In the 15 years since the Class40 box rule was unveiled, an unprecedented 169 examples from early racer cruisers, to fully wicked-up grand prix race boats have been built, making it the most successful 40 foot racing yacht of all time.
Andy Rice reviews the competition in classes IRC Zero, One and Two
Perhaps it is because people are becoming increasingly time poor, or because it neatly side-steps the problem of keeping a large crew together, but one area of offshore racing undeniably gaining popularity is doublehanding.
This unique discipline of our sport has been recognised by World Sailing with the announcement that a ‘Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore’ event will be introduced to the Olympics for Paris 2024.
Over the last few editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the IRC Two Handed class has shown steady growth from 45 entries in 2013 to 53 in 2015 and 57 in in the last race. At the time of writing, 63 doublehanded competitors were entered this year.
The range of boat performance in IRC Two Handed spans James Heald's Swan 45 Nemesis (although the longest boat is American Mark Stevens’ Hinckley 51 Kiva, a recent arrival in the Transatlantic Race 2019), down to Will Sayer's Sigma 33 Elmarleen. In between there are Sun Fast 3200s and 3600s, JPK 10.10s and 10.80s plus J/122s, J/109s and J/105s and A-35s plus, among others, Sigmas, Swans, Figaro IIs and Figaro 3s.
While crew lists for August’s Rolex Fastnet Race are far from finalised, currently just over 10% of those competing in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial voyage from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock will be women. While this is a long way from parity between the sexes, it is at least a step up from races say 20 years ago when the equivalent figure had yet to reach 5%.
To date only one female skipper has won the Rolex Fastnet Race – French solo sailor Catherine Chabaud (with a full crew) on board her IMOCA 60 Whirlpool-Europe 2 in 1999. Dona Bertarelli claimed line honours in both 2013 and 2015 with her partner Yann Guichard on board the 40m maxi trimaran Spindrift 2.
One reason for increased female participation, not just in the Rolex Fastnet Race, but also sailing generally, is thanks to female role models from Tracy Edwards and her high profile Maiden, Royal & Sun Alliance and Maiden II campaigns and, before her, Dame Naomi James and Clare Francis’ round the world voyages. Since then there have been the phenomenal, headline grabbing exploits of Ellen MacArthur and the round the world voyages of Dee Caffari. In France there has also been a wealth of accomplished female offshore sailors from the late Florence Arthaud, outright winner of the 2000 Route du Rhum to Isabelle Autissier, and an exponentially large group of contemporary sailors benefitting from their ground work. There are similar, albeit fewer, examples across the globe.
Among the 300-350 boats in this August's record-sized Rolex Fastnet Race fleet, many of the 3,000 crew members are competing to fulfil a personal challenge or to tick the world's largest offshore race off their 'bucket list', but several crews are also using the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event to convey a special message, or support a chosen charity.
Unless there is a flat calm, it is very likely that the outright record will fall in this August’s edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premium event, the Rolex Fastnet Race. For leading the charge in the world’s biggest offshore yacht race, with a fleet of 300-350 competing, will be the world’s fastest offshore boats – the Ultimes.
While the main kudos in the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from class wins or ultimately the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall IRC winner, who will simply be first home to Plymouth often turns into an engaging, heavyweight bout.
Among the monohull contenders this year, in one corner is the Hong Kong newcomer - Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag, skippered by Australian David Witt with a crew featuring many of the sailors from their Volvo Ocean Race campaign. In the other is George David’s familiar Juan K-designed Rambler 88, a boat that has been tweaked to within an inch of its life by its fastidious crew including many former Alinghi/Team New Zealand America’s Cup heroes.
One of the largest fleets of IMOCA 60s ever gathered is due to set off on the Rolex Fastnet Race on Saturday, 3rd August.
The most impressive collection of offshore racing hardware from across the globe is set to gather off Cowes for the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race on 3 August.
Entries for 340 available places in the RORC’s classic 600 miler snapped up in under five minutes.
Plymouth City Council and the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) have confirmed that Plymouth will host the finish of the 2019 Rolex Fastnet race.
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