunrise.

Veteran of the Volvo Ocean Race, Dave Swete is sailing master on board Sunrise this season. The Hamble-based Kiwi professional is looking forward to sailing with her young crew, who earlier this season finished third from 112 finishers in the RORC’s Myth of Malham Race, covering the first part of the Rolex Fastnet Race race course down to the Eddystone Lighthouse. Owner Tom Kneen is only 36 and many of his crew are part of the RORC’s long term initiative to develop racing for Under 35s, run by the club’s Griffin Committee. Swete sees great value in the programme: “In the UK I think there is a link that is missing between people who come out of university or school or out of dinghies and into keelboats.

“On Sunrise we have a youth crew who are all amateurs, apart from me, and up and coming sailors who might make a career out of it. We have three girls on board – in fact I don’t know a Performance 40 that doesn’t have a girl on board. It is quite an inclusive class like that.” (Swete is also Class Manager for the Performance 40 class, which straddles IRC One and Two in the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Eric Fries and his crew on Fastwave 6 are seen as quiet favourites for winning IRC Two, a dark horse to watch out for in this fiercely contested class. Under her former guise of Adam Gosling’s Yes!, Dawn Treader was a proven performer and Ed Bell continues to campaign her very seriously.

Tom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise - helping to foster offshore sailing opportunities for under 35s © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.comTom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise - helping to foster offshore sailing opportunities for under 35s © Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com

Just as serious, but always with a smile on their faces, are the crew of Richard Fromentin’s Cocody. Crewman Nicolas Dupard comments: “Our main goal is to win on corrected time in our class. At least we are aiming for a top three! In the end, the most important thing for us is to have done the most to achieve our goal, even if we've not won the race. 

“We are all good friends, and we are pretty sure that if we’ve done our best, we will have a lot of fun on this fantastic race. As a private joke, we call ourselves “Cocody’s Rangers” - and a Ranger never gives up! Do not hesitate to inform our competitors! Also, we noticed that Rolex Fastnet Race ‘RFR’ could be the ‘Richard Fromentin Race’! Maybe it will bring us luck for this year.”

Bringing a huge amount of experience from competing in the previous six Rolex Fastnet Races is Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam. Their track record includes IRC One victories in 2009 and 2011 and overall finishes of tenth and seventh in 2017 and 2011 respectively. 

The J Boat family will be out in force for the Rolex Fastnet Race and are well represented in IRC Two. Stuart Lawrence and his crew on the J/120 Scream 2 have been making a noise in JOG races this season. If the wind direction sets up the course for a reach to the Rock and back, Lawrence & Co. will have a scream on corrected time.

Of the J/111s lining up in this division, pick of the bunch is probably SL Energies skippered by Laurent Charmy, who finished third overall under IRC in last season’s Drheam Cup.

Corinne Migraine co-owns the successful J/133 Pintia with her father Gilles Fournier. This family team are very long-term supporters of RORC races and fare very well in them too - this year’s second place overall in the Myth of Malham being a perfect example. Fournier is proud of his family line-up on board. “I sail with my daughter Corinne, my grandson Victor Migraine and my two nephews - Yan and Thomas Fournier. We are all from the Société des Régates du Havre, the best sailing school in France.”

Seventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau - Grand Soleil 43 Codiam © Rolex/Kurt ArrigoSeventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau - Grand Soleil 43 Codiam © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Another French family with a long and strong association with the Rolex Fastnet Race are the Catherineaus. Back in that fateful year of 1979, Alain Catherineau risked his life coming to the rescue of seven sailors on board the RORC’s youth training yacht Griffin, skippered by Stuart Quarrie. For his efforts he was voted the YJA Yachtsman of the Year for 1979. Despite that bruising experience, he continues to come back to the race and with great competitive spirit. Skippered by his daughter Marie, and with his other daughter Anne-Sophie on board, the J/122 Lorelei has won the RORC’s La Trinité Race and will be a serious contender in IRC Two.

Sistership to Lorelei, British skipper Andy Theobald’s J/122 R&W is another serious player in this class. Theobald loves to bring in employees from his R&W civil engineering business to share the pleasures and challenges of offshore racing with him. Another to watch will be Christopher Daniel’s J/122e Juno, the 2019 Champion in the Performance 40 class.

Several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s are competing in the race. Among them is the Nicholson 55, Eager, owned by yacht broker Chris Cecil-Wright and skippered by RORC Committee member Richard Powell. Eager was the first Nicholson 55 to be launched when she was known as the Lloyd’s of London Yacht Club’s Lutine until she was sold in 1999. The yacht has since undergone a massive rebuild and modernisation, including the fitting of a much-enlarged sail plan based around a carbon spar, a new rudder, deck, deck layout and superstructure, and complete interior, layout and systems. Expect Eager to be well sailed and very competitive in IRC 2, as several stars of the INEOS Team UK America’s Cup crew are expected to step on board for the ride.

Chris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 Eager - one of several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island RaceChris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 Eager - one of several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island Race

A few latter-day America’s Cup veterans, such as Paul Standbridge will also be on Desperado of Cowes, the Swan 65 ketch owned since 1986 by Richard Loftus. For this year’s race Loftus’ crew has an average age of 65 to compete with him in his tenth Rolex Fastnet Race. Over the years Loftus has enjoyed success with Desperado, notably in 1989 when his heavyweight ketch and upwind weapon won CHS overall. Desperado also enjoyed the breezy 2007 race, when they found themselves well in the lead at the Fastnet Rock under corrected time, only to be overhauled downwind on the way back. Nonetheless the Swan 65 still finished 7th overall under IRC. (read more about Classic Yachts in the Rolex Fastnet Race)

Even older than Desperado, but almost identical under IRC rating, is Refanut. This 63ft Sparkman & Stephens design was built in Stockholm in 1955, originally for Swedish banker and industrialist Jacob Wallenberg. She is now being campaigned by his grandson Fredrik Wallenburg who can’t wait to get going on his second assault on the Rolex Fastnet Race. “Our first was in 2015. Now, as then, it is still a bucket list race for most of the crew.” Refanut has been raced extensively since her launch in 2015, mostly in the Baltic (the Gotland Runt race being the annual tradition), but she’s also had some success in the Mediterranean, as well as in Newport, Rhode Island.

“The crew is a mixture of my friends (around 50) and my younger brothers group (30 or so). I’d love to call it brains and brawn, but the biggest brawn is in my group and there is no telling where the brains are!” Fredrik and his brother Peder are passionate about continuing to race Refanut. Other notables on the crew are the former Commodore of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Staffan Salén, and the owner/helmsman of Team Inga from Sweden, Richard Göransson.”

A family affair on the 1955 Sparkman & Stephens Refanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his GrandfatheA family affair on the 1955 Sparkman & Stephens Refanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his Grandfathe

One of the biggest ‘races within a race’ will be between the 18 First 40s competing, most falling within the minimum 1.070 IRC TCC limit for the Performance 40 class. Many are making the trip to Cowes from different corners of Europe. Gianrocco Catalano and his Italian crew on Mon Ile Tevere Remo enjoy good results in the Mediterranean including an overall IRC victory in the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar race. Håkan Grönvall, from the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS) is bringing his First 40 C-Me the 1,200 nautical miles from Stockholm to compete. 

Alexander Vodovatov, the head of Russian offshore racing club, SeaVentus, is chartering the First 40, Zada, having previously chartered a Farr 50 for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, followed by a J/122 in 2019. “For my club this will be the fifth time in the Rolex Fastnet Race,” said Vodovatov. “We respect this race. We know its history and traditions, and we never miss an opportunity to compete in this legendary race.”

Finally, another strong IRC Two contender will be serial RORC entrant Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster, whose family has been campaigning their Oyster Lightwave 48 continuously for 30 years. During this time they have racked up numerous race wins and class victories in notably the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600. In 2019, Scarlet Oyster won overall both the gnarly De Guingand Bowl and the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo. This year, at the time of writing, Applebey’s red flyer is sitting third in IRC Two in the RORC’s 2021 Seasons Point Championship behind Sunrise and Dawn Treader.

