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In 2013, Alexis Loison and his father Pascal were the first doublehanded team to win the Rolex Fastnet Race. This year, Alexis will race on the  JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/ In 2013, Alexis Loison and his father Pascal were the first doublehanded team to win the Rolex Fastnet Race. This year, Alexis will race on the JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/

Doublehanders on the rise

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.

James Heald will be racing his Swan 45 Nemesis doublehanded with Peter Doggart © Tim Wright/photoaction.comJames Heald will be racing his Swan 45 Nemesis doublehanded with Peter Doggart © Tim Wright/

A sad omission this year are French father and son team, Pascal and Alexis Loison, and their JPK 10.10 Night & Day. In 2013, they became the first, and to date only, doublehanded crew to win the Rolex Fastnet Race outright and have since dominated IRC Two Handed, finishing second in 2015 and winning it again in 2017. However, this year it is all change, reports son Alexis: “My father has sold Night & Day, so this year I am participating in the Rolex Fastnet Race with Jean-Pierre Kelbert (JPK himself) aboard the latest addition to the range, the JPK 10.30.” Meanwhile Pascal is buying a JPK 10.80, but only for cruising.

Alexis, who is also a top Figaro sailor, points out that the 10.30 has been designed to be sailed shorthanded and so, for example, it has water ballast (290lt each side), more optimised for reaching and running. “I am very happy to sail with Jean-Pierre because we are friends,” Loison concludes. Their yacht, Léon, is one of three new JPK 10.30s competing along with Jean-Baptiste Vezin and Yves-Paul Robert on Very Good Trip and Gerard Quentot’s Blue Skies.

As a warm-up they competed in the Cowes-Dinard St Malo finishing second in IRC Two Handed to Francois Moriceau and Christophe Waubant on the JPK 10.10 Mary.

They are part of a powerful group of French doublehanders competing this year, including RORC racing regulars, all aboard JPK 10.80s: Marc Alperovitch on Timeline, Jean-Eudes Renier on Shaitan and Louis-Marie Dussere on Raging-bee².

Regular RORC doublehanded racers - Louis-Marie Dussere's PK 10.80 Raging-bee² © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comRegular RORC doublehanded racers - Louis-Marie Dussere's PK 10.80 Raging-bee² © Paul Wyeth/

Back again are the other podium placers from the IRC Two Handed class in the last race, including Dutch aces Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre once again on Ajeto! (one of two Dutch J/122s competing this year) and Rob Craigie and Deb Fish aboard their trusty Sun Fast 3600 Bellino. Craigie and Fish, who were top mixed crew in 2017, have been sailing together since well before it became a fashionable Olympic discipline.

“We have more experience with the boat and her performance since the last Fastnet and we are really looking forward to another tough and good competition, especially after becoming Dutch Two Handed champions for a fifth time in a row,” says van der Starre. “The RORC North Sea Race went very well for us, beating Gery Trentesaux with his JPK 11.80 in IRC 2 and also winning IRC/ORC 2H.”

Dutch two handed champions, Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre will return to the Rolex Fastnet Race on J/122 Ajeto!   © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comDutch two handed champions, Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre will return to the Rolex Fastnet Race on J/122 Ajeto! © Paul Wyeth/

So, what is the attraction of racing doublehanded? Deb Fish has been racing offshore for around 20 years and shorthanded for 12 and with Rob Craigie for the last seven. “It is more of a challenge,” she explains. “I’d done the Fastnet and the ARC a couple of times fully crewed plus the delivery back a couple of times. Racing doublehanded is good, because you are always busy. You have to do everything.”

Rob Craigie agrees: “You are very much more involved with the boat. With a whole crew – you are usually sitting on the rail, which is a bit dull and I didn’t like that.”

