Fastnet 2017 Start ( Photo © Barry James Wilson )

Sunday 6 August 2017

The Solent laid on ‘classic’ conditions for the start of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s 47th Rolex Fastnet Race. In brilliant sunshine and with brisk westerly winds gusting up to 20 knots, the giant fleet tacked up the western Solent before compressing through the usual bottleneck at Hurst Narrows. A record-sized fleet of 368 boats started the race, 12 more than two years ago, confirming the Rolex Fastnet Race’s position as the world’s largest offshore yacht race.

(Photo © Barry James Wilson)

(Photo © Barry James Wilson)

 

The first start got underway at 11:00 BST for the nine multihulls and within minutes, the blue three-hulled streak that is Concise 10 had pulled out a lead, frequently heeling to an alarming degree, just one hull immersed.

 

By the time IRC One was starting at 12:20 Tony Lawson’s MOD 70, skippered by Ned Collier Wakefield, was already off Poole. Crewman Paul Larsen, who five years ago became the world’s fastest sailor setting a world record of 65.45 knots, reported Concise 10 was sailing under reefed mainsail and staysail. “We’re making 20 knots tacking past Poole and just dropping into the watch system. Glamour start conditions in the Solent. I can just see the next boats clearing Hurst Castle.” However Larsen warned that unless the wind freed up, there was little chance for them to break the multihull race record. By 1500 Concise 10 was already level with Portland Bill.

The multihulls were followed away from Cowes by two other ‘non-IRC’ classes – the nine doublehanded IMOCA 60s and twenty seven Class40s. Given the upwind conditions, the older, conventionally foiled IMOCA 60s were prevailing. At 1630 Paul Meilhat and Jules Verne Trophy record holder crewman Gwénolé Gahinet aboard SMA, the 2012-3 Vendee Globe (and the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race) winner as MACIF, were leading the 60s past Portland Bill. The first ‘foil-assisted’ IMOCA 60 was favourite Alex Thomson and Nicholas O’Leary on Hugo Boss in third place, taking a northerly route, close to the land.

In the Class40s present championship leader Phil Sharp on board Imerys led past St Alban’s Head, but later there was little too choose with the British boat neck and neck for the lead in this incredible fleet with the Maxime Sorel-skippered V And B, Burkhard Keese’s Stella Nova, Benoit Charon’s LMAX Normandie and race veteran Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France.

The five IRC handicap classes, chasing the race’s overall prize of the Fastnet Challenge Cup started with the smallest boats first at 1120.

This afternoon at 1600, the IRC One fleet had fanned out across the course to the southeast of St Alban’s Head. James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX was leading the charge inshore as Staffan Wincrantz’s Arcona 465 SALT 2.0 was ahead on the water to the south, just ahead of the venerable 1960s maxi Kialoa II, owned by Patrick Broughton.

 

Mid-afternoon, competitors in IRC Two were favouring the inshore route with Dutchman Frans Rodenburg’s First 40 Elke, closest to St Alban’s Head at 1620, with class favourite Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia nearby.

Marc Alperovitch’s JPK 1080, Timeline in the largest class – IRC 3 © Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

The IRC Three boats were following a similar tactic with the offshore tack being less popular. Having started 20 minutes earlier, they were still successfully fending off the advances of the larger, faster IRC Two fleet. The Russian JPK 10.80, Igor Rytov’s Boyatyr, was leading the pack inshore while the brilliantly-named Seafarers Ale Anticipation, the First 40.7 of former 470 Olympian Pete Newlands, was ahead on the water offshore.

The inshore-offshore spread was more evenly distributed among the smallest boats in IRC Four. Here Noel Racine’s impeccably sailed JPK 10.10 Foggy Dew was ahead inshore while Dan Rigden’s Elan 37 Tacktic was furthest down the track out to sea.

The last to start were the largest in the IRC fleet, IRC Zero, including the line honours contenders George David’s Rambler 88 and Ludde Ingvall’s 100ft CQS. By 1520 Rambler 88 was off and close into St Alban’s Head, leading IRC Zero on the water just ahead of the biggest boat in the fleet, the 115ft Nikata.

Rambler 88 (Photo © Barry James Wilson)

Rambler 88 (Photo © Barry James Wilson)

Rambler 88 (Photo © Barry James Wilson)

Rambler 88 (Photo © Barry James Wilson)

Among the seven one design VO65s competing in ‘Leg 0’ of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, it was very close, with the Charles Caudrelier-skippered Dongfeng Race Team a nose ahead and making 12.3 knots but facing a threat from Team Brunel, skippered again by Dutch race veteran Bouwe Bekking, making 12.5 as the boats passed St Alban’s Head.

