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Day 3 1900: The early stages of the Fastnet Race 2021 on Sunday went from rugged to very rugged, and not surprisingly there were many retirals before the day was out. But aboard Nieulargo from Crosshaven, ace sailor Nicholas "Nin" O'Leary has since found the time today to give an insight today of what it had been like to slug down channel in severe wind-over-tide conditions in a boat which is a heavy cruiser-racer by comparison with the latest designs: "It was a tough exit out of the Solent past the Needles Fairway, wet'n'wild and we lost wind instruments for 24 hours, but thankfully the four dinghy sailors and small keelboat drivers on board have a natural feel while sailing blind. We had a nice battle with Shirley Robertson and Henry Bomby on the Sun Fast 3300 Swell which kept us on our toes, and Annamarie is keeping the troops fed'n'watered with her famous vegetable soup. We expect it to be lighter across to the Fastnet Rock. ETA 03:00 in the small hours of Wednesday morning".

In much of the current spell of weather whether afloat or ashore, who could resist the thought of a nourishing helping of classic vegetable soup? So much so, in fact, that there's arguably a market opportunity for Mrs Murphy's Special Vegetable Soup for Sailors, if Annamarie Fegan could only be persuaded to use her married name just the once……

Meanwhile in IRC 3 generally, the leading places have been permutated from time to time as they make their way from the north side of the Isles of Scilly toward The Rock, with the wind now just aft of the beam, as forecast. The formidable Alexis Loison in the JPK 10.30 Leon has regained the lead despite being two-handed (he also leads the two-handed division), but although approaching 1900 hrs Nieulargo is shown as being 7th in the class of 73 boats, she's very much in contention.

In a different world towards the finish at Cherbourg, the majestic 140ft Skorpios should be finished just before dark to take mono-hull line honours, and it may well be that the much-discussed final tide gate off Cap de la Hague will have turned in her favour by the time she gets there, so we'll need to wait a little for a full analysis from subsequent finishers of the adverse gate effect.

On down the line, the Imoca 60 Apivia (Charlie Dalin) is holding on to her very clear class lead, but George David's Rambler 88 is doing everything possible to make her third on the water, though it's now only an off chance as they're both getting up towards Start Point with Apivia 18 miles clear ahead

But in any case in Cherbourg, the talk of the town is the emergence of Poland as a force in front-line offshore racing. In this morning's bulletin we outlined how the former Volvo 70 I Love Poland has been at the centre of a comprehensive Polish offshore training programme based around a winter berth at Cascais in Portugal.

But this afternoon the Polish breakthrough has become even clearer – I Love Poland has been in the overall lead for some time, but second overall is now being filled by another Polish-ensigned veteran Volvo 70, in this case Sailing Poland which – with both boats south of Western Cornwall and a dozen miles between them - is sailing slightly faster at the time of writing.

The Lombard 46 Pata Negra when she brought RORC Caribbean 600 success for Howth YC. This evening at 18:10 she rounded the Fastnet Rock lying first in IRC Class 1 with Andrew Hall of ISORA and Pwllheli SC in command.The Lombard 46 Pata Negra when she brought RORC Caribbean 600 success for Howth YC. This evening at 18:10 she rounded the Fastnet Rock lying first in IRC Class 1 with Andrew Hall of ISORA and Pwllheli SC in command.

All this is of almost academic interest to the majority of the fleet, who still have to round the Fastnet Rock. But that historic turning point has become increasingly busy as today progressed, and at 1810 this evening there was a rounding of very special significance, as Andrew Hall of ISORA and Pwllheli SC's recently-acquired Lombard 46 Pata Negra put the Fastnet astern and herself into first place in IRC 1 after a wellnigh perfect race from the Isles of Scilly.

Just ahead of Pata Negra on the water is the 1961-vintage 74ft ketch Stormvogel, beautifully restored and in such flying form that she lies 6th on corrected time in IRC 1. The result of a design co-operation for Dutch timber magnate Cess Bruynzeel by Laurent Giles, John Illingworth and Ricus van de Stadt, in many ways Stormvogel still looks as modern as tomorrow, with a rudder separate from her keel in a way that didn't become generally accepted until the mid-60s, yet Bruynzeel had been racing boats like that offshore for years.

Stormvogel's hull profile was ahead of its time when she first appeared in 1961.Stormvogel's hull profile was ahead of its time when she first appeared in 1961.

In IRC 4, Irish Offshore Sailing's veteran Sunfast 37 Desert Star has slipped from fourth to 13th after electing to go eastward of the large TSS immediately off Land's End. That said, her crew won't have known that the losing move was about to be exacerbated by a local calm right off the Longships Rocks on the very point of Land's End itself.

Meanwhile, with the wind settled in slightly abaft the beam for the long haul to the Fastnet, it looks as though Kenneth Rumball and Pamela Lee's Fiagro 3 RL Sailing is finding enough power for the foils to start being useful, as they're showing better than ten knots and have confirmed their position as leaders of the admittedly much-reduced Figaro 3 Class.

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Despite a blustery start and first night at sea in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race, competitors have been making good progress west down the English Channel, with the bulk of the fleet at breakfast time this morning south of Start Point.

Since yesterday’s dramatic, brutal departure from the Solent for the 337 entries in 25+ knot southwesterly headwinds and violent wind against tide seas, overnight the wind has slowly eased. It is still gusting to the early 20s, especially around headlands, but is dropping the further west the competitors sail, with 15-20 knots off the Lizard and 13-15 off Land’s End.

While the majority of the Fastnet Race fleet is still toughing it out in the Channel, at 0800 BST this morning Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was the first Ultime to reach the Fastnet Rock. While not a record time – in 2019 she led around the Rock at 0633, less than two minutes ahead of Francois Gabart’s MACIF – her time of just 20 hours 50 minutes is almost three hours slower, but nonetheless highly impressive given that this time the boats have been upwind down the Channel and then fetching across the Celtic Sea. This time is also not as close with Thomas Coville’s second placed Sodebo Ultim Voile some 43 miles astern of her.

“We have just passed the Fastnet, leading the fleet,” reported Charlies Caudrelier, co-skipper of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild with Franck Cammas. “We're at least 40 miles ahead of the second which is good. We have sailed very well since the start of this race and are proud of what we have done. The boat is going fast and we have not made any navigation errors. Now we go back to the Scilly Isles. The last part, with gybes, will be complicated. We know that it is difficult to get to Cherbourg, especially when there is little wind. We remain focused on the speed of the boat and we will try to extend our lead. We will not be flying much on this leg to Cherbourg."