Like any partnership, vital to doublehanding is there being the ‘right’ dynamic between the two sailors, whether this is down to having a similar approach, commitment, degree of seriousness etc. As Fish points out: “You don’t want to be dragging someone along. So, it is like ‘If you need me, wake me up. If you tack, I’ll change sides…’”

Rob Craigie and Deb Fish were top mixed crew in 2017 aboard their trusty Sun Fast 3600 Bellino © Rolex/Carlo BorlenghiRob Craigie and Deb Fish were top mixed crew in 2017 aboard their trusty Sun Fast 3600 Bellino © Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

For Christopher Preston, sailing with Austrian yacht design student Felix Trattner on the J/109 Jubilee, this will be his tenth Rolex Fastnet Race but his first doublehanded. “I did the Round Britain and Ireland non-stop in 2000 doublehanded and absolutely loved it,” he says. “It was a challenging and interesting race. I loved the combination of helming and tactics and organisation.” Having sailed Jubilee fully crewed with his old Clipper crew in 2017, racing it doublehanded is something of a bucket list affair. Over the winter he and Trattner has been optimising the J/109 for doublehanding in terms of the sail set-up and internal ballasting.

Given the relatively fresh news about Olympic sailing’s latest discipline, a British crew has been fast to start their campaign. Hannah Diamond and Henry Bomby start their campaign for Paris 2024’s Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race aboard a Sun Fast 3300 Fastrak XII, lent to them by UK Jeanneau importer Sea Ventures.

World speed sailing record holder, Paul Larsen joins Pip Hare on Superbigou - one of 24 IMOCA 60s taking part in this year's  Rolex Fastnet Race © Pip Hare RacingWorld speed sailing record holder, Paul Larsen joins Pip Hare on Superbigou - one of 24 IMOCA 60s taking part in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race © Pip Hare Racing

Then there is the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IMOCA 60 fleet, which currently stands at 24 boats, including many of the world’s top shorthanded offshore sailors. They are all racing the Rolex Fastnet doublehanded as training for this autumn’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

Sam Davies Initiatives Coeur Sam Davies Initiatives Coeur

Women in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race

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.

While role models provide the inspiration and the motivation for women, thereby creating the demand, there still needs to be opportunities to go sailing. Fortunately these are increasing, albeit too slowly, for those with all levels of experience.

For first timers and newbies, there are more companies offering the chance to buy a berth on a boat doing the Rolex Fastnet Race as well as the required qualifying races. They offer essential training while those expecting to make a longer term commitment to the sport can work their way up the syllabus of qualifications available from the RYA from Day Skipper up to Ocean Yachtmaster.

For women looking to get into sailing professionally the path remains hard, but again more opportunities are gradually becoming available when before they were close to being non-existent. Women’s sailing received a huge shot in the arm when a rule change for the last Volvo Ocean Race made it highly beneficial for teams to take at least two female sailors. Introducing such quotas or incentivising teams to take women or young sailors is something which is being slowly adopted elsewhere in competitive sailing. In last year’s IRC European Championship for example the RORC permitted teams with two 25 year olds or two females or one of each to sail with one extra crew. The RORC also has an Under 35 crew competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race on board Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise, which includes two female crew.

Below we publish the case studies and views of six female sailors. They range from the top pros down to first timers:

Sam Davies - two time Vendee Globe sailor and former skipper of the all-female Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Hannah Diamond – former Olympic campaigner and Volvo Ocean Race sailor, now embarking on an Olympic campaign for the new mixed two handed offshore class for Paris 2024.

Laura Dillon – top Irish amateur female offshore racer, best known recently as the helm on Harry Heijst’s S&S 41 Winsome, who will be competing in the Fastnet four up on a Figaro Beneteau 3.

Flic Gabbay – a businesswomen who came late to sailing, who will set off on her sixth Rolex Fastnet Race this year competing in IRC Two Handed.

Catherine Keohane – accomplished cruiser and newbie racer, setting out on her first Rolex Fastnet Race on a chartered boat with the aiming of skippering her own campaign next time.

Nannette Netal – sailor from San Diego, USA who has bought a berth on the Farr 60 Venomous and is competing in her first Rolex Fastnet Race.