This morning Xabi Fernández, skipper of MAPFRE, looked forward to the race: “Once out of the Solent it will be upwind sailing up to the Fastnet rock, and finally we will sail downwind towards Plymouth. This is the first time I’ve competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race. It is a historic race, much like the Rolex Sydney Hobart.”

Joan Vila, MAPFRE’s legendary navigator confirmed the forecast: “Once we leave the Solent, the wind will blow at around 20 knots. From there, it will drop until tomorrow morning, with the probability of encountering areas of very light wind. As we get closer to Plymouth, the wind will build again.”

Skippered by Charles Caudrelier, the Chinese Dongfeng Race Team will compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race as Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race © Benoit Stichelbaut

Skippered by Charles Caudrelier, the Chinese Dongfeng Race Team will compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race as Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race © Benoit Stichelbaut

 

Among the 400 boat fleet setting off from the Solent on 6 August in the Rolex Fastnet Race will be three of offshore racing’s most prestigious classes.

Grabbing the headlines will be the one design VO65s as the Rolex Fastnet Race serves as Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race and it will be the first occasion the teams will have lined up in anger. Among the seven, three teams competed in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race: 2nd placed Team Brunel; the Chinese Dongfeng Race Team, third last time and the Spanish MAPFRE team, which finished fourth. In one designs, experience is everything so these teams will have the edge, but crew from other boats in the last race have been distributed across the new teams too.

Dongfeng Race Team benefitted from being first to get sailing this time, picked their boat up post-refit late January. They have several of the same crew and have focussed more on the competition this 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. In 2011, on the VO70 Groupama, they finished just behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, whose time of 32 hours and 39 minutes remains the monohull record. “I like the race because it is interesting – short and complicated with lots of transitions,” says Caudrelier.
While Dongfeng is a favourite, late to the party is Turn the Tide on Plastic, skippered by Dee Caffari, their campaign was only announced mid-June.
Caffari is a big fan of the Rolex Fastnet having completed her first on a Challenge boat in 2001. She was on Team SCA two years ago:  “It is an ocean classic everyone wants to do. It covers such a range of boats and sailors, it is like an oceanic version of Round the Island Race.”
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 ( Photo © Initiatives Coeur )

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 ( Photo © Initiatives Coeur )

 

Former Team SCA skipper Sam Davies has returned to the IMOCA 60 class. She has taken over the Initiatives Coeur campaign from Tanguy de Lamotte but the two are sailing together for the rest of 2017.
 “Everyone is happy Sam’s in the driving seat. It is a great continuation for the project,” says de Lamotte. Davies, who also raced with de Lamotte in 2015, said: “I am very excited Tanguy gave me this opportunity. It is a project that I know every well – a cool boat, a cool team and cool charity project to be involved.” It supports Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, which funds operations on children born with heart defects. They are sailing the foil-assisted IMOCA 60 that finished the last Vendée Globe in third.
As with the other eight IMOCA 60s competing, they are racing the Rolex Fastnet Race doublehanded. Before sailing the race together in 2015, de Lamotte won it twice in the Class40, while Davies’ first race was in 1995 on a Sun Legend 41 and she has done it countless times since.
They are up against the boats which finished first and second in the Vendée Globe: Bureau Vallée 2 (ex-Banque Populaire) campaigned by Louis Burton and Servane Escoffier, and Alex Thomson and Irish sailor Nicholas O’Leary on Hugo Boss.
For Thomson, the Rolex Fastnet Race has played a huge part in his sailing career. “My first was in 1995 on a Sigma 36 called British Eagle – it took just over seven days – but in that race I found my love for offshore racing. That’s the great thing about the Fastnet – it introduces people to proper offshore racing.” The 2003 race was the first occasion Thomson sailed under the colours of Hugo Boss, preluding a 14 year sponsorship deal.
This time, Thomson who is sailing with Nicholas O’Leary is hoping to beat the other IMOCA 60s but is bullish about taking on the larger boats in his foil-assisted weapon. “Downwind we’re quicker than a VO65 and if you give us the right conditions (22-25 knots, broad reaching) we can beat Rambler, but in the Fastnet you don’t get to choose the weather you sail in.”
Most significant in the Rolex Fastnet Race’s non-IRC line-up is the 34 boat Class40 fleet. In this are a mix of pro sailors and enthusiastic amateurs and boats ranging from state of the art reaching machines to old production boats. It is also one of the most international line-ups including Russia and Japan, Sweden, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, South Africa and Oman.
The Rolex Fastnet Race will see 34 Class40s compete, including the newest, Louis Duc's Carac (150) ( Photo © Christophe Breschi )