Ross Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster has racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the  Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600 © ELWJ PhotosRoss Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster has racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600 © ELWJ Photos

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French are the pace setters in IRC One

Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon winner of IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon winner of IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

IRC One will be one of the toughest battlegrounds within the Rolex Fastnet Race, and the French will be a hard act to beat. Among the leading contenders are Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon which won IRC One in the 2019 edition. Runner-up to Pelletier in 2019 was outright race winner in 2017, Didier Gaudoux’s JND39, Lann Ael 2. Gaudoux is returning with the same boat and much of the same victorious crew, who will be part family and part offshore experts such as Figaro veteran Fred Duthil.

There have been few indicators of offshore form over the past 18 months but Lann Ael 2 did win the IRC division in the 2020 edition of the Drheam Cup, ahead of Eric Fries' JPK 11.80 Fastwave 6 and Laurent Charmy's J/111 SL Energies Groupe Fastwave, both of whom will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Two.

Overall winner in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race -  Didier Gaudoux’s JND39 Lann Ael 2  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comOverall winner in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race - Didier Gaudoux’s JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Philippe Frantz always puts a good campaign together with his NMD 43 Albator. Launched in 2017, Albator was immediately fast out of the shed, with class wins in the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Rolex Middle Sea Race, where she also finished third overall. This will be Frantz’s second attempt at the Rolex Fastnet Race, with a crew from a variety of high-level offshore backgrounds.

From the same designers as Albator, Phosphorus II is a one-off Archambault 13. Formerly Teasing Machine when successfully campaigned by Eric de Turckheim, Mark Emerson bought the boat in 2017 and has continued to prove the A13’s pedigree. In 2019 the crew campaigned on the RORC offshore circuit extensively, scoring two class wins, one overall win, plus multiple other podiums and were second overall for the season in IRC One and fourth in IRC overall.

There’s a strong British contingent from the FAST 40+ class that spend a lot of time short-course racing in the Solent, but some of which are capable of gearing up for going offshore. Names to watch include Dutchman Bastiaan Voogd’s Hitchhiker, although the boat has been out of the water for a year. With her water ballast and lighter bulb set-up Ed Fishwick’s Redshift could excel in light winds, whereas in stronger conditions the advantage will move towards RORC Commodore James Neville’s Ino XXX who has recent form in winning the 2021 Cowes Dinard St Malo race. Twin rudders and high-clew reaching sails make this HH42 well suited to fast and furious offshore conditions.

Christopher Daniel's J/122E Juno, winner of the Performance 40’s second season in 2019  © Rick Tomlinson/https://www.rick-tomlinson.comChristopher Daniel's J/122E Juno, winner of the Performance 40’s second season in 2019 © Rick Tomlinson/rick-tomlinson.com

The slightly lower rated Performance 40 fleet (read more about them here) will provide a fascinating ‘race within a race’, with more than 50 boats spanning two classes, IRC One and IRC Two, dependent on their IRC rating. As a concept the Performance 40 has only been around for three years but it has quickly captured the imagination of many sailors. Christopher Daniel, owner of the J/122E Juno, which won the Performance 40’s second season in 2019, says the creation of the category was successful from the outset. While most of their racing is done inshore on windward-leewards, Daniel points out: “Most Performance 40s are perfectly capable of going offshore. This theory that your boat is either an inshore or an offshore racer is wrong.” And so we have 50-odd boats setting out to prove Daniel’s point.

Performance 40 - David Cummins’s Ker 39 Rumbleflurg  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comPerformance 40 - David Cummins’s Ker 39 Rumbleflurg © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Creating the Performance 40 category has given many boats a renewed lease of life. Robert Bottomley has transferred the name Sailplane from his First 40 in favour of a MAT 12. Others to watch in this field include David Cummins’s potent Ker 39 Rumbleflurg, formerly RORC Admiral Mike Greville’s Erivale. While the Performance 40s’ bread-and-butter racing might be windward-leeward contests in the Solent, if regular southwesterlies kick in for the out and back trip to the Fastnet Rock, they could do very well under IRC.

Rock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel. Crewman Jonathan Boyd describes himself as ‘the other old guy’ on the crew. “Our immediate goal is to beat the other J/121 in the fleet. Darkwood has been having a great season and is really competitive, so if we beat those guys we'd be pretty chuffed and we would probably have finished in a respectable place. Most of our crew are young and small - Nick and I are the only ones with any 'weight' - so we're hoping the wind doesn't blow too hard! The youngest is Willow, 21 years old, a student at Exeter University and weighs about 8 stone. She is a great sailor - a member of Exeter Uni's team - and doesn't let her lack of weight get in the way of any of the physical jobs on the boat.”

Rock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel and sailed with a young crew © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com Rock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel and sailed with a young crew © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Being based out of Ipswich, the Rock Lobster crew don’t really know where they will fit in with the rest of the fleet having trained mostly on their own. “We're based on the East coast and there haven't been many races up here this season for us to practise. The North Sea race was cancelled and the East Coast Race will be the only significant test before we head south to the Solent. We have been concentrating on training days, relearning the manoeuvres that we unlearned last season when almost nothing happened.”

Boyd anticipates a good welcome in Cherbourg at the end of this new course being run for the first time. “We’re really looking forward to it. We thought the finish in Plymouth was underwhelming. I'm confident that the city of Cherbourg is going to make more of an effort and I am expecting a greater sense of celebration at the finish.”

Darkwood will certainly be one to watch for a division win. Owner Michael O’Donnell, along with Steve Lawrence, have done a lot of optimisation to the boat, moving the ballast, and have an overlapping, triple-head rig for some serious downwind horsepower which helped them win the RORC Channel Race in 2019. A 4th place in this year’s Myth of Malham also bodes well for this immaculately prepared crew.

Stockholm, about 1200 miles of sailing away from Cowes, is a long way to come for a 600-mile race. But Swedish entry, an Elliot 44 CR called Matador, is well used to big journeys for milestone races. Twice winner of ‘Offshore Sailor of the Year’ in Sweden, Matador’s crew have competed in several editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race, RORC Caribbean 600 and two Rolex Fastnet Races.

For Demian Smith, owner of XP44 Simples, the racing is just one component of the overall experience. “We are primarily a group of friends and family who have all met through various sailing events and clubs.  With a broad range of experience and a desire to push ourselves to always do better, we prioritise safety, happiness and speed in that order.” There’s a strong youth focus in the crew with a number of teenagers on board, the youngest of whom is 15-year-old Freddie Denton, son of Mark Denton who skippered of BP Explorer in the 2001/2 BT Global Challenge. Smith is excited about returning to the Rolex Fastnet Race. “It's the world's largest and best offshore race where amateurs can compete with professionals and we can race against some of the best performance yachts in the world.”

A strong youth focus on Demian Smith's XP44 Simples - competing with family and friends as crew  © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comA strong youth focus on Demian Smith's XP44 Simples - competing with family and friends as crew © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Another crew with a strong emphasis on family are the Goubau clan from Belgium aboard their First 47.7 Moana. François Goubau races with his wife and three sons and they have formed into a highly competitive unit. Incredibly this will be the Belgian boat's 10th Rolex Fastnet Race and one of the three sons, Mathieu, will be steering the boat as he has been since the age of 16. Now aged 38, this will be Mathieu’s 11th Rolex Fastnet Race. Since 2005 they have stood on the class podium three times and there’s every possibility they’ll do so again in 2021.

Slightly higher up the size range is Pata Negra, an IRC 46 designed by Marc Lombard and built by CSC Composites in 2016. The boat was overall winner of the 2018 Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race, first in class in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600, and second in class in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, and could be a force to be reckoned with in a range of conditions. Owner Andrew Hall and his son Sam are taking part in their second race: “We’re really looking forward to doing the Rolex Fastnet Race again,” said Andrew, veteran of many big offshore challenges including the Newport Bermuda Race. “We need to do well, not just for the sake of the Rolex Fastnet Race itself, but we’re looking to get to Cherbourg as quickly as possible so we can be back in time to take part in the Welsh IRC Championships in our home port of Pwllheli.”

The famous 1961 van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch Stormvogel is on a mission just to get to England, with the boat needing to get from Bodrum in Turkey through the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic. But it’s a historic year for Stormvogel, this being the 60th anniversary since she took line honours in the 1961 race when Francis Chichester was navigator for her original owner Kees Bruynzeel. Recently the boat has been through an extensive refit in Bodrum and according to Stormvogel’s manager and Rolex Fastnet Race skipper Graeme Henry, “Stormvogel is back to a new level of performance while maintaining the original 1961 concept and 1960s’ style.”

