73 teams started the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Three. However, the feisty conditions have resulted in 14 boats retiring or discontinuing racing. After beating in close quarters in the Solent, the fleet braced themselves for even bigger conditions across Poole Bay. The first big headland of the race was Portland Bill, and there was a split decision in strategy to round the landmark. Alexis Loison & Guillaume Pirouelle, racing JPK 1030 Léon, led the boats on the water inshore at Portland. Offshore, a pack of three boats led the contingent: Philippe Girardin’s J/120 Hey Jude, Denis Murphy & Annamarie Fegan’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo and the Army Sailing Association’s Sun Fast 3600 British Soldier, skippered by Philip Caswell.
Despite a blustery start and first night at sea in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race, competitors have been making good progress west down the English Channel, with the bulk of the fleet at breakfast time this morning south of Start Point.
Since yesterday’s dramatic, brutal departure from the Solent for the 337 entries in 25+ knot southwesterly headwinds and violent wind against tide seas, overnight the wind has slowly eased. It is still gusting to the early 20s, especially around headlands, but is dropping the further west the competitors sail, with 15-20 knots off the Lizard and 13-15 off Land’s End.
While the majority of the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet is still toughing it out in the Channel, at 0800 BST this morning Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was the first Ultime to reach the Fastnet Rock. While not a record time – in 2019 she led around the Rock at 0633, less than two minutes ahead of Francois Gabart’s MACIF – her time of just 20 hours 50 minutes is almost three hours slower, but nonetheless highly impressive given that this time the boats have been upwind down the Channel and then fetching across the Celtic Sea. This time is also not as close with Thomas Coville’s second placed Sodebo Ultim Voile some 43 miles astern of her.
The Rolex Fastnet Race has a reputation for the severe weather that it can throw at its competitors. Still strongly remembered is the 1979 race that cost 19 lives. Today the 49th edition of the 96-year-old offshore racing classic lived up to its fame as the first of seven starts got underway at 15 minute intervals starting at 1100 BST. Over the last three days strong southwesterly winds have been blowing up the Channel and competitors in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event were treated to these same headwinds gusting into the 30s and, as the tide turned off the Needles and in the western Solent, a building wind-against-tide sea state developed.
COVID, international travel restrictions due to COVID, plus Brexit have resulted in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race being a unique affair. This along with a lively forecast for the race’s first 24 hours caused entries to drop as start day approached. Nonetheless crossing line today off Cowes was still a highly impressive turn-out of 337 boats from 24 nations including Japan, Mexico and eight from the USA, but the majority from Europe, including the largest ever turn-out from France.
Despite winds gusting to 35 knots, the starts got away well. Among the multihulls, it was the favourites and defending champions, Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier on the Ultime trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild that pulled the trigger most rapidly. They were followed by Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 and the Yves le Blevec-skippered Actual, but with the two MOD70s Maserati and Argo of Giovanni Soldini and Jason Carroll respectively, leading the charge in the MOCRA fleet. Incredibly just three hours after starting the Ultimes had already crossed the Channel and were putting in a tack to the west of Cape de la Hague, setting themselves up unusually to pass south of the Casquets TSS.
Like a trial run for tomorrow’s start of the Rolex Fastnet Race, today the Solent has been in blustery mood with an overcast sky, rain and perpetual gusty winds. The forecast for the start of the 49th edition of the world’s largest offshore race remains for winds of 20-25 knots with gusts into the 30s, although the rain is set to subside.
The start of the Rolex Fastnet Race will take place from the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes on Sunday, with a first warning signal for the multihull classes at 1100, followed at 15 minute intervals by the IMOCAs/Class40s, and then the five IRC classes starting with IRC Four and finishing with IRC Zero at 1230.
The largest offshore race in the world, the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet represents a complete pantheon of almost 350 yachts, ranging from giant Ultime trimarans and brand new 125ft monohulls, down to 30 footers. Usually, 48 hours out from the start of this race the weather forecast provides some indication of whether it will favour a particular part of the fleet, such as the fastest or slowest boats. Sadly, due to a complex, volatile weather scenario over the southwest United Kingdom, the forecast remains uncertain, and predicting if any part of the fleet could be favoured is far from easy.