The Rolex Fastnet Race will see 34 Class40s compete, including the newest, Louis Duc’s Carac (150) ( Photo © Christophe Breschi )

 

The Rolex Fastnet Race will be the first event for the newest, most radical Class40. Louis Duc’s Carac (150) is a Marc Lombard design and has the highest volume bow permitted under the Class40 rule. The latest models from all the leading Class40 designers are competing such as Brieuc Maisonneuve’s Cap Des Palmes, a Guillaume Verdier 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.

President of the Class40, Halvard Mabire, is racing Campagne de France, a new boat to his own design, with his English partner Miranda Merron. 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 all the way. I did it again in 1979, which was not the same story.” He has since done the race as part of the Admiral’s Cup and on a Maxi One Design. “The Fastnet is one of the oldest races. 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 French, but from the Channel Islands. Following his 2006 Route du Rhum victory, Phil Sharp has returned to the Class 40. His yacht Imerys currently leads 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 ( Photo © Andy Le Gresley )

Jersey’s Phil Sharp on Imerys currently leads the 2017 Class40 championship (Photo
© Andy Le Gresley )

The Rolex Fastnet Race starts from off Cowes at 1100 on 6 August.
How to follow:
  • All the latest news, race updates, video, photos, blogs from the boats + Live streaming of the starts: Race minisite: http://fastnet.rorc.org/
  • Twitter: #rolexfastnetrace @RORCracing
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/royaloceanracingclub
  • Instagram: instagram.com/rorcracing
  • Coverage on Fastnet TV & Radio: Cowes – 87.7fm, Plymouth – 87.9fm and online http://879fm.uk/
  •  Virtual Regatta – check the race minisite closer to the start to sign up for the game
Spindrift 2 takes Line Honours at the Rolex Fastnet 2015  (photo © Mark Lloyd / Lloyu Images)

Image licensed to Lloyd Images
Rolex Fastnet 2015. Pictures of the 131ft Maxi Trimaran Spindrift 2 skippered by Yann Guichard (FRA) and Donna Beraterelli (Sui) pictured taking line honours as the cross the finish line this evening

On August 18th at 23:57:41 (CET),The maxi-trimaran Spindrift 2 was the first boat across the finish line in Plymouth in the 46th Rolex Fastnet Race after a thrilling tactical race in an unusually calm Celtic Sea. For 58 hours, Dona Bertarelli’s and Yann Guichard’s crew raced through erratic winds within sight of their closest rivals, who chased them all the way to the finish line. It was a race full of twists and turns, even in the last few miles, before Spindrift 2 sealed her second victory in as many years. The ocean-going black-and-gold trimaran is better suited to the winds of the Southern Ocean than the unusually calm conditions of this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, but the French and Swiss crew successfully negotiated this test of teamwork and endurance, which came with just a few months to go until their attempt at the Jules Verne Trophy.

Image licensed to Lloyd Images "Spindrift 2" the 100ft Maxi Trimaran skippered by Dona Bertarelli & Yann Guichard shown here at the start of the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race. Cowes. Isle of Wight (photo by LLoyd Images)

Image licensed to Lloyd Images
“Spindrift 2” the 100ft Maxi Trimaran skippered by Dona Bertarelli & Yann Guichard shown here at the start of the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race. Cowes. Isle of Wight
(photo by LLoyd Images)

It’s always a pleasure to come back to this legendary course,” explained Dona Bertarelli at the finish. “The light, unpredictable winds made it all the more difficult. We had to use every last gust to make headway. The race required determination, endurance and teamwork. We had to perform a lot of manoeuvres and we had to test the changes made to prepare the boat for the Jules Verne Trophy. The results were positive from a technical point of view, because our power increased by 20% at certain points of sail.” 

Yann Guichard also spoke about the race: “It was my second Fastnet Race and it’s always very exciting to sail around Fastnet Rock. It was a long, slow race, but we learnt a great deal. We saw that the boat is now much quicker in light winds. It was the first race for Spindrift 2 in her new configuration. We’ve got quite a few small tweaks to do here and there. It was a very useful exercise as part of our preparations for the around-the-world record attempt.

Shortly after finishing the race in Plymouth, the trimaran headed back out to sea to return to her home port of La Trinité-sur-Mer, which she is expected to reach on Wednesday during the day.