Sam Davies' IMOCA Initiatives Coeurs blasts her way out of the Solent Sam Davies' IMOCA Initiatives Coeurs blasts her way out of the Solent © Rick Tomlinson

Most surprising have been the tactics of the Ultimes and some of the IMOCAs, which forged off south after leaving the Solent yesterday and going south of the Casquets Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). While the Ultimes tacked close to Alderney, some of the IMOCA dived even further south. Initiatives Coeurs skipper Sam Davies explained their reasons for this: “Nico [Lunven, her co-skipper] had done a lot of work on the weather routing with lots of different models and pretty much all of our routing went that way, because we might get flat water in the Alderney Race, sheltered by the Channel Islands and be first into the west going current off the north French coast.”

Hearing her on board, as Initiatives Coeur was passing Land’s End this morning, was difficult as her co-skipper at the time was easing the mainsheet: “We exploded one mainsheet block - it is not an issue, it just makes it bit noisy to trim. Still it is a pleasure to be going at full speed after sailing such a long way around the world in safety mode [completing her lap of the planet after retiring from the Vendee Globe last winter].” This morning Davies was enjoying racing her two close friends Simon Fisher and former Team SCA crew Justine Mettraux, who were alongside her aboard 11th Hour Racing.

Leading the charge among the monohulls is of course Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev’s mighty ClubSwan 125 Skorpios. At 0700 this morning, the largest single-hulled vessel ever to enter the Rolex Fastnet Race was passing between Land’s End TSS and the Scilly Isles, having allowed American George David’s Rambler 88 to split up the east side of the TSS. Perhaps most surprising was that only three miles astern of her at the time was the lead IMOCA, Apivia, a boat less than half Skorpios’ length and being sailed by two talented Frenchmen – Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat – their advantage being that their boat has giant foils enabling it literally ‘to fly’.

Looking good overall under IRC - I Love Poland, the VO70 skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski © I Love PolandLooking good overall under IRC - I Love Poland, the VO70 skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski © I Love Poland

The big boats were looking good overall under IRC corrected time this morning, especially I Love Poland, the VO70 skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, which this morning was following the route up the east side of the Land’s End TSS astern of Rambler 88, which lies second overall under IRC. Since the start, IRC Zero has seen three retirements: RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim on the NMYD 54 Teasing Machine, the Gerd-Jan Poortman-skippered Ker 46 Van Uden and Lance Shepherd's VO70 Telefonica Black.

In IRC One, RORC Commodore James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX was vying for the lead on the water with Elliot 44 CR Matador of Swede Jonas Grander, both offshore en route to the Lizard. However, under IRC, Robert Bottomley's MAT12 Sailplane holds a slender advantage over Andrew Hall’s Lombard 46 Pata Negra. Others such as Richard Loftus’ Swan 65 Desperado (11th under IRC this morning) had shaved Start Point closer and were just tacking out from Plymouth.

Sadly there have been ten retirements from this class, including three favourites; Lann Ael 2, Didier Gaudoux's 2017 overall race winner; L'Ange De Milon, Jacques Pelletier's defending champion in this class and Philippe Frantz NMD 43 Albator. Also out is Cracklin Rosie of former RORC Commodore Steven Anderson.

The IRC Two leaders were this morning due south of Plymouth. The front of the fleet remains at three-way battle between international trio of JPK 10.80 sisterships, Englishman Tom Kneen's Sunrise and Richard Fromentin's Leclerc Hennebont/Cocody from France with Astrid de Vin's Il Corvo from the Netherlands further to their south. These three are also looking good under IRC along with perennial race winner Ross Applebey’s Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster

In IRC One, RORC Commodore James Neville's HH42 INO XXX was vying for the lead on the water Photo: Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comIn IRC One, RORC Commodore James Neville's HH42 INO XXX was vying for the lead on the water Photo: Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

As expected in IRC Three, Alexis Loison and Guillaume Pirouelle aboard the defending class and IRC Two-Handed champion Léon have been leading under corrected time and, impressively, are right up with the front runners in IRC Two. On the water, Léon has Philippe Girardin's J/120 Hey Jude and the JPK 10.80 Raging Bee2 of Cherbourg hero Louis Marie Dussere nearby. However sneaking ahead of Léon and into the IRC Three lead this morning, coming in from the north in the otherwise French dominated class, is the Philip Caswell-skippered Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier. Léon is still well ahead on the IRC Two-Handed class leaderboard. Behind them, the majority in IRC Three have been taking a course tight in to Start Point.

In the void left by perennial IRC Four winner Noel Racine, France still dominates the leaderboard in this class with Francois Charles' Dehler 33 Cruising Sun Hill 3 ahead of Alain Guelennoc's X-332 Trading-advices.com and Ludovic Menahes and David le Goff's JPK 10.10 Raphael. However all were taking different tactics with Trading-advices.com hugging the Devonshire coast en route towards Plymouth with her rivals having tacked offshore. The top British boat is Chris Choules’ modern classic Sigma 38 With Alacrity the top British boat in sixth under IRC. The majority of IRC Four has yet to pass Start Point.

Published in Fastnet
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Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee, the mixed double-handed offshore team from Dun Laoghaire and Greystones, will be on today's Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 start line as the only Irish team competing double-handed and in the Beneteau Figaro 3 Class.

One of 11 boats with Irish interest in the race, the duo are sponsored by Hanley Energy and start with IRC 1 at 1155 BST from the famous start line set from the Flag Staff at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes.

"This year looks set to be an extremely tough race, with the first few days predicted to be beating into strong wind and currents to get around Lands End before heading across the Irish Sea to the Fastnet Lighthouse. No doubt this first half of the race will put all the the crews of the 600 strong fleet to the test and certainly the double-handed, Rumball told Afloat.

This is Rumball’s fourth time competing in the 700-mile race and Lee’s second.

 

 

Published in Fastnet

It was a one, two overall for the J109 design in this weekend's Kinsale Yacht Club SCORA Fastnet Race. 

Royal Cork yacht Jelly Baby claimed a victory in a corrected time of 21 hours:13 minutes: 26 seconds from the host club's Artful Dodger (Finbarr O'Regan) on 21:24:34 corrected in a race that was shortened due to light winds.

The defending champion Nieulargo, a Grand Soleil 40, finished third on a corrected time of 21:36:02

Artful DodJer (IRL1713) from Kinsale Yacht Club skippered by Finbarr O'ReganArtful DodJer (IRL1713) from Kinsale Yacht Club skippered by Finbarr O'Regan Photo: Bob Bateman

As Afloat reported yesterday, after a well-timed postponement the nine-boat Kinsale Yacht Club SCORA Fastnet Race got away in a great breeze at 10 am on Saturday morning for its annual offshore race.

Royal Cork's Nieulargo (IRL2129) skippered by Denis Murphy Photo: Bob BatemanRoyal Cork's Nieulargo (IRL2129) skippered by Denis Murphy Photo: Bob Bateman

The fleet, sponsored by UK Sailmakers Ireland, rounded the much closer Kowloon Bridge south cardinal buoy instead of the Fastnet rock.