A maxi from the subsequent decade but even more famous in this year’s line-up is Pen Duick VI. The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and then lapped the globe again alongside the second; an unofficial entry due to the spent uranium installed in her keel. Perhaps most amazing was that in between her legendary French skipper, Eric Tabarly, took this same boat in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race…and won it.

Pen Duick VI - The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and is being sailed by Marie Tabarly © Pen Duick VIPen Duick VI - The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and is being sailed by Marie Tabarly © Pen Duick VI

Another big boat in this division is Tall Ships Youth Trust, one of three Challenger 72s in the race, skippered by Sue Geary. On board is the youngest sailor in the Rolex Fastnet Race, 12 year old Zoë d'Ornano who, as well as learning the ropes of offshore racing, will also be working hard to raise awareness of the vital work of the Trust and fundraising to give some of the UK’s most disadvantaged young people a life-changing experience at sea. Zoë’s arrival in Cherbourg will also be special because she holds dual French and British nationality.

While the Figaros have their own class this year, two of these 35ft long Beneteau-built foil-equipped speed machines are also racing in the IRC fleet in Irishman Conor Fogerty’s Raw and Ross Farrow’s Stormwave 2.0.

According to Didier Gaudoux, the Rolex Fastnet Race’s overall winner in 2017, there is much to look forward to with the finish in Cherbourg. “It will be a new challenge tactically between the Scilly Islands and Cherbourg with the tide. A lot of people will be coming to visit, and the harbour is very close to downtown so it will be a special welcome.”

IRC Zero: big boats getting ready to roll in Rolex Fastnet Race

IRC Zero is historically the class which produces the most IRC overall winners - including David & Peter Askew's Wizard in 2019. Sadly they won't be returning to defend their title © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi IRC Zero is historically the class which produces the most IRC overall winners - including David & Peter Askew's Wizard in 2019. Sadly they won't be returning to defend their title © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

IRC Zero represents the glamour end of the keelboat fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race. It’s likely that we’ll see line honours go to one of the maxis in the class, perhaps George David’s 88ft defending line honour champion Rambler 88 (USA), if she can keep the freshly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios (MON) at bay.

Traditionally IRC Zero produces the most overall winners. Over the last 10 editions, half have been won by IRC Zero competitors, including Niklas Zennstrom's two-time winner Ran 2, while David and Peter Askew's VO70 Wizard won overall IRC honours and the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2019.  

Aside from the fully professional teams competing aboard the ‘no excuse to lose’ maxis, there is a growing charter market in the Volvo Ocean 65 and Volvo Open 70 boats. These canting-keeled flying machines were thought to be cutting-edge technology less than a decade ago, and initially were considered too powerful and not sufficiently reliable for the keen amateur crew looking to charter a fast ride to the Rock. However, attitudes have shifted as keen sailors have learned the ropes of racing high-powered race boats in a safe and seaworthy manner, and a number of pay-to-play crews are lining up for the adventure of their lives aboard them.

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Female participation strengthens in the Rolex Fastnet Race

Competing in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race are many of the world’s accomplished as well as highly competitive female sailors -  such as Britain's Dee Caffari racing Two-Handed with James Harayda on Sunfast 3300 Gentoo © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com Competing in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race are many of the world’s accomplished as well as highly competitive female sailors - such as Britain's Dee Caffari racing Two-Handed with James Harayda on Sunfast 3300 Gentoo © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

In August a record fleet of 450 boats is expected to be on the start line of the world’s largest offshore yacht race, the Rolex Fastnet Race.

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Vendée Globe heroes join Rolex Fastnet Race

Jérémie Beyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal return to the Rolex Fastnet Race as the defending champions in the IMOCA class © Gauthier Lebec / Charal Jérémie Beyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal return to the Rolex Fastnet Race as the defending champions in the IMOCA class © Gauthier Lebec / Charal

Almost six months after they competed in the world’s most brutal race, the singlehanded non-stop lap of the planet that is the Vendée Globe, many of the IMOCA fleet will be returning to the race course for the first time in August’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

Aside from the added attraction of the race now ending up in home waters with the finish moving for the first time to Cherbourg, for the IMOCA teams the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event is also a qualifier for November’s Transat Jacques Vabre. Running from Le Havre to Martinique (via Fernando di Noronha off Brazil), this event is doublehanded and the world’s most advanced offshore monohulls will also sail in this configuration for the Rolex Fastnet Race.

The line-up is impressive. It includes Charlie Dalin on Apivia who was first home into Les Sables d’Olonne in late January, until Maître CoQ, skippered by Yannick Bestaven, subsequently became the race’s winner after he was awarded time compensation for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier.

Charlie Dalin, second in the last Vendée Globe aboard Apivia, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Maxime Horlaville / Disobey / ApiviaCharlie Dalin, second in the last Vendée Globe aboard Apivia, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Maxime Horlaville / Disobey / Apivia

The American Ocean Race team 11th Hour Racing has not one, but two IMOCAs entered. This includes the 2016 vintage former HUGO BOSS, being campaigned by the mixed Anglo-Swiss crew of Volvo Ocean Race veteran Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux. But all eyes could be on the campaign’s latest steed, to be sailed by American Charlie Enrightand top French offshore sailor Pascal Bidégorry. Whether she will make it is in the balance: The launch of this new Guillaume Verdier design, built by CKD Technologies and project managed by Francois Gabart’s company MerConcept, is scheduled for the end of July leaving precious little work-up time before the 8 August start of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Significantly this will be the first new flying IMOCA launched with the Ocean Race in mind, rather than the Vendée Globe. However, Enright, who two years ago was outright winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race as sailing master on the Askew brothers’ VO70 Wizard,explains they are hedged. “In some ways we are optimised for bothcrewed and shorthanded racing, and in other ways we have definitely compromised to be able to wear both hats in this fleet. It is the first IMOCA built with ‘the Ocean Race as its primary objective’.”

What this means in terms of the specifics of the new hardware, we will have to wait and see. Theoretically with the potential to trim the foils more regularly, they could be more optimised and less draggy than the present generation foils. For sure it will require more interior and cockpit space to accommodate four crew plus a media crewman and it will be interesting to see the degree to which the cockpit is enclosed. There is also a tricky engineering balance to be reached in that the extra crew equals extra weight and righting moment and they can potentially drive the boat harder, but at the expense of extra structural weight, which in turn is bad for light airs foiling.

The first new flying IMOCA launched with the Ocean Race in mind - One of two boats entered by 11th Hour Racing  © Amory Ross / 11th Hour RacingThe first new flying IMOCA launched with the Ocean Race in mind - One of two boats entered by 11th Hour Racing © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing

In with a strong chance of line honours is Britain’s Alex Thomson and HUGO BOSS. After leading the Vendée Globe fleet into the South Atlantic, HUGO BOSS in that race suffered structural damage to her bow and Thomson was subsequently forced to retireinto Cape Town with ‘irreparable rudder damage’.HUGO BOSS is back in the water with two new rudders and Thomson and his team in Gosport, UK are keen to prove the potential of their radical craft, the first IMOCA with a fully enclosed cockpit.

For Thomson the Rolex Fastnet Race has played a major part in his sailing career. “I love the Rolex Fastnet Race. I got my sailing instructor [qualification] in 1994 and in 1995. I joined Britannia Sailing who were the first people to do amateur ‘pay to play’ racing and did my first Fastnet within a few months of joining them.I didn’t know it at the time, but that was when I found out that offshore was what I loved to do.”

After winning the 1998-99 Clipper Round the World Race, it was in the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race that Thomson first raced under the colours of HUGO BOSS.With their subsequent support he has gone on to become Britain’s most successful Vendée Globe skipper, podiuming on two occasions.

Of his past Rolex Fastnet Races, Thomson recalls: “My first was in 1995 on a Sigma 36 and it took us more than seven days. The most painful one was when it took us the four days on an IMOCA in 2005!”