Message from the board here.

View the pictures of Spindrift 2 on the Fastnet Race here.

Technical specifications:
Name: maxi-trimaran Spindrift 2
Central hull length: 40 m
Length of floats: 37 m
Beam: 23 m
Displacement: 21.50 t
Draft: 5.10 m
Air draft: 45 m
Mast height: 42 m
Mainsail: 405 m²
Gennaker max: 560 m²
Gennaker medium: 450 m²
Gennaker mini: 360 m²
Reacher: 260 m²
Staysail: 170 m²
ORC: 75 m²

Maxi-trimaran Spindrift 2 schedule:
September – October
Training aboard Spindrift 2.

Jules Verne Trophy
Around-the-world record attempt starting from Ouessant Island (Brittany, France) and circumnavigating the world, passing Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn to port. The current record was set on January 6th, 2012 by the maxi-trimaran Banque Populaire V (Loïck Peyron and thirteen crew members) in a time of 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds, averaging 19.75 knots.

Spindrift 2, Onboard, Fastnet Race (Photo by Yann Riou)

Spindrift 2, Onboard, Fastnet Race (Photo by Yann Riou)

 

Fastnet Fleet Dockside in Plymouth ( Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlehnghi )

Fastnet Fleet Dockside in Plymouth ( Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlehnghi )

As our race ended abruptly on the first day of an expected four day race, I thought it might be good to review what happened and how the race turned out for others. Thank you to everyone who expressed condolences and encouragement following our withdrawal from the Fastnet due to sail damage. It was a big let down and we have been in a bit of a somber mood over the last few days as we delivered the boat back to Southampton, cleaned her up and prepared her for shipping back to the states.
As the Fastnet race unfolded, The big news of course was the capsize of the 100′ Rambler, the Juan K-designed beasty boat that lost their keel just after rounding Fastnet rock in the Irish sea and slowly turned completely upside down. Rambler and leopard sailed closely past us in the English Channel and their towering rigs and huge loads were both impressive and a bit scary. Once rambler capsized, with the mast and sails still intact, the boat was quite stable upside down while crewmembers scrambled out from below deck and climbed on to the hull bottom. The owner, George David, Chairman of United Technologies and his girlfriend evidently floated away from the boat and were in the water for more than two hours before being plucked from the sea. All 22 Rambler crewmembers were rescued and a salvage operation is underway to recover the boat and rig. Pretty scary.

Joe Harris on Gryphon Solo At 2011 Fastnet Start  (Photo courtesy of Joe Harris Ocean Racing)

Joe Harris on Gryphon Solo At 2011 Fastnet Start (Photo courtesy of Joe Harris Ocean Racing)

Another big story was the record time of the 130′ maxi Trimaran Banque Populaire, that finished the race in under 30 hours with an average speed of about 20 knots. Banq Pop is an amazing machine, preparing for an around the world record attempt led by Loick Peyron. My bet is they break the record by a fair margin.

In our Class 40 division, the finish was very close with Tanguay Delamotte aboard Initiatives taking line honors. 4 more Class 40’s finished within 7 minutes of Tanguay so it was really incredibly close racing over 600 miles. I would like to think that we could have finished with that top group, but I really have not spent enough time in the boat yet to get that kind of performance. The performance bar is high in Class 40, and getting better all the time. After the boat is shipped back to the USA in early September, my plan is to sail as much as possible before it gets too cold, with a particular focus on upwind performance and water ballast use and transfer. These areas need improvement for sure, while the downwind performance of the boat is clearly great. It will be nice to finally have the opportunity to properly work the boat up to racing form, as I have not been able to do that with the boat in France.
I am also on the hunt for a title sponsor and will reinvigorate those efforts with the boat coming to its home waters, providing the ability to take prospects out for a sail. Anyone wanting to come for a sail in Newport please let me know.
So, I look forward to keeping in touch and providing further progress updates in the campaign leading the 2013 Global Solo Race.

All best,
Joe

Gryphon Solo 2 At  2011 Fastnet Race Start  (Photo Courtesy of Joe Harris Ocean Racing)

Gryphon Solo 2 At 2011 Fastnet Race Start (Photo Courtesy of Joe Harris Ocean Racing)

Maxi Trimaran Banque Populaire in the Rolex Fastnet ( Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi )

Maxi Trimaran Banque Populaire in the Rolex Fastnet ( Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi )

 

Maxi Banque Populaire, the French 140 foot trimaran skippered by Loick Peyron, set a new outright multihull race record for the Rolex Fastnet Race when she reached Plymouth this evening at 19:48:46, for an elapsed time of 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes (32 hrs, 48 mins), and an average speed around the course of 18.5 knots.