Full results are here

Bob Bateman's Kinsale/SCORA Fastnet Race Photo Gallery

Published in Kinsale

Moving to Cherbourg for the finish of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event, the Rolex Fastnet Race next year will see navigators and crews facing a few significant new challenges writes James Boyd

Firstly the new course is 90 miles (or 15%) longer, making it 695 miles, based on the shortest route. Of this the first 500 miles (or 72%) of the course remains unchanged - setting off from the Royal Yacht Squadron line on Sunday 8 August 2021; heading southwest down the English south coast, negotiating Anvil Point, Portland Bill, Start Point and the Lizard en route, before the vital decision over which side to pass the Traffic Separation Scheme exclusion zone off Land's End. Then there are the open ocean crossings to the Fastnet Rock and back to Bishop Rock, southwest of the Scilly Isles.

The long final leg to Cherbourg adds 90 miles to the course and is more open, but concluded with the crossing of the Alderney RaceThe long final leg to Cherbourg adds 90 miles to the course and is more open, but concluded with the crossing of the Alderney Race. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian Moore

From here the course changes marginally. From Bishop Rock, it is possible to lay directly Cape de la Hague, the northwesternmost headland of the Cotentin Peninsula, before making the final slight starboard turn for the last 10 miles to the finish line within Cherbourg's harbour. The new course from Bishop Rock is 91°M, compared to 83° to the Lizard, however, the added distance to Cherbourg may affect the make-up of the race overall.

While the race requires an all-round boat, the new course remains predominantly windward-leeward, albeit more downwind. Credit: Ian MooreWhile the race requires an all-round boat, the new course remains predominantly windward-leeward, albeit more downwind. Credit: Ian Moore

More significant will be the final roll of the dice: how best to tackle one of Europe most powerful tidal gates - the Alderney Race, between Alderney and Cape de la Hague. "This is now the biggest tidal gate of the race," states Moore. "It is strongest off Cape de la Hague, through the Swinge (between Alderney and Burhou, northwest of Alderney) and off the eastern Alderney shore. The tidal effect also covers a much larger area than it does off Portland Bill. There will be winners and losers here and it will be hard to get right."

The Alderney Race’s effect will also be increased after start day’s new moon, with finishers into Cherbourg expecting during a period with a very high tidal coefficient (86-89). The good news is that the Alderney Race runs slightly faster in the fair northerly-northeasterly direction than it does when it is foul. Moore says that navigators will be keenly anticipating their arrival time at the Alderney Race. If it is when it is unfavourable then they try to gain tidal relief by leaving Alderney to port or, more dramatic still, sidestepping the Alderney Race altogether by approaching Cherbourg from the north. This latter route is made less attractive due to the location of the Casquets TSS exclusion zone that forces boats to stay south, unless they wish to round its north side, requiring them to sail 11 additional miles.

Those lucky enough to arrive at the Alderney Race in fair tide can expect a 4-6 knot boost to their speed. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian MooreThose lucky enough to arrive at the Alderney Race in fair tide can expect a 4-6 knot boost to their speed. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian Moore

UK-based Kiwi navigator Campbell Field was part of the overall winning crew on the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race on Charles Dunstone’s maxi Nokia and last year was on the top British finisher under IRC, David Collins’ modified TP52 Tala.

His assessment of the new course is similar to that of Ian Moore: “If you look at the prevailing conditions you could expect on an average year with southwesterlies, it will shift the proportions of the race – if it was predominantly upwind and tight reaching and around one third was broad reaching and running - it will flip those proportions. So there will be more open angle sailing. Also the majority of the race will now be post-Fastnet Rock rather than before it. With more downwind, it could well favour the broad reaching/downwind machines that can plane.”

As to the new long final leg between Bishop Rock to the finish, Field observes that while the old course used to be mostly a coastal race, the route to Cherbourg is much more open. “That’s good because there will be weather changes over that period.”

As to the Alderney Race, Field adds: “It is just another obstacle to negotiate, no different to the other tidal gates, but it is something that’ll have to be analysed coming back from the Fastnet. It will be time dependent and if your timing is stacking up to be an hour before or after the tidal gate, that could have a major impact on your race whereas if you get there in the middle of the flow, your strategy is pretty much dictated to you: Get in it and crack on or avoid it! It just adds another interesting navigational dynamic, a new dimension, to the race. I enjoy doing races like the Fastnet because you have constant stimulation...”

 Cherbourg will host the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race for the first time next August. Online entries open in January 2021. © Marc Lerouge Cherbourg will host the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race for the first time next August. Online entries open in January 2021. © Marc Lerouge

The new finish in Cherbourg is due to the joint co-operation of the City of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the Communauté d’agglomération du Cotentin, the Conseil départemental de la Manche and Région Normandie with the RORC. While French boats have dominated recent editions of Rolex Fastnet Race, good knowledge especially of the Alderney Race (or Raz Blanchard as it is known locally) is certain to benefit local residents. One is the 2013 winner, Alexis Loisin, who warns: “Raz Blanchard - there is a lot of current there and maybe the gate there will be open or closed, so you will certainly be able to win or lose the race in the last hours. Your timing must be good – so it is good to have Rolex as a sponsor!”

As Afloat reported previously, Carrickfergus navigator Ian Moore gave an overview of the new course on youtube here

Published in Fastnet
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The annual Schull Harbour Sailing Club Fastnet Race attracted 17 entries last Saturday. Starting from the harbour line in a 10-knot northerly breeze the fleet were able to carry their kites all the way to the rock in near-perfect sea conditions.

However, the return trip proved more problematic as the falling breeze became more cyclonic coupled with the falling tide.

Line honours went to Aidan Heffernans Indulgence who was the only boat to finish in under four hours, while the Echo division winner was the Quinlan family sailing Quinsea with Club commodore Flor O'Riordan winning IRC in Big Cheers.

Part of the 17-boat Schull Harbour fleet racing to the Fastnet RockPart of the 17-boat Schull Harbour fleet racing to the Fastnet Rock Photo: John Dalton

Published in Racing

In 2025, the Centenary of the RORC Fastnet Race – arguably the world’s most famous offshore challenge – will be sailed. Until recently, it would have seemed a bit odd to be focusing on a Centenary all of five years hence. But we now live in very strange times, and the current lockdown with multiple cancellations and postponements of unknowable length means that at some time in the future – maybe even further into the future than we dare to think – there will still be a log-jam of international events trying to find their place in the sun in order to get a regatta and a result, while the previously-established world sailing programme will hit more than a few bumpy patches as it tries to regain its regular rhythm.

