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.
Rolex Fastnet Race News
World’s biggest offshore yacht race starts on Sunday
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.
MOCRA - the ultimate racer cruisers
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.
Sam Davies back in her favourite race
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.
Rolex Fastnet Race: A Class Apart
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.
Dare to Dream - IRC Four in the Rolex Fastnet Race
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.
Latest Entry List Here
Diversity in IRC Three for the Rolex Fastnet Race
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).
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.
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IRC Two: Friends and family from every corner of Europe
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.”
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.
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French are the pace setters in IRC One
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 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.
Rolex Fastnet Race’s historic battle for line honours
A major clash of the titans will take place between two of the world’s fastest maxi-monohulls at August’s Rolex Fastnet Race.
Female participation strengthens in the Rolex Fastnet Race
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.
Vendée Globe heroes join Rolex Fastnet Race
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.
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.
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!”
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
More information: www.rorc.org and www.rolexfastnetrace.com