The Rolex Fastnet race has played a major part in Alex Thomson's career and he will compete with HUGO BOSS - Photos © Alex Thomson RacingThe Rolex Fastnet race has played a major part in Alex Thomson's career and he will compete with HUGO BOSS - Photos © Alex Thomson Racing

Sam Davies, the British Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, says that the Rolex Fastnet Race inspired her as a teenager growing up in Portsmouth, UK. “As a kid I remember seeing all these boats, the Admiral’s Cuppers, the maxis - the best of the best boats there in Solent to do the Fastnet Race. Hearing the stories from the 1979 race made it even more awe-inspiring. And it seemed just so far! How could people do a race that long?!’That’s funny now.”

This will be her ninth Rolex Fastnet Race following her first when she was 19 with the parents of top pro sailor Gerry Mitchell on their Jeanneau Sun Legende 41. “It was a good family-owned racing boat where the husband and wife sailed all the races together. We did all the RORC races and qualifiers – it was very competitive.” At the time Mitchell was en route to the 1993-94 Whitbread Round the World Race on the Dolphin & Youth Whitbread 60 and occasionally he and some of his talented friends would join them. The experience of racing with the Mitchells and the chance to meet future and existing legends of the sport all helped set Sam on track for her future career. It is for this reason that she feels great pride returning to the Solent on board her state of the art race boat as a major wheel within the world’s most significant offshore fleet.

This time she will be racing her IMOCA Initiatives Coeur with French Solitaire du Figaro winner Nicolas Lunven.

Also significant for Sam is that racing in the same part of the IMOCA fleet will be her partner Romain Attanasio.He recently secured funding for his next IMOCA campaign with Fortinet-Best Westernand has acquired Boris Herrman’sIMOCA, originally the 2016 vintage Edmond de Rothschild. “There is a group of us -me, Isa[Joscke on MACSF], SiFi and Jojo[Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux on 11th Hour Racing] and Romain – on old boats that have been optimised. I am looking forward to that race.” Sam says the likely IMOCA winners will be the latest generation boats all of which at least started the last Vendée Globe and which their skippers know better than ever. The latest generation of foilers come into their own in 12 knots, at which point they foil when the older generation do not. However while they are optimised for the round the world course, to the extent that some are not great upwind, a course like the Rolex FastnetRace’s could benefit older more all-round boats. “If we get a light spot or a tricky spot, if it is downwind spinnaker sailing and we are more in the water than out, then all our group of boats will still be in with a chance. That is the good thing about the Rolex Fastnet Race because it is coastal, and tricky racing and there’s tides, it’s summer so there’s probably light winds at some point.”

Sam Davies, the British Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper was inspired by the Rolex Fastnet Race from a young age  © Maxime Horlaville / polaRYSE / Initiatives Coeur Sam Davies, the British Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper was inspired by the Rolex Fastnet Race from a young age © Maxime Horlaville / polaRYSE / Initiatives Coeur

The latest generation IMOCAs competing currently include Hugo Boss, Apivia, Sebastien Simon’s ArkeaPaprec and Nicolas Troussel’sCorumL’Epargne. Another to watch will certainly be JérémieBeyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal, which returns as the defending champion in the IMOCA class.

“This is the first event of the season for us,” says Beyou.” It's a good rehearsal for the Transat Jacques Vabre on a sporting level and also to prepare the team. We have to be ready for the delivery, the stand-by in Cherbourg, the choice of sails, etc – the whole pre-race routine that's important to test. It's a race we won two years ago, so we hope to do as well, but there are a lot of people and it will be a bit tricky at the start exiting the Solent. There's a lot to avoid, but it's great fun, a great show and we're going to enjoy it too.”

Rolex Fastnet Race adapts following border restrictions + RORC race updates

Rolex Fastnet Race - When it comes to offshore races there is no greater show on earth © Paul Wyeth Rolex Fastnet Race - When it comes to offshore races there is no greater show on earth © Paul Wyeth

The next edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race will start on Sunday 8th August and for the first time in its history, the race will finish in Cherbourg, France. In the current health context, the organisers are taking all the necessary steps to welcome the competitors in the best conditions. The French Government this week have restricted travel between the UK and France, imposing a 7-day isolation period on travellers from the UK. Although there has been no mention of how long these restrictions may be imposed, the RORC remain hopeful that the August 8th start date is unaffected. During this period of change the race management team are considering all scenarios and how it could affect the running of the race.

“We don't know how long these restrictions will last, but we remain hopeful that they will have little impact on the race and how we are able to welcome the fleet in Cherbourg. As with most of the pandemic, things are changing daily and we are working with our partners in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and government authorities to create the safest race we can; on and off the water. The team will continue to monitor the situation and advise on issues and alternative arrangements, if necessary," commented Race Director, Chris Stone.

Jean-Louis Valentin, president of the Arrival Fastnet Cherbourg association said: "We will continue to adapt in order to accommodate the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. We had already anticipated the reception of boats before the start of the race in Cherbourg, notably for the French, before reaching the start line in Cowes. As far as the finish is concerned, we will be able to respond to several scenarios, in conjunction with the race management, while hoping for a rapid evolution.”

Cherbourg-en-Cotentin will host the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race fleet © JM enault ville de Cherbourg en Cotentin  Cherbourg-en-Cotentin will host the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race fleet © JM enault ville de Cherbourg en Cotentin

Competitors sailing to the UK for any RORC races, including the Rolex Fastnet Race, can now do so without the need for quarantine and paying for tests on arrival in the UK, as per the UK Border Force recent advice and on the assumption that no crew touch land in the UK. “This is great news for our European sailors and should provide plenty of reassurance for the Rolex Fastnet Race competitors in their preparations. We have also decentralised our race offices, offering competitors the opportunity to finalise their registrations in either the traditional Cowes office, the Hamble office on the mainland, or for the first time, a race office in Cherbourg from August 4th. It’s a great initiative for our European competitors who can benefit from free berthing in Cherbourg throughout that period, and carry out all the registration procedures before taking the start on the 8th of August – all without having to stop over in the UK,” notes Race Director, Chris Stone.

RORC has also updated the fleet with its other races in the lead up to the Rolex Fastnet Race. The Morgan Cup Race was originally heading to Guernsey on Friday 11th June, with a finish in St Peters Port, however with the uncertainty around entry in the Channel Islands, the RORC Committee, in consultation with local authorities, have moved the finish to Dartmouth, UK. With the support of The Royal Dart Yacht Club and harbour officials in Dartmouth, the RORC are expecting a big turnout for the race.

The Cowes Dinard St Malo Race on Friday 9th July has also seen some subtle changes to accommodate fleets on both sides of the Channel. With the uncertainty around entry into France, the RORC Race team are currently formulating a plan to run a continuation race. After the finish mark for the traditional finish line outside St Malo, crew will be able to continue on for a race back to the UK. It is anticipated that many crews will take up this option and continuing to prepare and notch up valuable qualification mileage.”

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More information: www.rorc.org and www.rolexfastnetrace.com

Rolex Fastnet Race – the largest, most diverse offshore yacht race by far

Rolex Fastnet Race - When it comes to offshore races there is no greater show on earth © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo Rolex Fastnet Race - When it comes to offshore races there is no greater show on earth © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

With 450+ yachts entered in this year’s 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial flagship event has consolidated its position as the biggest offshore yacht race in the world.

The 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race sets sail from the Solent on 8th August, back to its original position of the Sunday following Cowes Week, but with a new finish port. As usual, the course takes the boats down the south coast of England, between the Scilly Isles and Land’s End and across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland. The fleet then returns rounding Bishop Rock, to the west of the Scilly Isles. From here the course is new for 2021 with the finish port having moved from Plymouth, its traditional destination since the race’s first edition in 1925, to Cherbourg in northern France. This change increases the length of the race from 608 to 695 miles. Tactically it will place fresh demands on crews with a final hurdle of tackling the fast-moving currents of the Alderney Race before reaching the finish.

The change of destination for the Rolex Fastnet Race has been made by the RORC as Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne is better able to accommodate the race’s enormous fleet. Bringing the world’s largest offshore race to France is also highly appropriate given France being the world’s leading nation for this genre of racing. It is home to events like the Vendée Globe, Route du Rhum, Solitaire du Figaro and Mini Transat, and French skippers having won the last two Volvo Ocean Races. French success has also extended to the Rolex Fastnet Race where in 2019 French yachts won nine of the 10 classes. Although the race was won overall by the American VO70 Wizard, overall IRC honours went to French yachts in the three editions before.