Centenary Fastnet Race

In these circumstances, there’s no doubting that the Centenary Fastnet Race is a quintessential pillar event, a happening of such European and international significance that other fixtures should unquestioningly cede precedence to it. And the Centenary Fastnet Race to which they should cede precedence in 2025 ought to be on the best-known and most-frequently-sailed course, from Cowes down Channel and northwest to the Fastnet Rock, and then southeast leaving the Isles of Scilly to port, and on to the finish at Plymouth - 608 miles in all.

2 rounding fastnet rock2The Fastnet Rock is the only constant in the changing history of the Fastnet Race. Photo: Robert Bateman

New Cowes-Fastnet-Cherbourg course

Although the Fastnet Races of 2021 and 2023 will use the new Cowes-Fastnet-Cherbourg course, it has been hinted that for historic 2025, this time-honoured course from Cowes to the Fastnet and thence to Plymouth will be resumed. But as it happens, it’s not the original course. The first Fastnet in 1925 started from the Royal Victoria YC at Ryde on the northeast coast of the Isle of Wight, and exited the Solent eastward, leaving the Isle of Wight to starboard before heading for the Fastnet Rock and then back to Plymouth. This was sailed annually from 1925 until 1931, after which the race became biennial. But the same course was retained except for 1935, when it started in the Western Solent and sent the fleet directly westwards from the Royal Solent YC at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

The old course was resumed in 1937 and 1939, then after losing three races to World War II from 1939 to 1945, 1947’s race saw it resumed from the Eastern Solent. But with shoreside facilities problems in the immediate post-war period, that 1947 Royal Victoria YC start was provided from Portsmouth with assistance from the Royal Navy. Then in 1949, the start from the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes - with the fleet going westward - was introduced, and the Fastnet Race as virtually everyone today has known it was born.

2a fastnet race course2aThe “traditional” Fastnet Race course has only been sailed between 1949 and 2019, with three different start ports being used – with Ryde on the Isle of Wight the most frequent – before Cowes became the start point in 1949.3 plymouth harbour3The port of Plymouth. While Cherbourg may have been indicated as the finish port for the Fastnet Races of 2021 and 2023, until now Plymouth has been the port most totally associated with the race. It wasn’t until 1949 – 24 years after it was first raced – that the Fastnet Race finally started from Cowes, but between 1925 and 2019, the race always finished in Plymouth.

Overall Fastnet wins

Ireland’s successes in the Race over the years since its inception in 1925 have been distinctive, even if they aren’t numerous. But then, proportionately speaking, how many overall Fastnet wins should a country with our sailing population expect to achieve?

For there’s no doubt that enthusiastic national numbers with good boats and a strong success ethic throughout the crews will show in the results, as has been seen in recent years with the overall handicap winner table being dominated by the French. But then, just a couple of the more popular Breton sailing ports would have more boats between them than you’ll find in all Ireland, and the modern French offshore racing tradition, built on the well-earned hero-worship of Eric Tabarly and his successors, has solid foundations with achievements which are manifested in many ways.

4 fastnet carlo4With a total fleet pushing towards the 400 mark, getting the contemporary Rolex Fastnet Race under way at Cowes is a continuous process of many class starts. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Harry Donegan’s Gull

Our own focus is inevitably narrower, but when we remember that one of the seven boats in the original Fastnet was Harry Donegan’s Gull out of Cork and that the Corkmen were leading the fleet going past Land’s End when outward bound for the Rock - even if they were third at the finish in Plymouth – suggests that Ireland may actually have punched above her weight, for the period of 1920 to 1960 was one of relatively low activity in Irish offshore racing.

5 gull start5 1Harry Donegan’s Gull at the start of the first Fastnet Race from Ryde on the Isle of Wight in 1925. A17-ton gaff cutter designed by Charles E Nicholson and built by Camper & Nicholson in 1898, Gull was obliged under the rules of the new race to carry an adequate dinghy, which in this instance was kept upright on the starboard deck “as it was very handy for stowing gear”

6 gull during fastnet6Aboard Gull, driving hard during the first Fastnet Race in 1925. There were no rules requiring her to be fitted with guard rails, so she didn’t have them as they were considered “rather unsightly”.

That said, in 1947 Billy Mooney’s 42ft ketch Aideen out of Dun Laoghaire won her class in the 1947 Fastnet, as did Frank & Eric Hopkirk’s venerable cutter Glance from Belfast Lough in the race of 1953. But it has to be admitted that these wins were in numerically small divisions, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that Irish participation became more frequent.

By this stage, the Admiral's Cup was central to much of it, and it was a member of the 1971 team, Rory O’Hanlon’s S&S 43 Clarion from Dun Laoghaire Harbour, which went into the record books by winning the Philip Whitehead Cup, while the growth in the number of smaller boats was reflected in Ronnie Wayte taking second in the very large Class IV in that 1971 race in his new Hustler 35 Setanta of Skerries, which is currently – 49 years later - on the strength of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire.

7 clarion ohanlon7The classic 43ft Sparkman & Stephens Clarion (Dr Rory O’Hanlon RStGYC) during the 1971 Fastnet Race, in which she won the Philip Whitehead Cup

Fastnet Storm of 1979

Through the 1970s the pace built up, and in 1979 Ireland dominated the first stages of the Admiral's Cup, while in the first couple of hundred miles of the Fastnet Race itself, the betting was on as to whether Ken Rohan’s Holland 39 Regardless or Hugh Coveney’s Holland 43 Golden Apple would be the overall winner. But the Fastnet Storm of 1979 and the loss of both their rudders put paid to that high hope.

8 regardless 1981 may8Ken Rohan’s Holland 39 Regardless during the Irish Admirals Cup Trials at Cork, May 1981. With a crew built around Robert Dix, Drewry Pearson and Des Cummins, Regardless went on to be the top Admiral's Cup boat in the 1981 Fastnet Race. Photo: W M Nixon

Regardless

However, with a fresh crew including Young Turks like Robert Dix, Drewry Pearson and Des Cummins, Regardless was back for more in the 1981 Fastnet to achieve the best Irish result until then, the win in Class 1 and the overall win among all Admirals Cup boats.

They’re a talented trio, as Robert Dix – aka Dixie – had been the youngest ever All-Ireland Champion Helm at the age of 17 in October 1970 when the Helmsmans Championship – raced that year in National 18s – was the culmination of the Royal Cork’s Quarter Millennial celebrations. And ten years later, the trio were very much in action piloting Bruce Lyster’s eccentric Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble to overall victory in the 1980 ISORA Championship.

