Ocean racing's big guns in the Rolex Fastnet Race
Setting off from the Solent on 6 August in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race will be three of the most prestigious classes in offshore racing.
Significantly it will be the first occasion the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race fleet of VO65 one design will line up on the race’s ‘Leg Zero’. This is the first occasion the VO65s will get to race against one another in anger, in the build up to the start of the race proper from Alicante on 22 October.
The line-up includes three teams which competed in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race: Team Brunel, second last time and again skippered by Bouwe Bekking; Dongfeng Race Team, third last time and fourth placed MAPFRE, the Spanish team hoping to make it fifth time lucky. In one designs, experience is everything, giving these teams the edge, yet crew from the last race have been distributed across all of the new teams too.
This time VO65 crews can come four configurations : seven men; seven men and one or two women; seven women and one or two men and five men and five women. So, while Sun Hung Kai Scallyway is going with seven men, Turn the Tide on Plastic will have five men and five women.
One of the favourites, Dongfeng Race Team has benefitted from being first to get sailing on their boat this time around, picked it up post-refit in late January, and from having several crew returning from last time, including navigator Pascal Bidegorry. They have also been much more focussed on the race than they were last time says skipper Charles Caudrelier. “Last time we spent the first five months in China doing crew selection. We put 30% of our time into performance. This time we put in 70%.”
This year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will be Caudrelier’s third having previously sailed it doublehanded on the Gitana MOD70 and on the Groupama VO70, when it finished just behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, whose time of 32 hours and 39 minutes remains the monohull course record. “I like the race because it is interesting, short and complicated with lots of transitions,” says Caudrelier. “Sailing along the south if England is very interesting. I have good memories from Solitaire du Figaro.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Turn the Tide on Plastic, skippered by serial round the world sailor Dee Caffari, crew on Team SCA last time. Late to the party, their campaign only announced mid-June and the Rolex Fastnet Race will be part of the team’s crew selection. Of their 10 equally mixed crew, six will be under-30s and one will be a Portugese sailor. Caffari is a big fan of the Rolex Fastnet having completed her first on a Challenge boat in 2001 and having only missed two since. On two occasions she raced on a MOD70 trimaran, arriving on the Monday night – two years ago aboard Team SCA they finished in three days.
“The Fastnet is an ocean classic everyone wants to done. Testament to that is that all the places were filled within minutes of the race entry opening,” says Caffari. “It covers such a range of boats and sailors, it is like an oceanic version of Round the Island Race.” This time it will be the first Rolex Fastnet Race for most of the under-30s in her crew, however “their energy and enthusiasm is really refreshing. It is all about harnessing that.
Having competed many times in the Rolex Fastnet Race, Sam Davies will be in the driving seat of Tanguy de Lamotte's IMOCA 60, Initiatives Coeur Crédit Photo: Initiatives Coeur
Her former Team SCA skipper Sam Davies is returning to the IMOCA 60 class, as used in the Vendee Globe. She has just landed on her feet, taking over the existing Initiatives Coeur campaign of Tanguy de Lamotte, who is emigrating to San Francisco. As with the other eight IMOCA 60 the duo are racing the Rolex Fastnet Race doublehanded in anticipation of Novembers’ two handed Transat Jacques Vabre.
“We spoke to the sponsors about me not being 100% about doing the Vendee Globe for a third time, so the option was to put Sam into the driving seat and everyone is happy with that. It is a great continuation for the project,” says de Lamotte. Davies, who finished fourth in the 2008-9 Vendée Globe and raced with de Lamotte in 2015, is equally thrilled. “I am very excited that Tanguy gave me this opportunity. It is a project that I know every well and it is a cool boat, with a cool team and cool charity project to be involved.” The campaign supports Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, a charity that funds operations on children born with heart defects. They are sailing the foil-assisted IMOCA 60 that Jeremie Beyou sailed to third place in the last Vendée Globe as Maître CoQ.As to their previous track records in the Rolex Fastnet Race, before sailing it together in 2015, de LaMotte won it twice in the Class40, which Davies’ first race was in 1995 on a Sun Legend 41 and she has done the race countless times since.