“Cherbourg is the perfect venue for the finish of the race,” comments Race Director, Chris Stone. “It has amazing facilities for competitors, berthing that allows us to grow and expand the event, plus the city is right on the doorstep of the race village. Of course, coupled with that is the enormous love for offshore sailing in France. That popularity brings interest and visitors to the city and the race village - it’s going to be amazing.”

Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne will host the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet © JM enault ville de Cherbourg en Cotentin  Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne will host the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet © JM enault ville de Cherbourg en Cotentin

Most extraordinary about this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race is its huge fleet. Over the last two decades this has almost doubled in size, but the leap between the 2019 and 2021 has been the biggest ever, up to the present tally of 453 from 388 two years ago. And this is despite uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

None of the world’s ‘classic 600 mile’ offshore races come close to this level of participation. The bulk is the IRC fleet competing for individual class prizes as well as the overall winner’s trophy, the Fastnet Challenge Cup. Over the last 20 years this has been won by yachts from all corner of the fleets, from the largest such as Charles Dunstone’s maxi NOKIA-Connecting People in 2003, to the very smallest and slowest, Jean-Yves Chateau’s 30-year-old Nicholson 33 Iromiguy in 2005, although over this period it has oddly never been won by a competitor in IRC Two. In 2013 the race had its first, and to date only, overall winner sailing doublehanded in Pascal Loison and his Figaro sailor son Alexis aboard the JPK 10.10 Night and Day.

Perhaps due to the Loisons success, along with the prospect of the sport going Olympic, doublehanded participation in the event has soared with 92 entered, up from 64 in 2019. The majority of these are competing alongside fully crewed teams within IRC Three and Four, classes in which today doublehanders dominate. Doublehanders are also classified in their own IRC Two-Handed class which this year includes several aspirant Olympians and notables such as Britons, Shirley Robertson, already a two-time Olympic champion and Dee Caffari, the world’s most capped female round the world sailor. Two-time Etchells world champion and Olympian, Stuart Childerley, with Kelvin Rawlings won the Two-Handed division in 2017, and Alexis Loison is back to defend his title in the class, sailing once again with Jean-Pierre Kelbert on the JPK 10.30 Léon, the latest model from Kelbert’s company.

The 2013 race saw the first overall winner sailing doublehanded - Pascal Loison and son Alexis aboard their JPK 10.10 Night and Day © ROLEX/Kurt ArrigoThe 2013 race saw the first overall winner sailing doublehanded - Pascal Loison and son Alexis aboard their JPK 10.10 Night and Day © ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

Most spectacular is the sheer array of yachts competing. Within the IRC fleet this includes some of the largest and fastest maxi yachts, such as George David’s Rambler 88, the defending monohull line honours champion, which this year is due to enjoy stiff competition from the brand new, foil-assisted Swan 125 Skorpios. They will be trailed around the course by several VO70, 65 and 60 former Volvo Ocean Race entrants.

The hottest competition is typically within the five principal IRC classes, the winner of each receiving a trophy such as the Hong Kong Cup for IRC Zero, the West Mersea YC Trophy for IRC One and other longstanding historical silver cups. The larger classes, IRC One to Four are further subdivided.

Beyond this there are numerous ‘races within races’ between classes of boats such as the FAST40+ between RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX, Ed Fishwick's Redshift and Bastiaan Voogd's Hitchhiker, all racing at the top end of IRC One. Then there are the Performance 40s which straddle IRC One and Two between former RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine’s Ker 39 La Réponse and Eric van Campenhout's Corby 41.5 Independent Bear at the top, to the likes of Susan Glenny's First 40 Olympia's Tigress at the lower end.

There is especially stiff competition between the one design classes. The largest of these are the 17 x J/109s and the 13 x First 40s. Then there are several more modern French models, notably the JPKs and Jeanneau Sun Fasts, which are popular due to their contemporary designs which have proved competitive under IRC. At present there are 11 x JPK 10.10 and nine 10.80s, 12 x Sun Fast 3200s, 14 x 3300s and 10 x Sun Fast 3600, the latter covering a wide rating range from Nick Martin's Diablo with an IRC TCC of 1.030, to Stephen Berrzćs quicker Marco Polo at 1.052. Today these surpass in number old equivalents such as the Sigma 38 (five competing) or the three Contessa 32s racing for the Spangle Trophy.

Within the IRC fleet many past champions are returning – all of them French. These include Didier Gaudoux's JND 39 Lann Ael 2 (2017 overall winner), Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam (IRC One 2009 and 2011), Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom (IRC Canting Keel 2013 and 2015, second overall in 2019), Jacques Pelletier's Milon 41 L'Ange de Milon (IRC One in 2019), Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia (IRC Two in 2017). As mentioned, Alex Loison is returning, while the 2015 winner Gery Trentesaux is racing in the Class40 aboard Antoine Carpentier’s Courrier Redman.

Several of the fastest offshore racing yachts in the world - the 30m long flying Ultime trimarans will compete.© ROLEX/Carlo BorlenghiSeveral of the fastest offshore racing yachts in the world - the 30m long flying Ultime trimarans will compete.© ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Compared to the world’s other ‘classic 600 mile’ offshore races, the Rolex Fastnet Race stands out in accommodating the impressive French grand prix classes, thanks to the races close proximity to Brittany where many are based. These include the fastest offshore racing yachts in the world, the 30m long flying Ultime trimarans. Among them famous names such as Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier and Yves le Blevec's Actual Ultim 3 (formerly Francois Gabart's MACIF, currently holder of the singlehanded non-stop around the world record).

Well represented are the 60ft IMOCAs, which are famous for competing in the Vendée Globe. Among those entered are this year’s ‘two’ Vendee Globe winners: Charlie Dalin’s Apivia, which was first home to Les Sables d’Olonne, ultimately beaten when Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ was awarded time compensation from earlier in the race. It will be interesting to see the two boats of 11th Hour Racing, including a newly launched example for Charlie Enright who skippered Wizard, the overall winner of the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race. Britain’s Alex Thomson is back with a newly refitted Hugo Boss.

Of the classes not rated under IRC, the most impressive is the Class40 which has 41 entered, up from 19 in 2019. Among those entered are Olivier Magre's Palanad 3, winner of this year's RORC Transatlantic Race and Valentin Gautier's Voodoo, winner of the 2020 Normandy Channel Race, as well as Luke Berry's Lamotte -Module Creation, Class40 winner from the last Rolex Fastnet Race. Of the grand prix classes this is also the most international with entries from afar afield as Japan (Hiroshi Kitada's Kiho). The competition will be hot.

When it comes to offshore races there is no greater show on earth than the Rolex Fastnet Race.

An emblematic shot by Carlo Borlenghi who will once again be at the Fastnet Rock to capture boats in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Rock © ROLEX/Carlo BorlenghiAn emblematic shot by Carlo Borlenghi who will once again be at the Fastnet Rock to capture boats in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Rock © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Latest Provisional Entry List: https://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/en/follow/follow-the-race/entrylists

World’s fastest sailboats sign up for Rolex Fastnet Race

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild holds the outright multihull record for the Rolex Fastnet Race having completed the course in 2019 in 1 day 4hrs 2mins 26 secs © © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Gitana S.A. Maxi Edmond de Rothschild holds the outright multihull record for the Rolex Fastnet Race having completed the course in 2019 in 1 day 4hrs 2mins 26 secs © © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Gitana S.A.

While the Vendée Globe grabbed headlines over the winter with a record fleet of 31 boats, France boasts a yet more extraordinary fleet of boats – the Ultimes. Developed over the last 30 years by teams attempting to break the non-stop round the world record, the Jules Verne Trophy, these giant 32m long by 23m wide flying multihulls are the fastest offshore racing yachts by far. In August several will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race. If adequately brisk conditions materialise, these craft are more than capable of finishing in less than a day, despite the new course to Cherbourg being longer at 695 nautical miles.  

In 2019 as most competitors had still to reach Land’s End, a heavyweight bout was playing out in the final moments of the Ultime race between two titans – solo non-stop round the world record holder (and Vendée Globe winner) Francois Gabart, sailing with Jimmy Spithill on board MACIF and Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, co-skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier. MACIF led past the Lizard with her rival in hot pursuit, but by leaving their final gybe a little longer, Cammas and Caudrelier were able to sail a hotter angle into the finish and pipped their rival to the post, to win by a mere 58 seconds.