In the process, skipper Loick Peyron broke the race record of 1 day, 16 hours, 27 minutes he previously set in 1999 aboard his 60 foot trimaran Fujcolor in 1999.

Banque Populaire holds the world record for the most number of miles covered by a sailing boat in one day – 908.2 miles, roughly one and a half times the length of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

 

Rambler 100 Capsizes In The Rolex Fastnet Race (Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi )

 More than 20 crew on board a racing yacht have been rescued after it capsized off the Irish coast.

The US registered racing boat, Rambler 100, was taking part in the Fastnet Race when it overturned about 12.5 miles from Baltimore, Co Cork, just after 6.30pm on Monday.

The Irish Coast Guard, which co-ordinated the rescue operation, said 16 crew members sitting on the hull of the vessel were airlifted to safety. Another five who were in a life raft were taken on board other yachts.

Ian Loffhagen, racing manager, said the yacht – skippered by George David – capsized between the Fastnet Rock and the Pantaenius Buoy. “All 21 crew have been rescued,” he added.

Some 314 yachts are taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race and set sail from Cowes on the Isle of Wight on Sunday.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial event takes the fleet 608 miles along the south coast of the UK, across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock off south west Ireland, before returning around the Scilly Isles to the finish in Plymouth.

The event has a fearsome reputation following the 1979 race which was devastated by strong winds and seas resulting in 15 deaths.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Coast Guard said the seas in the area were not very rough at the time of the capsize, but that the weather conditions were foggy.

The Baltimore RNLI lifeboat was first on the scene, followed by the Shannon and Waterford-based rescue helicopters and the Irish Naval vessel the LE Ciara.

The yacht’s personal locator beacon was activated when it overturned.

 Rescue of Rambler Crew by Phaedo Media Crew (Photo by RIchard Langdon)

Follow up on the rescue.

Feel0ng lucky to be alive, Australian Mike Mottl stepped onto dry land at the pier at Baltimore, west Cork to cheers, applause and an emotional embrace.

One of five crew of the Rambler 100 to be separated from the vessel after it keeled over in heavy seas, Mr Mottl and four others spent two hours adrift before they were plucked from the water.

“I’m feeling lucky to be alive, happy to be here and it’s great to see the local people here to greet us,” Mr Mottl said as he stepped into an awaiting ambulance at the pier.

Erle Williams, from Auckland New Zealand was at the helm when disaster struck seven miles north west of the Fastnet.

“I’m sailing all my life I’ve never ended up in the water like this, it was pretty scary. We were very lucky to get out in time, the navigator put out the call just as boat was tipping over and it went over phenomenally fast,” he said.

Foggy conditions prevented other boats taking part in the race from seeing the stricken crew.

“We were yelling and hollering out to them but obviously they couldn’t see us, it was a pretty frantic time,” he said.

A number of the crew members were asleep below deck when the boat keeled over.

“Some of our guys were very lucky to get out from under the boat so we are counting out blessings,” Mr Williams said.

Michael Van Beuren (44) from Portsmouth, New Zealand said the boat capsized within 30 seconds.

“We were going upwind in heavy seas when the keel fin fractured, the seas were quite big. It is such a relief that we all made it ashore.”

Skipper and owner George David was among five crew members set adrift from the vessel. They were plucked to safety by the crew of the diving vessel, Wave Chieftan .

“We could see them drifting away, we spent two hours clinging to the boat thinking and worrying about them, they were our main concern,” Mr Van Beuren said.

Bob Wylie (48) from Lake Quarry in Australia spent two hours on the upturned keel of the yacht.

“My first priority was my own safety and then to try to help the others,” he said.

“I saw the liferaft drifting away so I threw a rope. It just couldn’t reach them and they kept drifting out to sea.”

One woman on board the vessel, the partner of vessel owner Mr David, was airlifted to safety suffering from hypothermia following the incident.

The Rambler 100 skippered by Mr David was first home in the Transatlantic Race earlier this year. The Rambler crossed the finish line on July 10th in an elapsed time of six days, 22 hours, eight minutes, two seconds.

The Rambler established a new record for the 2,975 nautical mile course from Newport, United States, to Lizard Point, South Cornwall, in Britian.

Mr David is the former chief executive of United Technologies Corporation, a conglomerate based in Hartford, Connecticut, whose vast holdings include such diverse companies as Otis Elevator, Sikorsky Helicopters, Carrier air conditioners and aerospace and industrial systems Hamilton Sudstrand. Mr David is an avid yachtsman and racer.