However they are up against the boats which finished first and second in the Vendée Globe, the winner, Banque Populaire, now sold and rechristened Bureau Vallée 2 and campaigned by partners Louis Burton and Servane Escoffier, and IMOCA 60 favourite, Alex Thomson reunited with his extreme-looking Hugo Boss which he is sailing with Ireland’s Nicholas O’Leary. Five of the nine IMOCA 60s competing are ‘foil-assisted’, none more so than Hugo Boss, which is now back with her full complement of foils following the Vendée Globe.
For Thomson, the Rolex Fastnet Race has played a large part in his sailing career. “My first was in 1995 on a Sigma 36 called British Eagle. It took just over seven days! But it was in that race that I found my vocation, and my love for offshore racing. That’s the great thing about the race - it introduces people to proper offshore sailing.” It was in the 2003 race that Thomson first sailed under the colour of Hugo Boss. It was on the strength of that event that has since translated into a 14 year sponsorship deal by the German fashion brand.
As to how Hugo Boss will get on this time, Thomson is obviously hoping to beat the other IMOCA 60s and is bullish about the potential of Hugo Boss to take on the larger boats. “Upwind, a VO65 will be quicker than us, but not downwind. And if you give us the right conditions (22-25 knots of wind, broad reaching) we can beat Rambler on the water: Genuinely my boat can beat the fully crewed monohull record, but in the Fastnet you don’t get to choose the weather you sail in.”
The Rolex Fastnet Race will see 34 Class40s compete, including the newest, Louis Duc's Carac (150) © Christophe Breschi
However the most significant among the Rolex Fastnet Race’s non-IRC classes is the Class40, featuring an incredible 34 boats. With sail numbers going up to 152, the Class40 is the most prolific 40 footer of all time. The class features a mix of professional sailors and enthusiastic amateurs and a range of boats from the latest state of the art reaching machines to older production boats. It is also one of the most international fleets - the majority French, but also competitors from Russia and Japan, Sweden, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, South Africa and Oman.
The very latest and most radical Class40 is using the Rolex Fastnet Race as her first event. Class40 veteran Louis Duc has recently launched Carac (150), a design from Marc Lombard which among other new features, has the highest volume bow permitted under the Class40 rule. Then there are examples of the latest from all the leading Class40 designers – such as Brieuc Maisonneuve’s Cap Des Palmes, a Guillaume Verdier-penned Tizh 40; Norwegian Henrik Bergesen’s Hydra, a brand new Owen Clarke design; two new Sam Manuard-designed Mach 40 Mk3s, Maxime Sorel’s V And B and Catherine Pourre’s Eärendil.
Racing a new boat to his own design is ocean racing legend and President of the Class40, Halvard Mabire, sailing with his English partner Miranda Merron on board Campagne de France. Mabire’s first Fastnet was in 1977. “It was on a small plywood boat with hard chines. It was one of the slowest Fastnets in history. - very very light wind all the way. It did it again in 1979, which was not the same story about the wind.” He has since done the race as part of the Admiral’s Cup and aboard a Maxi One Design. Remarkably, this will be his first Fastnet on a Class40.
“The Fastnet is one of the oldest races and it is very nice to have this race - we know it will happen every two years. It is good that the RORC opened it to multihulls, IMOCA 60s and Class40s.”
As to the form, the favourite is, for once, not from France, but from the Channel Islands. Phil Sharp won the 2006 Route du Rhum in the Class40 and has returned to the class as a stepping stone to the 2020 Vendee Globe. He and his yacht Imerys currently lead the 2017 Class40 championship, following their second place in the recent Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race.
Jersey's Phil Sharp on Imerys currently leads the 2017 Class40 championship © Andy Le Gresley
The Rolex Fastnet Race starts from off Cowes at 1100 on 6 August.