With the Rolex Fastnet Race this year celebrating its 50th edition, many past overall winners and winning boats are returning.
Most significant of those who have previously lifted the race’s Fastnet Challenge Cup is the 2021 IRC Overall winner, Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise. She led a superb effort when, after a decade of French domination, Britain finally wrestled back control of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event with a ‘perfect’ scoreline, winning the top three spots under IRC Overall (Sunrise, plus with RORC Commodore James Neville’s Ino XXX and Pata Negra) just as France had done in 2013 and 2015.
In December, Sunrise competed in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, winning her class by almost six hours and finishing 25th overall, despite breaking her boom. While there were plans to sell the boat there, being unable to find a suitable replacement has meant that Sunrise is being shipped back to the UK for a campaign culminating in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
“I just love the race,” admits Kneen. “I would love to win it for a second time. I don't start any race not intending to win. We have the boat that can do it and the team is so well gelled together, I am absolutely going to give it 100%.” However, he is concerned about the competition, especially all the new hardware (reference last release): “The standard will be amazing. It will be incredible to watch - it could bring a whole new level of performance.” Aside from Sunrise, Kneen reckons one of the biggest threats will be the RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim’s NMD 54 Teasing Machine, recent winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the RORC Transatlantic Race.
Kneen hopes to have Sunrise back for the De Guingand Bowl. He intends to race with his 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race winning crew, assuming all are still available. Since the 2021 race, Sunrise has continued to be optimised and, for example, now carries a watermaker (so they can carry less water). They are looking to fit a spinnaker pole/symmetric kite - useful if it is a run to Cherbourg. “Last time we were very lucky we had the perfect wind angle downwind for us on starboard - 10° different and we wouldn't have won the race,” says Kneen.
Pascal and Alexis Loisin became the first doublehanded crew to win the race overall with their JPK 10.10 Night and Day in the 2013 race. Alexis (right) is returning for a third race on the JPK 10.30 Leon © Tom Gruitt/RORC
As previously reported, London-based Swede Niklas Zennström, who won back-to-back races in 2009 and 2011 aboard his all-conquering Maxi 72 Rán II is returning with a Carkeek-designed CF520 Rán 8.
Many past winners are also back from France. Didier Gaudoux won in 2017 on Lann Ael 2, but for this race has replaced his JPN39 with a more modern, powerful, semi-scow, dreadnought-bowed, twin rudder affair: Lann Ael 3, a MN35 design by Sam Manuard et Bernard Nivelt.
Cherbourg’s own son, Alexis Loison, who in 2013 with his father Pascal on their JPK 10.10 Night and Day became the first doublehanded crew to win the Rolex Fastnet Race outright. He is again entered on the JPK 10.30 Leon. Loison has always sailed this race doublehanded and of the last five has won IRC Two Handed four times.
Another returning French winner is Géry Trentesaux, who in 2015 claimed the Fastnet Challenge Cup in supreme style with his JPK 10.80 Courrier Du Leon. Since winning eight years ago, Trentesaux, who is Vice President of the Yacht Club de France, competed in 2021 aboard the Class40 Courrier Redman, in 2019 on his own JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé (winning IRC Two) and in 2017 on the TS42 catamaran Guyader Gastronomie.
Since his first in 1977, this year’s race will be Trentesaux’s 17th. In this he will race his own boat, which will be a Jason Ker-designed Sydney 43 GTS. Under her previous owner, as Imagine, she won the Rolex Giraglia offshore race under IRC overall in 2021 and in 2019.
According to Trentesaux, his new steed is to be rechristened Long Courrier, as he only intends to race her offshore. “I was looking for a competitive boat and everybody said that she was a good boat. She is quite fast, but I have a lot of work to do on her.”
Trentesaux hopes to regather his previous race winning team, but as the boat is bigger may have to bump the crew up to 10-12. His intention is to bring Long Courrier to the Solent for the RORC Series, starting with the Cervantes Trophy.
A past Rear Commodore of the RORC, Trentesaux is keen on being part of the 50th edition of one of his favourite races and has long term plans for his new boat including the RORC’s centenary season in 2025.
Several of the winning boats mentioned are returning but with new owners. Trentesaux’s 2015 steed is now Paul Archer’s Play and won IRC Two in last year’s Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race. Lann Ael 2 is Xanaboo, campaigned by Bruce Huber as a replacement for his J/112e, while the Loison family’s JPK 10.10 is now Romain Gibon’s Abracadabra.
A blast from the past competing this year is the famous Ron Holland-designed IOR 40 Imp. Built in Florida in 1976 for American owner David Allen, the following year Imp was top scoring boat for the 2nd placed USA Admiral’s Cup team and won the Fastnet Race outright. She also completed the disastrous 1979 Fastnet Race taking the USA Admiral’s Cup team to another second placed finish. Since then, perhaps because of her stripy 1970s green paintjob, she has passed through several significant Irish owners and is today considered something of an Irish national maritime treasure.
Since 1994, Imp has been owned by Cork-based George Radley. He has continued Imp’s winning ways: coming first in the 1996 and 2000 Round Ireland Races and nearly winning again in 2002. Imp also won her class in the 1987 Fastnet Race, with Radley repeating this in 1997. “We were sixth overall out of 268 boats. I’m not saying she is going to do it again this time but she has always had a good run in the Fastnet.”
Radley and a semi-shorthanded crew raced Imp in the IRC class of the 2006 ARC and then in the Pineapple Cup from Miami to Jamaica followed by two editions of Charleston Race Week before the boat shipped back to the UK for an intended refit that never happened. Finally Radley in 2017 got Imp back to Ireland on a lowloader and began the overdue refit, which was completed in 2022: “I just put new Harken deck gear and winches on her and I made the foretriangle a little smaller because she had 60sqm headsails - I can’t get anyone to pull those in anymore! You can’t even see where you are going!
“Around the cans she is a handful but in any offshore stuff, she is still able to go, believe it or not. Down to the Fastnet and back we held our time against a J/122,” Radley reflects. Part of the reason for entering the Rolex Fastnet Race is that Radley’s son and bowman, also called George, is enjoying it just as much as his dad. “He just lives for it. I am trying to bring him along.”
Of a similar vintage and returning again in 2023 is the 1977 Swan 65 ketch Desperado. Richard Loftus has owned her since 1986 and aboard Desperado won the race overall in 1989 under CHS. A regular competitor, Desperado is renowned for her unique traditions such as a black tie dinner while rounding the Fastnet Rock and having their pet ape and mascot Joe Powder on board.
1977 Swan 65 ketch Desperado of Cowes owned by Richard Loftus won the 1989 Fastnet Race under CHS © Daniel Forster/ROLEX
The 2023 edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event, today the world’s largest offshore yacht race with more than 400 yachts expected on the start line, will set sail from Cowes on 22 July, and for a second time will finish in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France.