9 swuzzlebubble lyster8Bruce Lyster (left) on his originally-centreboard Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble coming in to win the Pwllheli-Howth Race of August 1980 - and the 1980 ISORA Championship with it - his crew including Robert Dix, Drewry Pearson and Des Cummins. Photo: W M Nixon

Admiral's Cup

Then came 1981, when the Admiral's Cup was arguably at its peak, so the Fastnet performance of Regardless was internationally acknowledged as something very special indeed. It certainly strengthened the already strong bond between the three guys, a bond which continues today in their joint ownership of the Hallberg Rassy 48 Alpaire of 2009 vintage, a particularly attractive Frers design in which they’ve recently been cruising the Black Sea.

But meanwhile, their performance with Regardless in 1981 had shown that clearly, the Big One was within sight, and in 1987 Ireland finally got the overall Fastnet Race win. Well, sort of…….

Thirty-three years ago, the growth of sponsorship in sailing could result in a confusion of results if rules from the era of total Corinthian participation were applied with precise regard for the last letter of the law. Thus although there were many sponsored entries racing in national teams in 1987’s highly competitive Admiral’s Cup for which the Fastnet Race was the climax, the peculiar reality was that none of them was eligible – because of being sponsored – to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall winner.

With a record fleet lining up for the Fastnet Race itself, and with thirteen teams competing with ferocious enthusiasm for the Admiral’s Cup in the best series for several years, it was so hectic in Cowes that the thought of an acute results problem arising in Plymouth after the Fastnet Race had finished does not seem to have been on the radar. Yet this is precisely what happened, and needless to say it was an Irish boat which was right at the eye of the storm.

Stephen Fein’s Dubois 40 Full Pelt was a late addition to the Irish Admiral’s Cup team. Skipper Tom Power of Dun Laoghaire had found that the boat he had originally chartered came with intractable rating problems. But in being forced into relatively last-minute negotiations with Full Pelt, the Irish fell on their feet.

10 irish indo racing10All systems go. The Dubois 40 Irish Independent racing in the 1987 Admirals Cup, Tim Goodbody is on the helm

Full Pelt was the result of a dynamic linkup between owner Stephen Fein, his ace boat optimizer and tuner Jo Richards, and designer Ed Dubois. Yet despite being a boat which was clearly showing further potential with every outing, Full Pelt had yet to find a guaranteed team place as the Admiral's Cup moved up the agenda.

Negotiations took place with some urgency. With the support of non-sailing Team Captain Sean Flood, sponsorship was secured from the Irish Independent newspaper, and the delicate task of balancing a crew panel between Full Pelt’s core crew and Tom Power’s own talented squad – which included helmsman Tim Goodbody – was set in train. With generous give and take on both sides, a real team spirit emerged, and as the 1987 Admirals Cup got under way, it was clear that Irish Independent was very much a boat to be taken seriously, with Tim Goodbody proving to be the equal and sometimes the better of international helming superstars like Lawrie Smith.

11 irish indo crew11The crew of 1987 Fastnet Race winner Irish Independent at the Royal Irish YC on 2nd December 2016 were (left to right) Billy Pope, Tom Power, Jo Richards, Stephen Fein, Sean Flood (Team Captain), Tim Goodbody, Tom Roche and Graham Deegan. Photo: W M Nixon

The Fastnet Race itself was a classic. In those days the big race started on the Saturday, and Irish Independent was very much in contention overall as she rounded the rock on the Monday evening. Then with the wind freshening wetly from the west, progress was rapid towards the finish at Plymouth, with the 40-footers finishing in a bunch around 0300hrs on the Wednesday morning.

This closeness of finish was exactly as Jo Richards had anticipated, and thus he had always been focused on keeping Irish Independent/Full Pelt’s rating a point or two below comparable boats. This meant that while the Richard Burrows-skippered Dubois 40 Jameson Whiskey rated 1.0195, Irish Independent clocked in at 1.0188. As often as not, Irish Independent would be ahead on the water anyway, but there was always this tiny ratings gap to fall back on, something which increased in significance with longer races and particularly with the Fastnet.

So on that wet pre-dawn Wednesday morning, Irish Independent was already well launched on her way to being declared overall winner of the Fastnet Race. And in a broadening of the scope of Irish success, it soon became clear that the legendary Holland 39 Imp, raced as a veteran by Roy Dickson of Howth, was also going to win the Philip Whitehead Cup. But in the euphoria of these achievements, it took a while before it was fully realised that despite the clarity of Irish Independent’s victory, there was no way she was going to win the coveted Fastnet Challenge Cup. That would go to the top-placed non-sponsored boat.

In the end, the band of brothers which had emerged from the melding of two crews aboard Irish Independent/Full Pelt had to be content with receiving a little silver dish – “a leprechaun’s hub-cap” as Tom Power described it – as the only acknowledgement of what they had done.

While everyone knew what the real situation was, the fact that the official records stated otherwise tended to obscure the facts with every passing year, and the untimely death early in 2016 of designer Ed Dubois – who had been an active crew member on the boat during the Fastnet Race – was a reminder that something needed to be done to put things in proper perspective.

Friday, December 2nd 2016 would normally have been a day on which people started seriously anticipating Christmas. But for those for whom Irish Independent/Full Pelt was a very special boat at the centre of an unusual but successful crew-merging project, Friday, December 2nd 2016 was the day on which the then Commodore of RORC, Michael Boyd, and the 1987 skipper of Irish Independent, the late Tom Power, jointly hosted a lunch in the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire to honour the memory of Ed Dubois and to celebrate the sportsmanship and goodwill of Stephen Fein and Jo Richards in throwing themselves so completely into campaigning with a crew of Irish strangers who had become close friends by the time the series was completed.

12 grosvenor deegan12Janet Grosvenor of the RORC and Graham Deegan, a crewmember on Irish Independent in 1987, in the RIYC December 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

An official stamp of approval was put on it all by the welcome presence of Janet Grosvenor, Assistant Secretary at the RORC in 1987, and key administrator of the Admiral's Cup, who has since been properly recognized for her great services over very many years to offshore racing by being conferred with Honorary Membership of the RORC. And thanks to links with Irish Lights, a new trophy – made from a prism from the light on the Fastnet Rock – was presented to Stephen Fein and Tom Power, acknowledging the boat’s clear overall win and complete with the names of the crew.

As for the full supporting cast at that lunch of 2016, it was extraordinary, as it included both the 1987 Team Captain Sean Flood, and the Team Manager Terry Johnson, it also included former RORC Commodore John Bourke who was navigator of Jameson Whiskey back in 1987, and it numbered almost the entire crew panel for Irish Independent/Full Pelt, including those who had sailed some of the races, and those who had stood aside to allow the core squad to race the boat round the Fastnet.