Both these boats will return to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race’s Open Multihull class, only MACIF has been acquired by Team Actual, which finished fourth two years ago on their previous Ultime trimaran. At the end of April, the trimaran emerged from Team Actual shed in its new livery. From their base in La Trinité-sur-Mer, skipper Yves Le Blevec and his team are currently still getting acquainted with their new beast.  Comparing her performance with that of his previous Ultime, Le Blevec observes: “In light air it is similar and in big wind and big waves it is not much different, but in medium conditions the boat is between 10-15% faster.”

The 32m long 23m wide Actual Ultim took part as MACIF in the last Rolex Fastnet Race and skipper Yves le Blevec with Team Actual are currently getting acquainted with their new beast © Ronan Gladu/ronangladu.comThe 32m long 23m wide Actual Ultim took part as MACIF in the last Rolex Fastnet Race and skipper Yves Le Blevec with Team Actual are currently getting acquainted with their new beast © Ronan Gladu/ronangladu.com

While foilers usually prefer flat water, Le Blevec maintains that it is in fact in wavy conditions where they are seeing their performance gain. “With the old boat we had big difficulties to go fast against the waves because the boat falls into the troughs. On the new boat with the foils, it stays up out of the water and doesn’t fall off into the waves, so they go faster.”

Le Blevec, who won the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC Canting Keel class with Nicolas Groleau’s Bretagne Telecom, says that for the Ultimes the change of course to Cherbourg won’t impact them greatly but he appreciates the improved logistics that the Cotentin port will offer. “Before it was very difficult for competitors to cross the line and then be told they couldn’t go into the harbour. In Cherbourg it will be simpler.” Le Blevec has fond memories of the city having spent several months there in the late 1990s building the maxi-catamaran Team Adventure.

As to the Rolex Fastnet Race, Le Blevec is a big fan. “It is like a monument - a very iconic race. Every sailor knows the Fastnet Race. It is a measurement for everyone in sailing. The start of the race is always a very special moment because there are a lot of different types of boats. We are the fastest but we can play with the Contessa 32s and there are all categories. It is very important for everybody.”

Yves Le Blevec and team on board Actual Ultim 3 will be one of the fastest boats in the 49th edition of the race  © Ronan Gladu/ronangladu.comYves Le Blevec and team on board Actual Ultim 3 will be one of the fastest boats in the 49th edition of the race © Ronan Gladu/ronangladu.com

Meanwhile Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier, who respectively skippered yachts to victory in the 2011-12 and 2017-18 editions of Volvo Ocean Race, return once again as co-skippers of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild to defend their title. Their strength is a highly experienced team and the amount of time they have spent developing and learning the intricacies of their Ultime.

“The focus is on the foils and the rudders, but also on the windage,” says Caudrelier. “The improvements we have made in the last two years have been huge. We need big appendages in order to fly early [typically in 14 knots of wind/28 knots boat speed], but then when you fly fast at 40-45 you have problems with cavitation – it’s complicated but we have spent hours and hours working on that and I think the result will be quite good.” In only a little more wind and Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is capable of cranking out 30-40 knot average speeds, the slower end of which would allow her to be comfortably berthed in Cherbourg within 24 hours of starting the Rolex Fastnet Race.

The biggest threat aside from Le Blevec’s Actual Leader, are the two new Ultimes launching this year. Freshly out of the shed, Armel le Cleac’h’s brand new Banque Populaire XI Ultime is currently entered in the Rolex Fastnet Race, but will only participate if it fits in their work-up schedule. Meanwhile, incredibly, considering these craft can cost upward of 10 million Euros, a second Ultime is due for launch in the next weeks for Francois Gabart. Gabart is currently looking to secure a sponsor for his new campaign but he is one of the most gifted of French sailors, already with a formidable CV for his 38 years.

To counter the threat of the new Ultimes, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has a complete new foil package (ie three rudders with elevators, a centreboard fitted with a T foil and two lifting foils in the floats) being fitted for this season.

As to the new course Caudrelier takes it in his stride. Even the strong currents of the Alderney Race represent only a small fraction of an Ultime’s speed, while he points out that downwind in light conditions having counter current can increase apparent wind speed and resultant boat speed to overcome the current. Caudrelier is looking forward to the reception in Cherbourg: “Each time I have been there it was a nice finish. The people will be very happy to have an event like the Fastnet. Some people may not happy with the change of finish to Cherbourg, but I think after the first edition they will change their mind. If the bars are open it is a nice place to finish and, for sure, the food is better!”

Team Gitana on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild saw an end of their Jules Verne Trophy record attempt earlier this year following damage to their rudder but are back to defend their multihull title in this August's Rolex Fastnet Race © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Gitana S.A.Team Gitana on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild saw an end of their Jules Verne Trophy record attempt earlier this year following damage to their rudder but are back to defend their multihull title in this August's Rolex Fastnet Race © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Gitana S.A.

Elsewhere in the Open Multihull class the sole British skipper entered is Sam Goodchild, who has this season taken charge of the Multi50 trimaran Leyton. However Leyton's participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race again depends upon the Multi50 calendar. The fifth entry is the 24m long Ultim'emotion 2, the ex-Prince de Bretagne which former skipper and Route du Rhum winner Lionel Lemonchois created by elongating the former Sodebo ORMA 60 trimaran.

Racing under their own handicap in the MOCRA class are a few other racing multihulls. At present this class is likely to be led on the water by American Jason Carroll’s MOD70 trimaran Argo. Whether Argo will be joined by any other MOD70s remains to be seen. “I’m very excited to be participating in my first Rolex Fastnet Race,” says Carroll, a two time Melges 32 World Champion who currently also campaigns a flying one design catamaran on the GC32 Racing Tour. “It’s an iconic race and the team and I are looking forward to taking it on. Our aspirations are to sail well against similar speed boats and hope for the right conditions for us to score well under MOCRA handicap. Obviously the elapsed time and new record must be left to the Ultime tris, but sailing the course to the maximum of our potential will certainly be a satisfying result.”

First time in the Rolex Fastnet Race for Jason Carroll's MOD70 trimaran Argo, seen here competing in the 600nm RORC Caribbean 600  © Arthur Daniel/RORCFirst time in the Rolex Fastnet Race for Jason Carroll's MOD70 trimaran Argo, seen here competing in the 600nm RORC Caribbean 600 © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Latest Provisional Entry List: https://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/en/follow/follow-the-race/entrylists

Rolex Fastnet – more than a race

RORC photographer Paul Wyeth captures teams at the prizegiving as they express their joy after successfully completing the Rolex Fastnet Race - for many it will be their greatest personal challenge © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com RORC photographer Paul Wyeth captures teams at the prizegiving as they express their joy after successfully completing the Rolex Fastnet Race - for many it will be their greatest personal challenge © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

While this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will be highly competitive at the front of the fleet, for many among the record-sized entry of 453 yachts (at present), the objective of tackling the 695 mile course from Cowes to Cherbourg via the legendary rock off southwest Ireland is just to get round successfully. For many, personally, they are taking part to experience the challenge, a lifelong ambition, an adventure, a bonding experience with family and friends, to improve on a previous result or because, this year’s race will be historic, for the first time in its 96 years finishing in Cherbourg. There are many reasons crews will be setting off from the Solent on the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event on 8 August other than to come first. 

Several yachts are entered with crews from the British Armed Forces, competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race for their own trophies – the Inter-Regimental Cup: Best Service Boat under IRC and the Culdrose Trophy for the top Service Boat to the Fastnet Rock. The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier. This team has enjoyed considerable success, notably in 2018 when their X-41 won the RORC Season’s Points Championship. They have since changed to the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier which despite owning her since the end of 2019 they have yet to race it offshore due to the pandemic.  

In addition to providing a sports activity for their soldiers, the ASA also views it as training, helping to improve teamwork, and operational effectiveness in their soldiers which encouraging their most promising sailors to progress up the sport.

Across the fleet many are using the event to raise awareness for charities and causes.