Sam Davies, 44 (GBR) IMOCA 60 Initiative Coeurs

sam davies initiatives coeur

One of the most high profile champions of women’s sailing is Sam Davies, who is back for a second Rolex Fastnet Race (although she has done many more) aboard her IMOCA 60, newly fitted with enormous lifting foils. This she will race doublehanded with Paul Meilhat, winner of the IMOCA 60 class in the last Route du Rhum. Aside from two participations in the Vendée Globe, Davies famously skippered Team SCA, the last all-female crew to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race. This latter campaign subsequently spawned the Magenta Project, which has set itself up to be the worldwide organisation enabling women to have equal access and opportunities in the sport of sailing.

Davies is encouraged by the women’s participation in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race but says there is still a long way to go. However she is against requiring boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race to sail with a quota of women, as they did for example in the last Volvo Ocean Race. “It shouldn’t be forced because the Fastnet isn’t any old race and you need to be capable and there is no point in just taking more women for the sake of taking them. It is important that the women who do it are team players in each crew, that they are there on the crew to do their job and do it well.” She believes that if this happens then women’s participation will continue to grow steadily.  

In solo long distance offshore racing, women have historically achieved more success on the same playing field as men compared to any other discipline within sailing. Davies maintains that this is because it requires more mental strength and endurance than muscles. “If you do a short 24 hour race, it is harder to stay competitive because of all the manoeuvres, but the further you go offshore and longer the race, and the more it is about pushing your body to its limits, the more equal it becomes. Your manoeuvres take longer, but it is about your mental strength and doing things at the right time and not getting so tired that your brain stops working. If you are good at the endurance side, you can get your priorities right and you can make big gains. Our IMOCA 60 boats are very violent so it is about being able to sail them at 100% while managing your sleep and nutrition while going really fast…”

 While oddly there were no female skippers in the last Vendée Globe, there could be as many as seven of the 30 entries in the next race in 2020. Of these three will be British - Davies plus Miranda Merron on Campagne de France and Pip Hare, all of whom are competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in the IMOCA 60 class along with Alexia Barrier with Ireland’s Joan Mulloy on board4myplanet; Clarisse Crémer, who is skippering Banque Populaire with former Vendee Globe winner Armel le Cleac’h and Isabelle Joschke on MACSF.

Davies recommends that the best way into this elite end of the sport is the same way as she did – ie learning the ropes in the Mini and Figaro classes, especially as both fleets are now largely foil born.

Hannah Diamond (GBR), 29, Fastrak XII, Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300

hannah diamond and henry bomby

One of the joys of being a former Volvo Ocean Race competitor is that you get to go on some of the best new rides and in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race they won’t come much newer than Fastrak XII, the first of Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300s in the UK. This has been lent by Nigel Colley of UK Jeanneau importer, Sea Ventures, to two sailors from the last Volvo Ocean Race Hannah Diamond (ex-Vestas 11th Hour Racing) and Henry Bomby, who sailed with Dee Caffari on Turn the Tide on Plastic.

While this is a good opportunity to put the new model through its paces, the longer term aim of Diamond and Bomby’s partnership is mounting a campaign for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in the new ‘Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat’ class.

The latest Jeanneau could be a contender. “It fits the long list of criteria and I know that Jeanneau are keen to put it forwards for selection,” says Diamond. “It has all the things you’d think you would need to be a decent boat. Plus Jeanneau is set up to produce a fleet of one design boats.”

The new 3300 fits between Jeanneau’s 3200 and 3600 models and is designed by Daniel Andrieu and Guillaume Verdier to be sailed doublehanded with features like optional twin 200lt water ballast tanks and twin rudders as standard, plus IRC-friendly features such as a fin keel.

“We haven’t had to change it much for the Fastnet,” continues Diamond. “Everything is led back to the cockpit nicely. It has water ballast which makes a massive difference with only two of you on board. There are lots of different sail configurations and it is very manageable with just two people.”

Looking at the 10% figure for women’s participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race, Diamond says she expected the figure to be higher and she believes it is in other areas of yacht racing, such as inshore racing on the Solent. “Maybe it will take a few more years to filter through to the offshore.”