Nordeutsche Vermoe at 2007 Fastnet Finish (Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi)

The waiting is nearly over: the 44th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, one of the great ocean challenges is just 2 weeks away. With a staggering 350 entrants at the ready, 1979’s record-breaking tally of 303 participating yachts will almost certainly be surpassed. The sheer size of the fleet is impressive. Its quality and diversity quite breathtaking. Inspiring and exhilarating in equal measure, there is every reason to believe that the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race will maintain the event’s pioneering and prestigious tradition.

The numbers game
Due to the Rolex Fastnet’s unique allure, event organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) never have any difficulty ensuring that there is a large and impressive fleet in attendance. This year is no exception. Entries came in thick and fast and were closed within ten days of opening in January. However, the requests kept arriving. After being inundated with additional enquiries from the Volvo Open 70s, the IMOCA 60s, Class 40s and Multihulls to join the 608-nautical mile marathon, the RORC adjusted the entry limit to allow these ‘professional’ classes to be counted above the initial cut-off mark.

The Rolex Fastnet Race commences from Cowes on Sunday 14 August (the first signal sounds at 10:50 BST). Whilst crews with the ambition of being the fastest to the finish will hope to spend only one or two nights at sea, spare a thought for those at the back of the pack, for whom a near week in often punishing conditions may be the order of the day.

Rambler 100 enjoying Leopard hunt
Short of a catastrophic breakdown, the fastest boat on the water at the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race will be the 100-foot trimaran, Banque Populaire (FRA), which just broke the round the Britain Isles record by almost a day and a half. However, the battle for monohull line honours is the most anticipated clash and is expected to be the privilege of two other 100-ft challengers: Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard (GBR), first elapsed-time finisher in the past two editions, and arch-rivals George David’s Rambler 100 (USA). The two crews know each other extremely well, given their series of tussles in recent months. A head-to-head battle in the Transatlantic Race, which saw Rambler 100 ease to line honours after ICAP Leopard lost her bowsprit, the freshest encounter.

“Having won the Rolex Fastnet Race twice, the big play is to win three in a row, which would be quite exceptional,” explains Slade, whose yacht also holds the course record of 1 day, 20 hours and 18 minutes [set in 2007]. “During the RORC Caribbean 600, Rambler 100 proved to be the faster boat in her ideal conditions. However, Rambler 100 may also need to protect herself in bad weather, more than ICAP Leopard. We feel we have a good chance in light and heavy airs, it is the bit in between that we might have a problem! I am really looking forward to the Fastnet, it should be a very exciting race but above all else, I don’t want to lose our record to Rambler 100, that would be heartbreaking and we will vigorously defend it.”

Rambler 100 is as keen to renew hostilities. “We’re anticipating sailing in Cowes Week from 9-11 August and hope ICAP Leopard and others will be competing as well,” explains David, “we’ve had three races together already, the Caribbean 600, the Annapolis to Newport and now the Transatlantic Race. Rambler 100 took line honours and corrected ahead of ICAP Leopard in all three.”

David is fervent about the upcoming Fastnet Race and describes his own personal highlights of the parcours: “Beating out through The Needles in a huge fleet, the beauty of the south coast of England, the approach to the [Fastnet] Rock, and the wind and weather conditions all over the place.”

Whilst these two ocean greyhounds are clear monohull line honours favourites, they may not have it all their own way. There is the significant presence of six Volvo 70s, including two of the latest breed: Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Groupama IV (FRA). Then there is the Mini Maxi class including defending Rolex Fastnet handicap winner, the 72-ft Rán (GBR), owned by Niklas Zennström, in addition to Andres Soriano’s Mills 68 Alegre (GBR), a fantastic campaigner in the Mediterranean in recent seasons. Throwing in the American challengers, the STP65 Vanquish, and the Reichel-Pugh 66 Zaraffa, who like ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100 competed in the Transatlantic Race, it promises to be a tight contest at the top of the fleet.

Tales from the foreign third
Of the record breaking 350 yachts competing at this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, approximately a third are non-British crews. A scan of the 2011 entry list highlights the global pull of the event, with yachts competing from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UAE and the USA.