Most notable is this year’s youngest competitor 12-year-old Zoe d'Ornano, who will be on one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s two Challenger 72s entered. A keen dinghy sailor and an experienced crew cruising with family and friends, she will use the race to raise awareness of the work of the TSYT while fundraising to give some of the country’s most disadvantaged young people a life-changing experience at sea. Founded in 1956, the Tall Ships Youth Trust has supported over 120,000 young people, aged 12-25, the majority disadvantaged or disabled. It also helps young people redefine their horizons through adventure learning at sea.” Zoe's Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/ZoeFastnet

Zoe d'Ornano's fundraising page for the  Tall Ships Youth Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/ZoeFastnet © Lay Koon TanZoe d'Ornano's fundraising page for the Tall Ships Youth Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/ZoeFastnet © Lay Koon Tan

The Dutch Childhood 1 project is entered, aboard the former Team Brunel VO65. They race to raise awareness of children's rights while fundraising for the Childhood Foundation. In 2019 Childhood 1 participated in the RORC Transatlantic Race, winning the International Maxi Association Trophy for line honours.

For those without their own boat, many take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race aboard charter boats or with a crew from a sailing or race training school. For example, Jonathan Moon from Chandlers Ford will be racing with the Sail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 Escapado, skippered by Germaine Williams. Moon chose to do this to coincide with the 40th anniversary of when his father Paul competed on the UFO 31 The Happy Return: “I still recall going to watch the start and feeling excitement and worry, after all this was my Dad - my hero - the man who taught me how to sail, heading off into a race that two years before had taken the lives of 15 sailors.”

escapado tim wright

Sadly, his father now suffers from Lewy Body Dementia – the same form that caused the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams.  During the race, Jonathan will be raising money for St Cross Grange, the Winchester-based care home specialising in dementia, where his father resides. Funds will go towards the purchase of a Tovertafel, an interactive games device that breaks through apathy by stimulating both physical and cognitive activity. (To support visit https://gofund.me/a0602f45)

Also celebrating a family anniversary is German skipper Kai Greten whose beautiful wooden hulled Gerhard Gilgenast One Tonner Oromocto turns 50 this year. Oromocto was left to him by his grandfather upon his death in 1999 and since 2010 Greten has been campaigning her hard out of Kiel. His greatest success to date was winning the Pantaenius Rund Skagen race in 2014.

British Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies has just entered her Initiatives Coeur in the 13 -trong IMOCA class. Sam will be continuing her extraordinary fund raising efforts supporting the French charity Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque either through direct donations or, the cleverest part, from her three sponsors, each of whom donates 1 Euro whenever a member of the public clicks ‘like’ on the Initiative Coeurs Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/initiativescoeur) or Instagram pages (https://www.instagram.com/initiativescoeur/). Do it now!

The charity saves children from poor countries born with heart defects, by bringing them to France to be operated on. Every 12000 Euros raised saves one child’s life. During her Vendée Globe Sam’s fundraising efforts saved an incredible 103 children. As she puts it: “Every time I look up and I’m having a bad day, it reminds me what I am really out there doing this for. It is pretty motivating.”

From Honfleur, Pierre-Louis Attwell is racing his Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn, with which he will be spreading awareness of Crohn's disease, from which he suffers. His team includes a mix of pros and amateurs, including Maxime Bense with whom he will race this autumn’s doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. This will be Attwell’s first Rolex Fastnet Race: “We can't wait to be at the start of this legendary sailing race, to face the best sailors in the world and to live a unique experience.”

Romain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! © Imbaud Verhaegen Romain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! © Imbaud Verhaegen

One of the largest yachts to be promoting a cause is Romain Pilliard’s Use it Again!, familiar to UK sailing fans as the former B&Q, the trimaran on which Dame Ellen MacArthur sailed singlehanded non-stop around the world in record time in 2005. Pilliard has recycled the famous Irens-designed trimaran and appropriately is now using her to promote the circular economy, a cause championed globally by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  “I wanted to experience the Rolex Fastnet Race and highlight my Use It Again! campaign to promote circular economy and ocean protection,” says Pilliard, who adds: “The Rolex Fastnet Race is a legendary race with high level sailors competing in it and the race course is incredible. I'm looking forward to going fast in the Celtic Sea.”

Providing offshore racing miles to young sailors is the remit of the Dutch Ker 46 Van Uden Rotterdam skippered by former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Gerd-Jan Poortman, with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team. The team’s goal is to participate in The Ocean Race (ex-Volvo Ocean Race) and the sailors are therefore being given full responsibility to prepare and maintain their boat, plus its navigation, tactics, training, fitness and PR.

“I am looking forward to gaining experience in offshore sailing, taking part in my first major sailing competition with multiple days at sea, and competing against top notch sailors from different nations,” says Laurien Waller, one of her crew. “A highlight of the course will definitely be the Fastnet Rock and I think if we do a good job and work well as a team, reaching the finish line in Cherbourg will feel amazing. The most difficult part will be choosing the optimal route and maintaining team fitness and tackling fatigue.”

Many boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Sportography.TVMany boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Sportography.TV

Far in the majority are those with family entries such as Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas, the lowest rated yacht in the fleet. She will be sailing by Declercq with his wife, two children and a family friend. He has raced previously in several Fastnets aboard Sigma 38s and Contessa 32s: “Unfortunately we had to abandon the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2019 because I broke a rib and was in too much pain to continue, so we are really looking forward to the race this year. We are looking forward to fun racing with the family in this fantastic race. For us having a small and rather slow boat, it's a longer race and the weather is more unpredictable, but the vibe around the race and the fact that we can compete against professional boats and crews is amazing.”

Rolex Fastnet Race doublehanding goes supernova

Rounding the Fastnet Rock: Cherbourg-based Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon - back this year to defend their Two Handed title © Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX Rounding the Fastnet Rock: Cherbourg-based Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon - back this year to defend their Two Handed title © Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX

Doublehanded offshore racing had been gaining popularity with the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC Two Handed class almost doubling in size between 2009 and 2019. But for this year’s edition of the world’s largest offshore yacht race its entry has soared to 89 yachts, a giant step up from 2019’s 64.

Long term this trend has been attributed to owners finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a full crew. Over this time shorthanded offshore racing has become more accepted, no longer seen as being on the fringe of the sport, certainly helped by boats and gear becoming better tailored to this discipline. Extra exposure has caused more people to become intrigued by this uniquely challenging form of yacht racing.

Social distancing requirements enabled this to be the first type of racing to be reintroduced by the Royal Ocean Racing Club in 2020, with doublehanders enjoying the most days out on the water over the season. But the most significant boost internationally has come from the possibility of mixed doublehanded offshore racing being introduced to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Whether this will happen awaits a final decision by the International Olympic Committee due soon.

With events like the Route du Rhum and Vendée Globe and classes like the Figaro, Class40 and IMOCA, France is the world’s stand-out nation when it comes to shorthanded offshore racing, but  surprisingly in recent Fastnet races, it is the IRC Two Handed class where French teams have faced some of the toughest competition. In 2019, of the top 10 in IRC Two Handed only five were French compared to eight in IRC Four and seven in IRC Three. This was probably because the A-list French talent mostly has confined itself to the Ultime, IMOCA and Class40 and not the IRC fleet. However one consistently has.

2013 Fastnet Challenge Cup winner, Alexis Loison will race once again Two Handed with Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/RORC2013 Fastnet Challenge Cup winner, Alexis Loison will race once again Two Handed with Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Cherbourg-based Alexis Loison has finished in the top ten in yacht racing’s unofficial solo offshore world championship, La Solitaire du Figaro no less than six times, which makes him one of the best offshore sailors in the world. However Loison’s father Pascal is a keen IRC racer and father and son entered the history books in 2013 when they became the first doublehanded crew ever to win the Rolex Fastnet Race outright, ahead of the fully crewed fleet. Alexis holds the record for the most victories in the IRC Two Handed class. He won it three times with Pascal and is its defending champion after winning it for a fourth time sailing with Jean Pierre Kelbert on the French boatbuilder’s latest JPK 10.30 model Léon.

“I love the Rolex Fastnet Race, it is special,” says Loison. “I have participated five times and won [my class] on four of them and overall once. I am trying to keep my record for winning the Two handed division!

“I love this kind of race where professionals are on the same course as amateurs. I prefer to do this race in the two handed class with an IRC boat [rather than the Figaro]. This year is special because it will finish in my home town of Cherbourg, which is good news for me.”