Having come from the mixed sailing environment of the Volvo Ocean Race, Diamond says she believes that the difference between the sexes is less relevant than the physical size of the individuals involved and their skill sets. “There are so many people who shouldn’t be limited by their gender because they may be physically strong or have technical/specialist knowledge that perhaps isn’t typical for their gender – so it goes both ways.”

However Diamond recognises that she became involved in the sport at a time when opportunities have been opening up for women such as the mixed Nacra 17 catamaran she campaigned for Rio 2016 and the requirement for every boat to carry female crew in the last Volvo Ocean Race. However she points out that in the latter case it is not just women who have benefitted, but young offshore sailors too: “I have been fortunate with the timing, but I hope I have appreciated the opportunity enough to keep going forwards on my own merit.

“In the Volvo Ocean Race I got to sail thousands of miles with people I would never have otherwise have had the opportunity to sail with, people who I can now call my friends because they were my team mates - that is much bigger in terms of moving forwards with opportunities. Without the Volvo Ocean Race you never would have had the opportunity to sail alongside them and to gain their respect.

“But it is not easy for anyone. It is a privilege to be involved in professional sailing at a top level, regardless of whether you are male or female. It is easy to forget that we are incredibly fortunate that what we grew up doing as a hobby we have been able to turn into our profession.”

Laura Dillon (IRL), 40, Figaro Beneteau 3, Raw

laura dillon sailing in ireland 1

While she has been best known in RORC circles in recent years for helming Harry J. Heijst’s venerable S&S 41 Winsome, Laura Dillon is jumping into the fast lane for this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race and will be one of the four crew on board Irishman Conor Fogerty’s Figaro Beneteau 3. Raw will be one of three examples of the Figaro class’ newly introduced, partly foil-born 35 footer competing, including Will Harris’ Hive Energy.

In addition to sitting on the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Main Committee, Dillon is on the steering committee alongside Andrew Pindar and Dee Caffari, for the World Sailing Trust which is carrying out a ‘strategic review of women in sailing’. Over 15 year ago, Dillon worked on a ‘strategic review of the RYA’ when she was strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company, and hopes to apply similar methodology to this strategy review.

Dillon thought that women’s participation in fully crewed offshore racing would be more like 15-20% rather than 10%, but acknowledges there has been a considerable step-up over the generations. “When I did the Fastnet 14 years ago there were two girls on our boat out of 10 crew, but if I think back to when my father did all the ISORA races - there was hardly any women on any of the boats. But things are improving and there are more opportunities. We are on a good trajectory but a lot more needs to be done to increase participation in general across youth, female and overall participation.

“Clearly a big thing is getting more media coverage for very successful women like Sam Davies and Dee Caffari because successful role model shows people that they can go and do that.”

Getting to go offshore also works differently for different people. Dillon was partly born into it but also was a very competitive sailor from a young age, initially in dinghies, then a 1720 before being asked to drive a Beneteau First 40.7 and 44.7 in both the Round Ireland and Rolex Fastnet Races. For many, progression comes more through starting at the bow and working backwards.

Interestingly Dillon makes the point that rather than doggedly gunning for parity in participation between the sexes perhaps a natural point of equilibrium needs to be reached. She draws parallels between her sailing and business lives – where in the latter she has always seemed to operate in largely male-dominated fields – as an engineer, running her own company and currently in London in private equity. “None of these industries are going to get to 50-50 male-female in the short term but we can set more realistic targets. Maybe it should be 30-35% women. Maybe in offshore racing it will come down to self-selection, because perhaps it isn’t the comfiest thing to do, especially on a Figaro 3!”

But, she advises it will take a generation to increase the stats substantially. As more women enter the upper echelons of business, she believes this too will create more affluence among them and more boat-buying potential.

Dillon believes in quotas both in the board room and on boats, citing the example of the Volvo Ocean Race and how it has created a new pool of highly experienced offshore sailors that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. But she also acknowledges that not all women feel the same way. “Recently we put three RORC teams in for the Women’s Open Keelboat Championship and one of the responses I received from a lady was that ‘this is highly exclusive. I totally disagree with women-only events. Please never include me in this again’. So some women are very against women-only events.”