Karl Kwok, owner of the 80-ft Beau Geste (HKG), will be taking part in the event for the third time. “I am definitely here for the challenge as this is one of the most interesting and competitive offshore races in the world,” he explains. “My first time here was in 1995, followed by my second appearance in the last edition [in 2009]. We did well on that occasion, but it could be better still!” Kwok adores offshore racing: “For me the top three blue water offshore classics are the Fastnet, Sydney to Hobart and Newport to Bermuda – in that order. And Rolex has the top two!” Beau Geste will be another yacht snapping at the heels of the 100-footers and also arrive in Cowes fresh from competing in the Transatlantic Race.

One overseas crew in particular has reason to treasure its association with the Rolex Fastnet. Six years ago, Frenchman Jean Yves Chateau’s 33-ft Nicholson Iromiguy won the competition on corrected time, the first time in three decades that the overall prize had been won by a yacht under 40 feet. For the Saint Malo-based skipper, the victory was both a surprise and a fulfilment of an ambition: “To win the Rolex Fastnet Race was like a childhood dream, it is like an ‘Everest’ in my life and in the life of each member of my crew: absolutely fantastic, unbelievable, gorgeous, not to mention the incredible fact of having beaten all the big guys. It was also very important for me to be the third French sailor to win this race and to have my name engraved on this Cup close to Eric Tabarly [the legendary French skipper who won the race in 1967]!”

Regarding the ‘draw’ of the Rolex Fastnet, Chateau continues: “It is a mythical race. This year will be our seventh time and we are always very pleased and enthusiastic to participate with the crazy dream of winning it one more time.” Amongst the sizeable French contingent is the intriguing story of the IMOCA 60 DCNS 100 (FRA), sailed by skipper Marc Thiercelin and his famous apprentice, former downhill skier and endurance motorsport driver, Luc Alphand. DCNS 100 is one of seven IMOCA 60s, including Cheminées Poujoulat (SUI) launched in May this year.

John Towers is helming the J/122 Oojah (GBR) with a US-based crew joining British boat owner Peter Tanner, their navigator for the race. The English Channel is some distance from their usual racing haven of the east coast of the United States. “As a group of Americans, we consider the Rolex Fastnet Race to be a once in a lifetime adventure that is a natural compliment to our passion for distance racing,” explains Towers, “the Fastnet is a big deal for us and an adventure that we have been planning for the last two years.”

Tanner continues: “Our goal will be the same as any other race we enter. Priority one is a safe passage. Priority two is that the experience is very positive for all members of the crew. Our third priority is to be competitive.”           

Triple TP52 challenge
The three TP52s competing at the Rolex Fastnet Race will resume their engagement having been near inseparable at the recent Giraglia Rolex Cup. On that occasion, Franck Noël’s Near Miss (SUI) finished the 243-nautical mile race less than two minutes ahead of Johnny Vincent’s Pace (GBR). Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky (USA) was only a further hour behind. On corrected time, only seven places separated the three crews, with Pace coming out on top. Over a considerably longer distance, this ‘race within a race’ will be one to follow come August.               

Back of the pack
The crew of the Contessa-32 Drumbeat (GBR) will likely have one opportunity to admire ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100 – during the passage out of the Solent. For co-skippers and brothers-in-law, Mark Himsworth and Pierre Walrafen, the race ahead will be one of endurance and, at times, solitude: “It feels amazing to be one of the smallest and slowest boats competing, tacking or gybing down the Solent against much larger and faster machines after the start. All the while competing on handicap directly against them,” explains Himsworth, who will be taking part in the Rolex Fastnet for a third time.

The reality soon becomes quite different, as Himsworth reveals: “After 24 hours, most of the competition is long gone. Thereafter it’s occasionally difficult to keep your mind away from the thought of the faster boats turning towards (or arriving at) Plymouth while ours plugs steadily westwards round Land’s End. It’s a pretty solitary undertaking when you’re on watch and your co-skipper’s sleeping and none of your competitors are visible, but that’s all part of the attraction, and there’s still plenty going on in Plymouth when we arrive!”            

Trophy hunt
The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. In addition, there are more than 30 additional trophies that will be awarded at the prize giving on Friday, 19 August at the historic Royal Citadel, home of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooking Plymouth Sound and Sutton Harbour, where the majority of the fleet will berth.

 Dock Preparations At Cowes at 2007 Fastnet (Photo by Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi )

RAN 2 Overall Handicap Winner of Rolex Fastnet 2009 (Photo by Carlo Borlenghi)

RAN 2 Overall Handicap Winner of Rolex Fastnet 2009 (Photo by Carlo Borlenghi)

  

Zennström’s Judel-Vrolijk designed 72-footer finished the race in an elapsed time of 63 hours, 1 minute and 33 seconds, which corrected out to 2 hours, 19 minutes ahead of the second-placed Italian America’s Cup team Luna Rossa on board their STP65.