JPK and Loison return accompanied by three other French JPK 10.30s. Two – Francois Moriceau’s Mary 3 and Gerard Quenot’s Mecanique Expertises - finished just inside the top ten of the UNCL’s Manche-Atlantique two handed series in 2020, while Yves Paul Robert’s Very Good Trip - Septieme Ciel was fourth in IRC Two Handed in the last Rolex Fastnet Race.

A formidable duo Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson compete on the new Sun Fast 3300 © Tim Butt/Vertigo FilmsA formidable duo Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson compete on the new Sun Fast 3300 © Tim Butt/Vertigo Films

In the 2019 French domination at the top of IRC Two Handed was partly halted by British Figaro and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Henry Bomby and Hannah Diamond, who finished second. This time Bomby returns with a familiar figure, but one largely new to offshore racing, in double Olympic gold medallist turned TV presenter, Shirley Robertson.

Having only taken up doublehanded offshore racing last season, Robertson is looking forward to getting back on to the water. They are racing a new Sun Fast 3300, provided by Sea Ventures, the UK dealer for Jeanneau, which numerically has managed to make great inroads into the class: this year their turn-out exceeds even the JPKs with twelve Sun Fast 3200s, ten 3600s and twelve 3300s (plus two more racing fully crewed) entered.

“I really enjoy it, it’s great, it came at the right time - I was ready for something different, but similar,” explains Robertson of her latest venture. “I was a bit undecided what to do and where to go and this really fitted the bill. I’m impressed by Henry. We get on well and I enjoyed the boat from the get-go. It was small enough that I could do everything physically on it. I instantly felt I could make the boat go fast.”

This will be Robertson’s third Fastnet having previously competed on Ludde Ingvall’s maxi Nicorette and with fellow Olympian Ian Walker on Eamonn Conneely’s TP52 Patches. “I’d done a bit of offshore, but generally I steered or trimmed the main, but on this I am busy all the time,” Robertson continues. “Even when you sleep you are listening out for the call to come and help up on deck. And there are periods when you are on your own - or sort of on your own - at night on deck, looking for ships, trying to keep your numbers up and keeping the big idea of where you are going next, etc. I enjoy the intensity of it and also the real partnership. We have to look after each other and work together and be honest if the boat isn’t going well, or if you feel nervous about something.”

Despite being an accomplished sailor, it has been back to school for Robertson to learn about the vital rules of the road when sailing offshore and a new style of boat. Fortunately her highly accomplished co-skipper has all the skill-sets necessary. 

Another duo returning to the race having successfully taken on the French are Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley. Childerley has two Olympic Games and two Etchells World Championship titles to his name, while Rawlings was “watch captain on Noah’s Arc” with a giant sailing CV that includes winning the Admiral’s Cup. In the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race they entered Rawlings’ J/105 Jester and proceeded to beat the Loisins into second place (albeit by just 14 seconds) in IRC Two Handed, and across the fleet were top British finishers, coming home fourth overall under IRC.

In 2015 Childerley admits they toughed it out with a boat lacking good comms (for downloading forecasts) and an effective autopilot, but this time they have a tricked-up Sun Fast 3300, Aries: “When we saw the course change [finishing in Cherbourg] and the first opportunity to race on it we thought it would be a great challenge and we had to have a go.”

In the intervening six years the standard of doublehanded racing in the UK has leapt, Childerley observes, but this too was a big attraction along with the opportunity to race in the sizeable fleet of Sun Fast 3300s - a modern IRC boat, tailored for shorthanding in terms of its cockpit layout, sail controls, ballast, twin rudders and much better equipment. However they too are having to get up to speed with technology, with Rawlings mastering the routing software. Childerley says they are keen not to get bogged down in this. So for example they are taking asymmetric kites, but no symmetrics. “If we over-complicate things we are just going to confuse ourselves. We are trying to stick with our principles in keeping it simple, progressing through the race, making decisions and sailing the boat so as not to lose the race. If we can be in a good position in the last quarter of the race, we’ll be very happy with that.”

 Winning last year's IRC Two Handed Nationals, James Harayda's Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo, will be competing with round the world sailor Dee Caffari in the  2021 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comWinning last year's IRC Two Handed Nationals, James Harayda's Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo, will be competing with round the world sailor Dee Caffari in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Other notables in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet include James Harayda and round the world legend Dee Caffari on board the former’s Gentoo, winner of last year’s IRC Two-Handed Nationals. Then there is regular competitor Ed Broadway with his latest Hooligan VIII, Sea Ventures’ own Nigel Colley aboard Fastrak XII and Irish former Mini and Class 40 sailor Cian McCarthy aboard his latest Cinnamon Girl. A similarly tough group are the Sun Fast 3600s. They include Rob Craigie and Bellino, who finished third in 2017 with Deb Fish (the subject of this week’s Time Over Distance series – link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb8tbTBGpvU), when they went on to win the Two Handed class for the season. Then there is Nick Martin whose J/105 Diablo J was RORC Yacht of the Year and the season’s IRC Three winner in 2012.

Other British contenders to watch out for are Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on their JPK 10.10 Jangada. Jangada was the RORC’s 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn Series. At the IRC Two-Handed Nationals Jangada was beaten to the podium by Mike Yates and Norwegian sailmaker Eivind Bøymo-Malm on the J/109 Jago. Eighteen J/109s are competing in this year’s race, five of them doublehanded, Jago among the top tipped.

Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on JPK 10.10 Jangada - RORC 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn Series © Arthur Daniel Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on JPK 10.10 Jangada - RORC 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn Series © Arthur Daniel

UK leads France numerically in the IRC Two Handed class, but the line-up is international with 12 nations represented, including two from the USA, one apiece from Hong Kong and Poland. Top contenders again returning from the Netherlands include local champions Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre aboard their trusty J/122e Ajeto! They finished second in IRC Two Handed in 2017 and on their previous J/111 J-Xcentric were third in 2011.

The IRC Two Handed fleet largely comes from IRC Three and IRC Four, but the biggest racing is Richard Tolkien’s Open 60 Rosalba while the smallest (also in the IRC fleet overall) is once again Neal Brewer’s modified Humphreys 30, Bespoke.

The IRC Two Handed class will also see a return to the race course for two notable solo offshore sailors. Alex Bennett was for a while the top ever British finisher in the Mini Transat when he came home fifth in 1999. He was one of Pete Goss’ crew on the ill-fated mega catamaran Team Philips. He has since been through an Open 50 and the Class40 Fujifilm (back this year as Fuji with Finnish sailor Ari Kaensaekoski) in which he came within a minute of winning the two handed Round Britain & Ireland Race in 2010.

Alex Bennett will race his Swan 46 Mk1 Ginny B doublehanded with fellow solo offshore sailor Conrad Humphreys © Ginny BAlex Bennett will race his Swan 46 Mk1 Ginny B doublehanded with fellow solo offshore sailor Conrad Humphreys © Ginny B

In 2019 Bennett acquired a Swan 46 Mk1 and has spent most of lockdown pampering her. Now a family man with two sons, he says Ginny B fulfils his needs for a boat on which to teach his family sailing and he can race. However he admits lacking time on the water with her - to date their only outing was a delivery from Dartmouth to Plymouth.

Bennett is racing with another solo sailor, former Vendée Globe and winning BT Global Challenge skipper Conrad Humphreys. “The challenge is always bigger when you go shorthanded and it offers the greatest challenge over this kind of course,” says Bennett, who is in awe of the IRC Two Handed fleet. “It is huge - like the Mini Transat fleet in terms of numbers.”

The Swan 46 is a cruiser-racer and a very different prospect from the nimble thoroughbreds Bennett is used to racing. “She is a big heavy boat, not set up for shorthanded sailing - you can do it, but it will be a challenge. The reality is that we are we are up against some hot modern designs and really good sailors in Sunfast 3300s and JPKs, so it is a very diverse fleet. It will be interesting to see where we fit in.”

Bennett first sailed the Fastnet in 1995, when, aged 19, he led the Fastnet Youth Challenge to second place in class aboard a Sigma 36.

Ginny B is by no means the oldest boat in the IRC Two Handed fleet: This is Paul Moxon’s 50ft yawl Amokura, launched in 1939.

Current Two Handed Entry Lists HERE

Full entry list: https://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/en/follow/follow-the-race/entrylists