13 group 2016 shot13Putting the record straight. Among those who gathered at the RIYC in December 2016 to put the record straight on the real winner of the 1987 Fastnet Race were (left to right) Michael Boyd (Commodore RORC), Jim Horan (Commodore RIYC), Janet Grosvenor (RORC), Billy Pope (Irish Independent crew), Tom Power (Irish Independent skipper), Michael O’Leary (Fastnet contender), Jo Richards (Irish Independent designer/tactician), Stephen Fein (owner Full Pelt/Irish Independent), Terry Johnson (1987 Irish Admirals Cup Team Manager, Sean Flood (1987 Irish Admirals Cup Team Captain), Tom Roche (Skipper 1987 Irish Team Mumm 36), Tim Goodbody (Irish Independent helm), John Bourke (former Commodore RORC and navigator on 1987 Irish Team Dubois 40 Jameson), Graham Deegan (Irish Independent crew) and Paddy Boyd (Fastnet contender). Photo: W M Nixon 

But although the question of just who really did win the 1987 Fastnet Race was finally resolved in a roundabout sort of way in Dun Laoghaire 29 years later, back in the late 1980s the amateur/professional/sponsorship thing was a conundrum which rumbled on for quite a while. Thus in Jamie Young’s article earlier this week about using eco-friendly auxiliary sail power for cargo and passenger-carrying commercial vessel, we mentioned in our intro that his West Coast-based Expedition Yacht, the Frers 49 Killlary Flyer, had been overall winner of the 1988 Round Ireland Race.

Well, this is true up to a point. But in 1988, Round Ireland Race Director Michael Jones of Wicklow was ultra-scrupulous in implementing the amateur/professional/sponsorship directives. And in those days, Killary Flyer was Brian Buchanan’s Hesperia from Belfast Lough. Yet she did the 1988 Round Ireland as Woodchester Challenger in a well-sponsored deal arranged by Liam Lawlor of Howth with support from the Dublin-based finance company, but skippered as usual by Dickie Gomes, who sailed with most of his regular crew.

Yet as far as Michael Jones was concerned, the sponsorship made the boat a completely different animal, and she could only race in the Channel Handicap Division, whereas all the main prizes were still being allocated in the International Offshore Rule division. It’s small consolation that the IOR was soon to be replaced with Channel Handicap’s offspring, the IRC, for in 1988 Dickie Gomes and his crew sailed the race of their lives round Ireland to be challenging Hesperia/Woodchester’s slightly bigger sister, Denis Doyle’s Moonduster, at every corner before coming home to a strong finish at Wicklow.

When the results became official, Woodchester may have won overall under CHS from Liam Shanahan’s db2S Lightning from the National YC. But in IOR among the proper silverware, Lightning was the winner by three hours from Tony Vernon’s 40-footer Canterbury from Abersoch with Moonduster third, while Woodchester Challenger was simply nowhere in every way, for as far as the IOR Division was concerned, she simply didn’t exist.

14 woodchester hesperia14 One of German Frers most attractive designs, this Frers 49 started life as Ron Amey’s Noryema XI. She then became Brian Buchanan’s Hesperia, while for the 1988 Round Ireland Race she was – as seen here – Woodchester Challenger, and these days she is Jamie Young’s Killary Flyer, the noted Arctic Expedition Yacht based in northwest Galway.

Yet in the special camaraderie which prevails at the end of a Round Ireland Race, the attitude seemed to be that we were getting two good winners for the price of one. Lightning’s win was deservedly popular, and remains so today, for the Shanahan family have now been making a massive contribution to Irish offshore racing for three generations. And Woodhester Challenger's race had been one of those flawless performances which falls rarely to anyone, and are cherished for their own sake.

But there’s a certain irony in the fact that for the next Round Ireland in 1990, a huge affair with a significant Maxi presence, all the old rules and reservations about commercial sponsorship of entries had been chucked out with total abandon. Absolutely everyone was in with a chance at all the main prizes, and the line honours winner and fully acknowledged overall winner was Lawrie Smith – with his crew including Gordon Maguire - racing the Maxi Rothmans, a sponsorship which would be seen these days as so toxic that the boat probably wouldn’t even be allowed into Irish territorial waters.

Meanwhile back at the Fastnet Race, with the absence of Moonduster after the deathn at the age of 81 of Denis Doyle in 2001, it fell to several boats to take on the mantle of Irish representation. And they did it very well, for although The Duster had been a regular entrant and in the Fastnet class frame at times, stellar results eluded her. But when another Crosshaven boat, Eric Lisson’s Noray 38 Cavatina - which was already well-known as a Round Ireland success - took on the Fastnet challenge in 2005, she came within 23 minutes of winning the Fastnet Challenge Cup.

Sailing in Class 3, they’d a race-long ding-dong with the slightly lower-rated Nicholson 33 Iromiguy (Jean-Yves Chateau). There was an unusually large amount of spinnaker work, and Eric Lisson recalls how as night drew on they’d see the all-too-familiar spinnaker of Iromiguy fading into the dark astern, then through the night they’d have that familiar impression of sailing so well that they were convinced they were dropping the Frenchmen. But as sure as God made little apples, as the dawn came up one of the sets of navigation lights astern would be revealed as having that damned Iromiguy spinnaker setting sweetly aloft.

cavatina sailing14aA boat and crew in harmony – Cavatina and her team came second overall (by 23 minutes) in the 2005 Fastnet Race, and won their Class in the race of 2007. Photo: W M Nixon
So at the finish Iromiguy had the class win by 23 minutes from Cavatina, and as the numbers overall fell the right way for boats of Class Three, Iromiguy had the Fastnet overall win too. It was the third Fastnet Challenge Cup win for Cork-based designer Ron Holland, as Iromiguy’s sister-ship Golden Delicious had won overall in 1975, while Dave Allen Holland 39 Imp won in 1977. Yet that was only small consolation for Cavatina’s all-amateur crew, to be so near and yet so far, even if the vast majority of offshore racers could not conceive of the wonder of coming second overall in a Fastnet Race.

Eric Lisson and longtime shipmate Dave Hennessy (who was subsequently to complete a four year global circumnavigation in his own boat Laragh) were to have considerable consolation in 2007 when they raced Cavatina in the AZAB and won overall against opposition including Jamie Young’s Frers 49 Killlary Flyer from Galway. Buoyed up by this success, Cavatina then went on to do the 2007 Fastnet Race in which, this time round, they got the class win. But overall it wasn’t Class 3’s race, yet with Cavatina’s class win and another noted success, 2007 was arguably Ireland’s best Fastnet Race to date.

For it was the race of 2007 – all of twenty years after Irish Independent’s win – which secured the overall win again, and this time the Fastnet Challenge Cup came with it with no equivocation.

For this was the year of Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain from the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland in Kilrush. The Limerick skipper had his own way of doing things, such there were factors around Chieftain’s win which made it an epochal achievement in the purest if sometimes a rather crazy spirit of Irish offshore racing.