“It is fantastic, we are very excited about it,” commented Zennström. “But it was also a gradual thing, because as we crossed the finish line we knew we had a good result. We had monitored some of the boats behind us, most notably Luna Rossa and Rosebud, which we thought were always going to be the closest competitors to us. And after we came in we spent the morning and actually the whole day yesterday monitoring the updates on the RORC’s OC Tracker and made our own calculations about the likelihoods for the other boats to catch up with us.”

Having failed to complete the last Rolex Fastnet Race, in 2007, the victory for Ran 2 was unfinished business. That race, sailed on board Zennström’s Marten 49, had been the first occasion that the present Ran crew had sailed together. Led by Volvo Ocean Race veteran Tim Powell, the all-star line-up includes seasoned race boat navigator Steve Hayles and America’s Cup sailors such as Adrian Stead and Emirates Team New Zealand’s Andy Hemmings, Richard Bouzaid and Richard Meacham.

Zennström launched his new 72-footer earlier this year, raced it at several events in the Mediterranean, including the Giraglia Rolex Cup, before it was shipped back to the UK, to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race. “One of the key objectives when we were building Ran 2 was to be able to do offshore races, and the most obvious race we put on the calendar was the Rolex Fastnet Race. So it is great we have done so well in it.” Zennström explains.

This year they have also won the Swedish equivalent of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Gotland Runt, aboard their previous Ran, a modified TP52.  

“I think it is a really strong team,” concludes Zennström. “We have been sailing together for two years now and the team is getting stronger and stronger. We have been very thorough in our planning, both in terms of the design of the boat and our race preparations. 

Skipper Tim Powell was equally ecstatic about their Rolex Fastnet Race win: “Obviously it is a big achievement being such a prestigious race and one of the classics.” He adds that they had prepared well, believing some way in advance that a major part of the race would be upwind and, with Ran 2 being very powerful and fast upwind, they stood a reasonable chance. “We were focusing more on our class and the boats around us a lot more. But to have won the thing overall is an awesome achievement.”

Ran 2 did especially well outbound down the English Channel and by the key tidal gate at Start Point, they had pulled out a 10 mile lead over their Mini Maxi rivals. “That first 20 hours up the Channel was all important, tactically and navigationally, and as a crew we sailed very, very well,” says Powell. 

Eddie Warden-Owen, CEO of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, says that this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race did favour the larger boats. “If you think that we’ve had spring tides, and really light winds, one of the big gains that the big boats made was on the first night when they came to Portland Bill and they were able to make the tide. You could see on the tracker that those who had managed to make it away from Portland Bill had a huge advantage, whereas the others were stopped and some had to put their anchor down. So the story of the race in many respects ended there, but we didn’t know which big boat was going to win.”

The opportunity for the smaller boats to win fizzled over the last 24 hours when windier conditions that might have provided them with a fast finish to make up for their deficit, caused by missing the tide at Portland Bill on the first night, failed to materialise.

“Ran sailed really well against the opposition and it is a well-deserved victory,” concluded Warden-Owen. “It is a young crew of British guys on the boat, even though it is owned by a Swede and they are very experienced America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race sailors. So, a good effort.”

At the end of this afternoon, 59 boats of 300 starters had reached Plymouth and berthed in Sutton Harbour in the heart of the Devonshire city. The latest arrivals included the first to finish in IRC Class 1, Nicolas Loday and Jean-Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43, Codiam.

At present La Floresta Del Mar, Amanda Hartley’s Swan 56 can’t be beaten in IRC Z, having finished at 03:24 GMT this morning. While Codiam remains first on handicap in IRC 1, Marc Alperovitch and Jérome Huillard’s A-35 Prime Time is leading in IRC 2 and at 15:00 had just passed the Lizard with 43 miles left to go to the finish. Finally, Fabrice Amedeo’s X-332 Bateaux Mouches du Pont de l’Alma remains first in IRC 3, with 15 miles left to go to Bishop Rock.  The majority of the fleet have now rounded the Fastnet Rock with the backmarker, the Bristol Channel pilot cutter, Morwenna, midway across the Celtic Sea with just over one third of the race course completed.

Niklas Zennstrom   (Photo By Carlo Borlenghi)

Niklas Zennstrom (Photo By Carlo Borlenghi)

This afternoon the Royal Ocean Racing Club, organisers of the biennial British 608-mile classic offshore race, confirmed that Niklas Zennström’s Ran 2 is the overall handicap winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race.