In past Rolex Fastnet Races there have been plenty of all-female crews. And this year is no exception with a first from Germany in the DK46 Tutima, skippered by Kirsten Harmstorf-Schönwitz, who has been leading all-female teams for the last 25 years and on board Tutima for the last 10, predominantly inshore in the ORC fleet. Dillon notes that one advantage of all-female teams is that it provides the opportunity for women to move around the boat. “They can helm when they might not get the opportunity to do so otherwise. It is a great thing to give people the opportunity to step up into roles they might not otherwise get to do.”

Wearing her RORC hat, Dillon says the club is being very supportive of women in sailing – she has donated a trophy for mixed crews while former Commodore Michael Boyd donated one for mixed Two-Handed crew. However she advises that while growing women’s sailing is a big issue, of larger consequence is ensuring that participation across the sport generally continues to increase. |

Felicity ‘Flic’ Gabbay (soon to be Clitherow, GBR), 67, Elan 380 Elixir

felicity flic gabbay

‘Flic’ Gabbay came to yacht racing only in her 50s but has since sailed the Rolex Fastnet Race five times, on three occasions on the Elan 380 she has owned for the last 11 years. Professionally she is Managing Partner in the global drug development partnership Transcrip Partners.

“I bought Elixir specifically just to do three races – the two handed Round Britain and Ireland, the Azores and Back and the Fastnet. But I have gone on racing her!” she says.

Of the Rolex Fastnet Races she has competed on her own boats, one was fully crewed, the other two doublehanded. “They both have their challenges. I think two handed is more challenging in terms of stamina obviously, but less challenging in terms of managing a crew. The reason I raced her in one Fastnet fully crewed, with a scratch crew, some of whom had never raced offshore before, was to prove to myself that I was capable of being an effective and fully responsible, fully crewed skipper.”

However today two handed is her preference, racing with her fiancé Bob Clitherow. They are to get married in November as she maintains that they wished to get the Rolex Fastnet Race squared away beforehand. Apparently the race isn’t some form of pre-marital test – they raced the last one together too.

Compared to the AZAB and the two handed Round Britain and Ireland Race, the Rolex Fastnet Race is very much shorter. “It is a very different kind of race,” says Gabbay. “First off – there is a lot of upwind which doesn’t suit Elixir because of her sail configuration we have. And it is questionable whether good old fashioned cruisers racers can compete with the more modern boats. Saying that, it is an enjoyable race.”

As to women’s participation in offshore racing, Gabbay firmly believes there should be more. “They should be encouraged. We also need to make sure that people understand that as you get older it doesn’t stop you being able to compete. In the AZAB and RB&IR, I was co-skipper two handed with relatively little experience and came fourth overall in both races. I think there are few sports where you can compete at that level as an older woman. I would like people to know that. It is really important and I don’t think there is anything particularly brave or mad about me!”

Catherine Keohane (GBR), 53, First 40 Sailplane

catherine keohane img 1313

While Lymington-based retired winemaker Catherine Keohane has sailed since she was about eight-years old and has since cruised in many parts of the world, covering some 20,000 miles, she only began racing keelboats three years ago. “I started with round the cans doing Hamble Winter Series and then signed up to the Fastnet and got hooked on offshore racing.” However she has competed in most of the international 600 mile offshore races and in the last six months this has included the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the RORC Caribbean 600 (a race she and her husband Patrick intend to return to next year).

Much of her sailing recently has been done with Performance Yacht Racing, honing her racing skills with their UK race squad program which she undertook with her husband and a friend, Katharina Morsch. In terms of qualifications she has currently got her Coastal Skipper and has done much of the Yachtmaster syllabus, but not got the ‘piece of paper’ yet.

