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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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The crowds gathered in the Rolex Race Village for the prizegiving on Friday night, the presentation bookended by the thrilling video footage of the race. Credit: ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi The crowds gathered in the Rolex Race Village for the prizegiving on Friday night, the presentation bookended by the thrilling video footage of the race. Credit: ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

International competitors look back at the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race

Last night crews braved the elements for a successful prizegiving for the Rolex Fastnet Race and a lively final evening of entertainment at Plymouth Yacht Haven.

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IRC Overall winner, taking home the Fastnet Challenge Cup is Didier Gaudoux with his JND 39, Lann Ael 2. He is joined by RORC Commodore Michael Boyd presenting Didier the original 1925 Fastnet Cup. Credit: ELWJ Photography/RORC IRC Overall winner, taking home the Fastnet Challenge Cup is Didier Gaudoux with his JND 39, Lann Ael 2. He is joined by RORC Commodore Michael Boyd presenting Didier the original 1925 Fastnet Cup. Credit: ELWJ Photography/RORC

France claims Fastnet Challenge Cup for third consecutive time

For a third time running the Rolex Fastnet Race has been a story of French domination, Le Tricolor flying on this occasion from the top spot in IRC 1, 2, 3 and 4, the Class40 and IMOCA 60, the Two Handed and IRC Overall. Even the Chinese boat Dongfeng Race Team, that won Volvo 65 competition, had a largely French crew. This left IRC Zero to American Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer while, surprisingly, the only British class victory went to Tony Lawson’s MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10, in the usually French-strong Multihull class.

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Night and Day, JPK 10.10 skippered by Alexis and Pascal Loison. Credit: ELWJ Photography/RORC Night and Day, JPK 10.10 skippered by Alexis and Pascal Loison. Credit: ELWJ Photography/RORC

Three in a row for Night and Day

Friday 11 August 2017 - AM

Probably the toughest battle in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race was the duel for the lead in the largest class of the smallest boats, IRC Four.  This was an all-French affair, both in French-built JPK 10.10 sisterships and both teams from northern France. However one was doublehanded from Cherbourg; the other fully crewed from Le Havre. And they have considerable history.

In 2013 the father and son team of Pascal and Alexis Loisin aboard Night and Day became the first doublehanded crew ever to win the Rolex Fastnet Race not just in their class, but outright, ahead of all the fully crewed boats. But in second place overall that year was Noel Racine’s Foggy Dew. This was also the case two years ago when Night and Day finished fifth overall with Foggy Dew ninth. And while it would be nice to say that it was third time lucky for Racine’s Le Havre crew, in fact, Pascal Loisin, the Cherbourg-based orthopaedic surgeon and his professional Figaro sailor son Alexis prevailed once again. This time both boats were racing in the same class, Night and Day’s time correcting to out to 2 hours 13 minutes ahead of her rival, although this year neither made an impression on the overall IRC results, which favoured larger boats.

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