Smallest boat, biggest message

The Rogers family's Contessa 32, Assent, and crew before the start of the 48th Rolex Fastnet Race The Rogers family's Contessa 32, Assent, and crew before the start of the 48th Rolex Fastnet Race

A key part of the famous Rogers Lymington yacht design/boat building dynasty are sailing what they describe as a ‘museum piece’ in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. The sons of Jeremy Rogers, creator of the Contessa range - Kit who has taken over the reins of the family firm and renowned yacht designer Simon plus their respective eldest, Jonah and Hatty - are sailing the 1972 vintage Contessa 32 Assent.

This is notable since Assent is this year not only the lowest rated boat across the entire 320 boat fleet racing under IRC for the Fastnet Challenge Trophy, but she was also the last boat home in the 1979 Fastnet which is being especially remembered this year as it is the 40th anniversary of that tragic race which cost 19 lives. Speaking volumes, not just about the Contessa 32 as a boat but also her then skipper Willy Ker and his son Alan - Assent was the one and only boat in Class Five during the 1979 race to finish out of 58 starters.

Assent’s participation in this year is also to remember Willy Ker who passed away only on 13th July and whose funeral sadly the Rogers will miss as it is taking place this week.

Aside from her part in the 1979 Fastnet race, retired Major Ker was also renowned for taking Assent multiple times to the Arctic and Antarctic. For decades Ker held the unofficial record for having sailed the furthest north in a sailing boat. During his escapades he mapped much of the north of Greenland.

With the next generation, Hatty and Jonah, sailing their first Rolex Fastnet Races, as Simon Rogers puts it: “We are writing the next chapter of Assent.” Hatty for example has been part of the RYA youth squad and at present mainly sails Etchells, and has only recently been introduced to offshore racing: “It is a bit different doing offshore stuff. I did the Morgan Cup which was good fun. I had exams during the De Guingand Bowl, but there was 40 knots on the nose for that...” she says. Appropriately Hatty is loosely following in the family tradition and has currently completed her first year studying for a BEng in Ship Science and Engineering at Southampton University.

However even for Simon this will be his first Rolex Fastnet Race in almost 25 years, although he says he did five prior to this. Professionally he also has two of his most successful designs taking part in this race – one of his Class40s is being campaigned by Philippe Poupon’s daughter Ursault while his Carbon Ocean Yachts 82 Aegir has recently completed the Transatlantic Race 2019 from Newport, RI to Cowes and is in the Rolex Fastnet Race being campaigned by New York Clarke Murphy and his family (and a crew that includes Vendée Globe skipper Dee Caffari). Aegir’s IRC TCC is almost twice that of Assent, Simon notes.

Assent will not be the only Contessa 32 competing. There is also Christophe Declercq’s Lecas from Belgium which Simon says “is very well sailed”. Lecas has a higher rating than Assent (but then do all the boats in the race) and this is because Assent still remains equipped as Ker had her, for touring high latitudes. This includes having a ladder up the rig and a now valuable all-brass two burner Primus stove, compete with paraffin primer, which was apparently the cause of the only occasion during Ker’s long tenure when the boat nearly went up in smoke.

“Lighting the primus shove is exciting - it nails you if you don’t get it right!” says Simon. “That is why dad doesn’t have any eyebrows…” quips Hatty.

Despite the weight disadvantage, they will not be cruising. As Simon puts it: “We will be as competitive as we possibly can - that is in our DNA and if we get a sniff, or an opportunity, to do well, we will push hard. But the reality is we are 700kg heavier than any other Contessa 32.”

Aside from the big reasons for competing,  Simon and Kit also simply want to introduce the next generation of Rogers to offshore racing. However they are doing this slowly:

“We are going old school,” says Simon. “If they were going to get freeze dried from day one, they might not go offshore again…”