For a start, Ger O’Rourke – who’d already taken a class win and fourth overall in the Sydney-Hobart Race when his boat was still fresh from the builders in New Zealand – had a superstition about not officially entering Chieftain for the next big race on her outline programme until she had completed the one in which she was currently involved. In 2007, she raced the New York to Hamburg Race, taking second. But it was only once she was in Hamburg in late June that Ger got in touch with the RORC about the Fastnet, to be told that they’d take his entry, but he’d be 46th on the waiting list as the 2007 Fastnet Race had long since been over-subscribed.

It sounds daft, but there hadn’t been a real gale in open water in the Fastnet Race since the mega-storm of the 1979 disaster, and people were still nervous of its memory. Thus the RORC office were confident that there’d be a lot of drop-outs as the 2007 race approached, as it was a very unsettled summer. They were right, with Chieftain moving up the waiting list so rapidly that Ger considered it worth his while to position his boat in the Solent, where by the Tuesday before the race on Sunday, he was told he was now highly likely, and his full entry was confirmed on the Thursday.

As it happened, he’d four days to the start, for though it had been planned for the Sunday, a short sharp severe storm zapping up the English Channel saw it being postponed 25 hours until the Monday, which didn’t help the jitteriness of many crews. But Chieftain’s team were made of sterner stuff, and on Monday there she was, confidently thumping her way to windward down the Solent in the midst of the Fastnet fleet with her canting keel earnings its keep and with a crew who, if they lacked anything resembling a crew uniform, seemed to be on top of their game with the prodigious talent of Jochem Visser included in the strength.

15 chieftain solent15Chieftain making knots to windward down the Solent in the 2007 Fastnet Race – she had been an official entry for barely three days

As the bulk of the fleet approached the Lizard still slugging to windward, a serious gale warning led to multiple retirals – more than a hundred, for the memory of 1979 was still very strong. But the canting keel Chieftain was just getting into her stride despite all her electronics crashing before she cleared Lizard Point. Thereafter, all navigation and strategy and tactics were reliant on little hand-held GPS sets and a set of very sodden paper charts, but it didn’t take a feather out of them even if their boat’s size and speed made them one of a kind, racing largely on their own with nobody to compare their performance with, and little-noticed in the on-going race reports.

16 chieftain at finish16The winner that came out of nowhere…..Chieftain approaching the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007 on the Tuesday evening

Thus it was something of a surprise when Chieftain appeared on her own out of the late evening light as Thursday night drew on, and finished towards sunset into an unchallengeable winning position. Conditions had ideally suited a boat of her size and type, but there were several comparable craft – it was Chieftain the last-minute entry which had read it to perfection for a very clearcut Irish win, and now Ger O’Rourke had an unexpected problem – he had to hit the shops in Plymouth to find a clean shirt for the prize-giving.

17 Chieftain finishes17Home before dark – Chieftain and her motley crew cross the finish line at Plymouth to win the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Owner/skipper Ger O’Rourke had some unexpected retail therapy in having to buy a clean shirt for the prize-giving
It had been a magnificent win, and in its total individuality, it stands alone. Since then, Irish success in the Fastnet has been for the Roger Justice Trophy for Sailing Schools, with Ronan O Siochru with Irish offshore sailing’s Sunfast 37 Desert Star winning in 2015, while Kenneth Rumball with Irish National Sailing School’s J/109 Jedi won it in 2017.

18 jedi 2017 fastnet18The Irish National Sailing School’s J/109 Jedi (left foreground) makes a neat start to the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 in which she won the Roger Justice Trophy. Photo Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

So all in all, it’s a more-than-reasonable record of Fastnet success for Ireland. And anyway, it is our rock, after all, is said and done. So we undoubtedly have skin in the game for 2025’s Centenary, and doubtless, there are several top sailors thinking about it already, though the way the enormous but still limited online entry list is filled within minutes of opening for business makes it a bit of a lottery securing a place.

That said, straightforward priority should be given to boat with a gold standard Fastnet Race history, and it’s particularly notable how many pre-World War II Fastnet Race overall winners are still happily with us, including Bloodhound from 1939, Stormy Weather from 1935, Dorade from 1933 and 1931, and Tally Ho from 1927 which is currently (as reported in Afloat) being restored.

19 dorade stormy weather19Still going strong. The beautifully-restored 1931 and 1933 Fastnet Race winner Dorade (left) chasing the 1935 winner Stormy Weather in the race of 2015 – despite being five years older, Dorade finished ahead. Photo: Rolex/Daniel Forster
20 Halloween riyc20The 70ft Hallowe’en at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. Designed and built by Fife of Fairlie, Hallowe’en won line honours in the 1926 Fastnet Race in her first season afloat. Photo: W M Nixon

Also making their stately way afloat are the 1939 line honours winner, the 88ft Nordwind, and the 1926 line honours champion, the Irish-owned 70ft Fife-designed-and-built beauty Hallowe’en. But important as these Fastnet veterans are, for sheer prominence in the race’s history, none can rival the former Pilot Cutter Jolie Brise, winner for George Martin in the first race of 1925 and for Bobby Somerset in 1929 and 1930.

Jolie Brise is reckoned by the pundits to be the finest pilot cutter ever built. And her three successes in the early Fastnets were pointers to the success pattern in the modern race. For Jolie Brise is French-designed, and French-built. She was the last sailing pilot cutter to be commissioned for the vital service out of Le Havre in Normandy. She sails like a witch. Jolie Brise is very special indeed.

21 jolie brise21The last (and greatest) of Le Havre’s sailing pilot cutters, Jolie Brise was designed and built in France in 1913, and has won three Fastnet Races including the first one in 1925, plus the races of 1929 and 1930. She is now beautifully maintained and well used by Dauntsey’s School of Wiltshire in England

Irish Success in the Fastnet Race

  • 1925 Gull (HPF Donegan, Royal Cork YC) 3rd overall
  • 1926 Hallowe’en (now owned by Royal Irish YC syndicate) First to finish
  • 1947 Aideen (A.W. Mooney, Irish Cruising Club) First in Class A
  • 1947 Marama (Harald Osterberg, ICC) Second Class A
  • 1953 Glance (F & E Hopkirk, Royal Ulster YC) 1st Div A, Jolie Brise Cup
  • 1971 Clarion of Wight (Dr Rory O’Hanlon, Irish CC & Royal St George YC) First Division A and Philip Whitehead Cup
  • 1971 Setanta of Skerries (Ronnie Wayte, Irish Cr C & Skerries SC) Second Class IV
  • 1981 Regardless (Ken Rohan, Royal Irish YC) First Class 1
  • 1987  Irish independent/Full Pelt (Tom Power & Stephen Fein, Royal Irish YC) First overall 
  • 1987 Imp (Roy Dickson, Howth YC) 1st Div A, Philip Whitehead Cup
  • 2005 Cavatina (Eric Lisson, Royal Cork YC) 2nd Overall and 2nd Class 3
  • 2007 Chieftain (Ger O’Rourke, Royal Western of Ireland YC) First overall and Fastnet Challenge Cup, RORC Yacht of the Year 2007)
  • 2007 Cavatina (Eric Lisson, RCYC) First Class 3
  • 2015 Desert Star (Ronan O Siochru, Irish Offshore Sailing) Roger Justice Trophy
  • 2017 Jedi (Kenneth Rumball, Irish National SS) Roger Justice Trophy

*Afloat.ie welcomes any additions and corrections to the above

Published in W M Nixon
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Well, there’s been something in the air for long enough about the future of the Rolex Fastnet Race writes W M Nixon.