She also raced with Annie O’Sullivan’s all-female crew Girls for Sail as she says “my previous experience with mixed crews wasn’t very pleasant and that put me off for a while.” However now she has had that experience, she maintains she wouldn’t do it again. “I come from a strong team sports background. With an all-female crew, as with an all-male crew, you have different personalities and characters. You have to drive the team forward using your skill sets and if you don’t have that on a boat, it can get frustrating and it can prove difficult and you can create scenarios which makes it unsafe. You need an even balance. We had a good girls team with an excellent skipper in Sophie O’Neill (who was the Professional First Mate on Qingdao), but I prefer mixed sailing.”

For this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race the Keohanes have chartered Robert Bottomley’s First 40 Sailplane and put the crew together to “see how it works. We have had a few ups and downs.” Their team is completing three qualifiers before the main event and the intention is to get as many of the race crew as possible to complete in these. “We are lucky that my husband and I have sailed with most of the crew beforehand and around 70% are very experienced offshore racers. In the first race we did as a crew we came fifth in our class and were 26th overall, an excellent result for us.”

She has employed the coaching skills of Nigel King with the aim of her skippering a boat in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race. King is helping to teach her what is required. She explains: “It is not just about being a good sailor. You need to act as a skipper when the ** hits the fan. You need to be there, leading by example, pushing your team without pushing them to the limit (ie when it can become dangerous). Nigel is a brilliant coach. We have worked out what needs to be done.”

For the Fastnet race itself they are looking at both IRC 2 and the Performance 40. “If we can get in the top one third of our class, I would be very happy with our achievement,” she says.

In terms of women’s sailing, her main inspiration has been Dee Caffari. “She really paved the way and others before and after her.  Sailing is one of the sports where both men and women can compete equally.” However she is disappointed not to see another female skipper in the next Clipper Round the World Race following Wendy Tuck’s victory in last year’s race and Nikki Henderson’s second placing. “I’d like to have done the Clipper circumnavigation if I was younger. It would be nice to see more young women putting themselves forward as skipper or Professional First Mate for that.”

Nannette Netal (USA), Farr 60 Venomous


Coming from the west coast of the USA to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race as a first timer requires profound commitment but nonetheless this is how San Diego-based software engineering manager, Nannette Netal has chosen to spend her summer, paying her way as part of the crew of the Farr 60 Venomous, a campaign for the race put together by Lucy Jackson’s company LV Yachting in collaboration with Windward Sailing.

Netal began sailing in her 20s while she was living in Orange County, CA and says she fell in love with the sport instantly. “When I moved to San Diego in 2000, I started racing.  The racing community is quite active there. For offshore racing I have done the annual 125 mile Newport-Ensenada race about a dozen times and I have done a couple of races in the Caribbean. I enjoy flying a spinnaker the most - it feels much like flying kites as a kid except what you are standing on moves with you.” In San Diego she owns Tigress, a Flying Tiger 7.5M.

This is her first Rolex Fastnet Race, but she says that she first heard about the race back in her 20s. “It just stuck with me for some reason. I will be on sabbatical from mid-July to August and I wanted to do a major race, either the Transpac or Fastnet, and I chose Fastnet.”

There is the no small matter of her qualifying and to do this she is competing in the St Malo race on board Venomous. “However I am not able to do another 150 mile race with the crew before that because it didn't line up with my sabbatical time frame.”

Following the Rolex Fastnet Race she will compete at Cowes Week. “Sailing makes me happy.  I even daydream about designing sails and hulls.  My father graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.  Maybe the fascination with boats is genetic?” she muses. “I am currently working on an Artificial Intelligence project and I think it would be a lot of fun one day if I can do an AI project in the nautical field.”


The diverse team on board the French VO60 Team Jolokia promoting the message 'Difference is a Strength' through their Rolex Fastnet Race campaign © Ministères sociaux DICOM Arnaud Pilpré Sipa The diverse team on board the French VO60 Team Jolokia promoting the message 'Difference is a Strength' through their Rolex Fastnet Race campaign © Ministères sociaux DICOM Arnaud Pilpré Sipa

More than just a race

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.