The 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race starts on Sunday 8th August, 2021 from the Royal Yacht Squadron line, Cowes, UK.
The first warning signal is at 1100 (first start 1110) and the fleet is divided into seven groups, each starting at a different time and heading west down the Solent toward the Needles.
The live streamed Start Show, with commentary from on and off the water, begins at 1030 BST. Expert commentators: Pip Hare, Abby Ehler, Matt Sheahan, Louay Habib and Simon Vigar, will be talking us through all the action from the start of the world's biggest offshore yacht race, with analysis and interviews from competitors and organisers in build-up to the race.
Right on schedule yesterday, the British government announced the easing of restrictions for visitors from France returning to the UK. Up to that point, due to France’s unique ‘Amber Plus’ designation, visitors to the UK coming from France had to quarantine upon their arrival. For the most part, this will no longer be the case thanks to the latest legislation, which will see France’s COVID status being downgraded to ‘Amber’. Opportunely the new rules will come into effect from 0400 BST on Sunday 8th August coinciding exactly with start day for the Rolex Fastnet Race.
While Cowes Week is taking centre stage on the Solent at present, final preparations are being made for Sunday’s start (8th August) of the world’s biggest offshore yacht race, the Rolex Fastnet Race.
This year, for the first time since the race was first held in 1925, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event will finish in Cherbourg, France rather than Plymouth. However, this 49th edition of the race will start as usual from Cowes, where the first warning signal for the multihull classes will be given at 1100, followed at 15 minute intervals by the IMOCAs/Class40s and then the five IRC classes starting with IRC Four and finishing with IRC Zero at 1230.
The Ultimes, the world’s fastest offshore racing yachts, may be the pace-setters in next month’s Rolex Fastnet Race with the potential to get around even the new elongated course in less than a day – but not far behind them will be the MOCRA class, mostly racing in considerably more comfort.
Since the MOCRA (Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association) was set up in 1969, multihulls, both catamarans and trimarans, have evolved hugely. Back in the day many of these vessels were often either floating caravans with performance to match, or feather-weight racing machines of questionable construction and engineering. In the intervening decades massive steps forward in design, composite construction and structural engineering and lighter weight everything, from mast tip to foil bottom, have transformed these craft. Today once over the aesthetic differences between monohulls and multihulls, and aware that they can in ultimate circumstances capsize, modern multihulls can simply offer more of everything – dramatically more performance or more space and often both - compared to an equivalent monohull.
Relishing the opportunity to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race more than most is British IMOCA and former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Sam Davies.
Although today she lives in France with her partner (and fellow IMOCA competitor) Romain Attanasio and their child Ruben, Sam grew up in Portsmouth with parents who sailed. The Fastnet Race influenced her greatly. “As a kid I remember watching all the hi-tech boats, the Admiral’s Cuppers and maxis, the best of the best boats there, all out preparing for the Fastnet. Hearing the stories from the 1979 race made it all the more awe-inspiring. And it seemed just so far! How could people do a race that long?!”
It wasn’t until she was 19 and in her gap year that she took part in her first Rolex Fastnet Race, sailing on a Jeanneau Sun Legende 41 belonging to Tim and Liz Mitchell, parents of Gerry, today a top pro sailor and multiple World Champion. Essentially the crew was amateur with the Mitchell parents on board for every race and Sam went through the whole Fastnet Race qualification process with them. “At the time, for sure, it was the longest distance I’d sailed non-stop in my life. It was a good family-owned racing boat, the husband and wife sailed all the races together. We did all the RORC races and qualifiers. It was very competitive, but in some races we did sit down for dinner at the table with red wine.”
Unfortunately there remain fewer opportunities for female sailors to get into yacht racing than there are for men. To this day Sam is grateful for the Mitchells for providing her with her start. Occasionally Gerry would bring along hot-shot friends who were preparing with him for the Whitbread Round The World Race aboard Dolphin & Youth. Getting to meet them, as well as other leading lights of the sport, while she was on her internship with yacht designer Rob Humphreys, got her her first rides on board racing yachts. This led to her getting signed up to crew on Tracy Edwards’ Royal & SunAlliance Jules Verne Trophy attempt in 1998, and on the road to becoming one of the world’s leading offshore sailors.
Sam still remembers how important the Rolex Fastnet Race was to her development as a sailor. Because of this she feels huge pride when she has returned either as skipper of an IMOCA or of the Volvo Ocean Race entry Team SCA. As she reflects: “My team laughs at me because there is never a question of about whether we’re going to do the Fastnet. It is not possible not to do the Fastnet! We have to do it! It is in my country! I feel be really proud to be there with the IMOCA fleet.”
“It is not easy to sail our boats doublehanded in the Solent so it is in everyone best interests to send us off among the first so that we don’t run anyone over trying to manoeuvre our crazy boats in such a small space. It is great to be welcomed by the RORC and to be able to take part.”
This year once again Sam will return on her IMOCA Initiatives Coeur, originally the boat in which Armel le Cleac’h finished second in the 2012 Vendée Globe as Banque Populaire (by coincidence fellow British skipper Pip Hare has acquired the subsequent Banque Populaire IMOCA, in which le Cleac’h won the 2016 Vendée Globe).
All the IMOCAs in the Rolex Fastnet Race are racing doublehanded. With Sam will be French offshore legend and Solitaire du Figaro winner Nicolas Lunven who finished the last Rolex Fastnet Race in second place, sailing PRB with Kevin Escoffier. This will provide them with the chance both to train and qualify for this autumn’s doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre, but according to Sam, the IMOCAs are not coming purely for that. “It is the first race since the Vendée Globe in our doublehanded season and it is the only one before the TJV, so everyone is watching everyone else.”
“And it is just too long to be a sprint. You can’t do it without sleeping. Getting out of the Solent is one of the hardest bits, then it is partly a coastal course, there are different legs, and you’ll have different sail configurations and different weather. It won’t be one sail or one type of conditions in which ‘this boat will win’. The course is perfectly set so that you will get a bit of everything.”
While the traditionalist in Sam regrets moving the finish from Plymouth, she acknowledges, and very much has first hand experience of, the huge difference in the general public’s reaction to offshore racing in France, compared to the UK. “It is great that a race as big as the Fastnet can benefit from that positive side of the French loving offshore racing. I’m sure the race village in Cherbourg will be amazing and I know the Brits like coming to France. I am excited to see what it is going to be like. I did the Drheam-Cup which finished in Cherbourg a few years ago - I have good memories, not just because I won the race and beat Yann Eliès, but of the race village and all being locked into the town centre harbour where there were tons of public and a great atmosphere. I am convinced the Rolex Fastnet Race going there will be a success.”
Looking at the IMOCA competition, Sam notes that her friends Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux have been out training a lot on 11th Hour Racing (the former 2016 vintage Hugo Boss), while a lot of the skippers who competed in the last Vendée Globe know their boats well from the race, having either completed the solo non-stop lap or retiring to effect repairs, their boats now all the more reliable.
Sadly Sam is among the latter category after a collision off South Africa, which caused the sides of Initiatives Coeur’s keel box to buckle in compression. “The boat folded up around the keel,” she explains. “I was terrified because it was the same crash as Hugo Boss and I was worried that the keel might fall out.”
Fortunately precautions had already been taken: “After their incident Hugo Boss made a really good report about their accident and, from that, all the engineers, Guillaume Verdier and all the yacht designers went through the existing boats and told us what reinforcements to make around the bearings. Thank goodness we did that, and thanks to Hugo Boss for that, because following their experience my keel didn’t fall out. But I saw the panels destroyed, which was pretty worrying, because you have water coming into the boat through the keel box. At least I had water tight bulkheads around that so it wasn’t so much of an issue and I could see my keel bearings were still intact.”