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Ultimes threaten Rolex Fastnet race record - Francois Gabart's MACIF© Jean Marie Liot/DPPI Ultimes threaten Rolex Fastnet race record - Francois Gabart's MACIF© Jean Marie Liot/DPPI

Ultimes threaten Rolex Fastnet Race record destruction

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.

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RORC regular: George David’s deep draft Rambler 88

Race for line honours - Rolex Fastnet ‘double’ long overdue

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.

For Scallywag, the Rolex Fastnet Race will be one of the pinnacles amid a major trophy hunting season that kicks off in the Caribbean at the Antigua Sailing Week and follows with the Antigua Bermuda Race, and then the historic Transatlantic Race 2019 from Newport, RI to Cowes via the Lizard. Post Fastnet Scallywag heads for the Med.

Part of Scallywag has enjoyed previous success in the Rolex Fastnet Race – her foredeck and some of her frames come from Charles St Clair Brown and Bill Buckley’s Maximus, line honours winner in 2005. However, she was launched brand new for the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart as Ragamuffin 100 for Australian sailing legend Syd Fischer, who contributed to her design with Witt and naval architect Andy Dovell.

According to Witt, Scallywag, with a beam of 5.8m, falls between the slender multiple Hobart winner Wild Oats XI (5.1m beam) and the powerful Comanche (8m beam), the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race line honours victor. “We are the lightest 100 footer with the most sail area,” says Witt. The boat has a keel that cants to +/- 45deg, twin daggerboards and starts the season with a new boom.   

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Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag, skippered by Australian David

Seng Huang Lee will be on board for the Rolex Fastnet Race. “His main goal with this boat is to win as many Rolex events as he can this year with the main emphasis being the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart,” explains Witt, who personally has sailed the Fastnet many times including on the Grand Mistral/Maxi One Designs, Nicorette and on Knut Frostad’s VO70 Innovation Kvaerner.

Personally, Witt finds the Fastnet Race more challenging tactically than the annual race to Hobart: “It is around a rock, so it gives the chance to sail the boat in a different range of conditions. The Hobart race has been mostly straight downwind in recent editions.”

As to how they will get on against Rambler 88, the last time the two boats met in the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart, it was close - the longer Scallywag (then Ragamuffin 100) gained the upper hand at the finish line to win by just over four minutes.

“I’d hope we’re faster, but you never know,” says Witt. “We have only raced Rambler 88 once before and we got the better of them. But it’ll depend on far we have both come with our development.”

One of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s most faithful competitors, George David and Rambler 88, return for a fifth time in the hope of achieving a result they deserve finally. As David states: “Too often we have been bridesmaid, which could be what brings us back along with the great traditions and scenery of this classic race.” And this is despite David coming close to losing his life when in 2011 his Rambler 100 lost its keel and capsized after rounding the Fastnet Rock, leaving him in the water drifting away from the boat. In that race David says they were on track to break the record, which ultimately went to the Ian Walker-skippered VO70, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with a time of 1d 18h 39m 00s, the present monohull race record, while Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard set the ‘maxi’ record of 1d 20h 09m 47s.

Recent races conditions haven’t favoured big boats on handicap. In 2003 Charles Dunstone came close to claiming ‘the double’ (ie line and handicap honours) with his Reichel Pugh 76 Nokia but was beaten across the line by Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo 1. The last boat to score the 'double' was Ludde Ingvall and his maxi Nicorette in 1995.

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Even rarer are the ‘triples’ i.e. line and handicap honours plus the race record. Wild Oats XI managed it twice (2005 and 2012) in the Rolex Sydney Hobart and George David and Rambler have also enjoyed it in other races, notably the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2007 (with a record that still stands), the 2016 Volvo Round Ireland Race and in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600. “This has to be the goal for us in this year’s Rolex Fastnet although – as always – the weather needs to cooperate,” states David. “Big breeze should give us the edge against Scallywag and conversely lighter breeze won’t.”

This is the assessment too of Rambler 88’s eminent tactician Brad Butterworth: “Scallywag is a pretty fast boat – it has got a lot of sail area and a lot of stability. If it is a predominantly light to moderate air race it will be difficult to keep up with those guys, but if the breeze gets up and it gets sporty, we’ll have a chance. In 18 knots or more, we start to perform much the same as them.”

Rambler 88 goes into its fourth season highly refined, benefitting from several keel modifications and an ever-evolving sail wardrobe. “It has got better and better. Now it is going to its maximum,” states Butterworth. New for this season is a slightly lighter mast and a deeper keel.

And while this might seem to be a match race, a possible re-enactment of Rambler 88’s battle with Comanche in 2015, there are still other prospects. If conditions are brisk, how far behind them would a foiling IMOCA 60 like Jérémie Beyou’s Charal be?

With the latest foiling technology, Jérémie Beyou's Charal will be one of 28 IMOCA 60s competing in this year's  Rolex Fastnet Race © Yvan Zedda /Alea/ Charal With the latest foiling technology, Jérémie Beyou's Charal will be one of 28 IMOCA 60s competing in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race © Yvan Zedda /Alea/ Charal

Giant IMOCA 60 turn-out for 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race

One of the largest fleets of IMOCA 60s ever gathered is due to set off on the Rolex Fastnet Race on Saturday, 3rd August.

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The 48th Rolex Fastnet Race starts on Saturday 3 August 2019. The immense fleet in the world's largest offshore yacht race is an impressive sight as they head into the English Channel © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo The 48th Rolex Fastnet Race starts on Saturday 3 August 2019. The immense fleet in the world's largest offshore yacht race is an impressive sight as they head into the English Channel © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Rolex Fastnet Race's most complete pantheon of offshore race boats

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.

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Yachts from all over the world will be descending on Plymouth for the Rolex Fastnet Race © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo Yachts from all over the world will be descending on Plymouth for the Rolex Fastnet Race © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Plymouth to host the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race

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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Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

ROLEX Fastnet Race 2019 - Change of Date  

The 2019 edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race will start on Saturday 3rd August 2019, which is two weeks earlier than the original published date.
Unusually, the race will now run the week before Lendy Cowes Week, whose dates remain unchanged, starting on Saturday 10th August. This break with tradition, in consultation with Lendy Cowes Week, has been made for a number of reasons, including weather concerns over late August.
"We have been wrestling with this decision over the summer and particularly the relative timing with other events in Cowes and the Solent," said RORC Commodore Steven Anderson. "A late August start has weather implications for our big fleet and we anticipated running into the summer bank holiday would cause difficulty for many participants. Bringing the race forward by two weeks addresses these issues and allows us to encourage the fleet into Cowes in the pre-race days before the start."

Commenting on the change of date, RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone said:
"Bringing the race forward to Saturday 3rd August will give more time for those competitors who wish to race in Lendy Cowes Week. The prize giving in Plymouth will now be held on Thursday 8th August and this will allow competitors to make the journey back to the Solent in time to join the racing."
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More detailed information and the official Notice of Race will become available very soon on the Rolex Fastnet Race website.
The defining landmark of the Rolex Fastnet Race - the Fastnet Rock. Credit: ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo The defining landmark of the Rolex Fastnet Race - the Fastnet Rock. Credit: ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

France annihilates Rolex Fastnet Race competition for a third time

France galvanised its reputation as the world’s greatest offshore racing nation by dominating the results across the majority of the classes in the Rolex Fastnet Race for a third consecutive occasion. Of the 11 main prizes, French boats failed to win just three, and of these one (Dongfeng Race Team) was raced by a largely French crew.

The Royal Ocean Racing’s biennial flagship event this year attracted another record-sized fleet of 362 boats, six more than 2015. It continues to be the world’s largest offshore yacht race, and also the most popular – when registration opened, the IRC fleet’s maximum limit of 340 boats was reached in just 4 minutes and 24 seconds!

As ever the course took the giant fleet west down the English Channel, either side of the prohibited ‘traffic separation scheme’ zone between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles, across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock, four miles off southwest Ireland, back south leaving Bishop Rock and the Scilly Isles to port and then, on past the Lizard, to the finish off Plymouth – in total 605 nautical miles.

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