While she has no idea what Initiatives Coeur hit, with the benefit of a degree in Engineering from Cambridge University, Sam has a better idea of the forces involved than most. “We worked out that I probably got about 3G in the crash. I was doing 20 knots when the boat stopped dead. It made a big noise…as did my ribs when they cracked… It was probably a good thing the panels broke because they absorbed the energy, so there was little other damage. There was too much damage to the keel fin to carry on - I could only abandon the Vendée Globe.”
“Thanks to Southern Wind Shipyard: After I crashed, they started to build the panels to replace ones I had destroyed and had built those before I even got to Cape Town. So they sponsored us and gave us a boat builder, Leroy. Although it was big work, we did it in four days and we didn’t have to do anything to that area when we got the boat back to Lorient.”
Despite abandoning the race, Sam nonetheless continued and heroically completed the course.
One reason for Sam’s continuing was her unique fundraising campaign with Initiatives Coeur. This works very simply and costs members of the public nothing: For every new fan or follower of Initiatives Coeur's Facebook or Instagram pages, Initiative Coeur's trio of sponsors – K-LINE, Initiatives and Vinci Energies - each donate 1 Euro to the Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque charity which helps save children with heart defects. To date between Sam and, the campaign’s previous skipper Tanguy de LaMotte, they have saved 314 children’s lives There can be few better incentives to be at sea. The fundraising continues during the Rolex Fastnet Race.
As to IMOCA form, Sam reckons that honours will probably go to any of the most recent generation boats. This includes the Juan K design, Arkéa Paprec sailed by Sébastien Simon and Yann Eliès. Charlie Dalin on Apivia was first home in the Vendée Globe only to lose out to Yannick Bestaven’s Maître CoQ which was awarded time compensation for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier. Dalin is sailing with the 2018 Route du Rhum winner Paul Meilhat with whom Sam sailed two years ago. Sam also tips the 2019 IMOCA winner Jérémie Beyou who returns, once again sailing on Charal, with his long term co-skipper Christopher Pratt.
Of more direct interest for Sam is the unofficial fight between the older generation IMOCAs such as her Initiatives Coeur, and especially those with foil upgrades. Latest to this group is her partner Romain Attanasio, who finished the Vendée Globe in 14th place aboard the 2008 vintage Pure-Best Western. He has since received backing for a fresh campaign from Fortinet-Best Western and has bought the 2016 generation Edmond de Rothschild, which as Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, Boris Herrmann completed the last Vendée Globe. Others in this group include the Vendee Globe winner Yannick Bestaven, plus another female skipper Isabelle Joschke, and Fabien Delahaye on MACSF.
While IMOCA honours will probably go to a new generation boat, Sam says that the older boats are in with a chance, depending upon conditions. For example a prolonged beat to the Fastnet Rock would favour the older foilers or even the non-foilers and this would also be the case in lighter conditions when the giant foils on some of the newer generation boats only represent drag. Some of the newer foiling IMOCAs are geared up squarely for the Vendée Globe and although they don’t point well, upwind at 65° TWA they are foiling at 20 knots.
“If we get a light spot or a tricky spot, there are certain conditions where we can keep up or catch up with them - 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,” says Sam. “That is the good thing about the Rolex Fastnet Race - because it is coastal and tricky racing, and there’s tides and it’s summer, so there will probably be light winds at some point – it is hard to predict the winning boat especially as the boats are more reliable now and they know them really well. For our group of next generation optimised boats, I think we can jump on some new ones that aren't so reliable and have a few issues. But if we are all powered up, it is hard for our generation to keep up with the new ones.”
Newer boats typically have larger, more extreme foils as Sam observes: “We have this gap - as soon as you get to 15-16 knots of boat speed you do 18-20 knots. We never do 16-17 knots. But on the new boats that is more like 13 knots, and then they’ll suddenly be doing 20! I remember Charal doing that two years ago in the Fastnet - they got on their foils before everyone else and they did a horizon job.”
As usual in recent editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race it will also be interesting to see how close the doublehanded IMOCAs are to the larger, full crewed monohulls in the IRC Zero.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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.”
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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.