Back in September 2018, we were testing a few ideas about where it might go here

And on revisiting the column, we find that it has been getting hits ever since. Then the Plymouth Herald did a bit of speculation as reported by Afloat.ie’s MacDara Conroy, and there was indeed something in the wind, for as revealed today with the “sudden" announcement that Cherbourg is to be the finishing port in 2021 and 2023, we have – as the new "co-owners" of the race would put it – a fait accompli, a coup d’etat of very complete type (whatever that is in French, and whatever you’re having yourself.)

French boats have won something like three out of the last four Fastnet Races, and even though the most recent this year was won by the American Wizard, there were French boats dominant as usual in all other classes. They probably have increasingly proprietorial feelings towards the race. And with today’s bombshell definite news, the way is clear for making more of a song and dance about the new French finish port at this year’s Paris Boat Show, which starts in ten days' time. But that said, it’s still Ireland’s rock and always will be. So now that it’s apparent there’s serious new money floating around the Fastnet Race, maybe Cork County Council should be preparing an invoice for Cherbourg council, and no April Fool either.

Published in Fastnet
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When an “explosion of a storm” tore its way through the Fastnet yacht race off the Irish coast 40 years ago, there were those among the survivors who could not speak about the experience for years writes Lorna Siggins

However, over 100 sailors, rescuers and relatives of Fastnet ’79 competitors were not quite so lost for words in Howth Yacht Club, north Dublin yesterday as they gathered to remember the event.

The first full reunion of crews among Irish yachts involved in the race began with a wreath-laying at sea by the RNLI Howth lifeboat in memory of those who died.

Although the official death toll in the yacht race was initially stated at 15, and then 19, the actual figure is 21, according to Commodore John Kavanagh, now retired from the Naval Service, who was in command of the LÉ Deirdre patrol ship during the rescue effort.

Cdr Kavanagh recalled how two of the fatalities were a young couple who had joined a spectator boat, Buck’s Fizz, in Cowes shortly before the Fastnet race start from the southern English coast on August 11th, 1979.

“When we picked up that upturned catamaran, all four crew had lost their lives – but the bodies of the young couple were never actually found,” he said.

“There will never be a storm like that again – only because now we rely on sophisticated forecasting and real-time information about its progress,” Cdr Kavanagh observed.

Drawing on photographs taken by one of his ship’s crew, he recalled the LÉ Deirdre’s role in locating yachts, after the ship’s barograph measuring atmospheric pressure fell by 25 millibars in the space of ten hours.

RNLI Baltimore lifeboat coxswain Kieran Cotter, who was a crew member out on rescues for up to 75 hours in 60-knot winds, and lightkeeper Gerald Butler, who had been stationed on the Fastnet, were among the guests at the event organised by Kevin Burke, Kieran Jameson and Brian Lennon.

Kevin Burke was on board the Rapparee, a nine-metre (30 ft) Shamrock, designed by Ron Holland, which rolled over to 180 degrees at one point – and eventually made it into Dunmore East, Co Waterford.

His fellow crew, navigator John Marrow and Enda O’Coineen, recalled how they managed to communicate with an RAF helicopter by Motorola hand-held radio, and only knew the full extent of the disaster when the pilot informed them he had “bodies to pick up”.

The 18 Irish-flagged 1979 Fastnet yachts represented yesterday included crews from Cork vessels Golden Apple of the Sun owned by the late Hugh Coveney, Wild Goose, Moonduster, Irish Mist 111, Tom O’Shanter and Clayton Love Junior's Silver Apple of the Moon.

Michael O’Leary, who had been on Golden Leigh, was among crews from ten Dublin yachts at the event, while Donal McClement, RAF search and rescue pilot sailing on Black Arrow and Sally O’Leary, crew on the British-flagged yacht Yeoman XXI, also attended.

Journalist Winkie Nixon paid tribute to the rescue agencies, including RNLI lifeboats from the Scilly Isles and Penlee in Britain, from Baltimore, Ballycotton and Courtmacsherry in Co Cork and Dunmore East, Co Waterford .

They spent up to 75 hours at sea in what was described as the largest ever peace-time maritime rescue operation, along with the Naval Service, the Royal Navy, Dutch Navy, US Navy and HM Coastguard.

“When someone saves your life, you can never repay them,” Mr Nixon observed, quoting from the biography of Ron Holland who, he said, had written the best account of those four days.

The 1979 Fastnet race was to have been the climax of an Admiral’s Cup series that Ireland was tipped to win, and there were almost 3,000 recreational sailors at sea, with minimal safety equipment and few VHF radios on some spectator yachts.

They were scattered between the Scilly isles and the Fastnet – some competing and many following the 605 nautical mile course from the Isle of Wight and back to Plymouth – when a French forecast gave the first indication of the gathering maelstrom.

Published in Fastnet
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American Owner George David, skipper of Rambler 88 the monohull line Fastnet Race winner has again paid tribute to the RNLI Lifeboat crew in Baltimore West Cork who rescued him after he capsized at the rock eight years ago. "We know those people pretty well. We've been back to Baltimore four or five times since", David said ashore today as he praised the sensational 2011 rescue as Afloat reported at the time here

David won monohull line honours this morning, after crossing the Plymouth finish line at 09:55:02. David and his all-star crew were delighted to have beaten their rivals on the 100-footer SHK Scallywag to the punch.

"Passing the Rock was an emotional moment for David"

For a while it looked like breaking the outright monohull race record was on the cards, especially after Rambler 88 set a new record from Cowes to the Fastnet Rock, George David beating his own record by 88 minutes, which he set on Rambler 100 back in 2011. The race back across the Celtic Sea towards the Scilly Isles was also very quick with straight-line sailing at speeds of around 20 knots. But it was the final run into Plymouth from the Scillies that put paid to any race record hopes. In the end, Rambler 88 finished in a time of 1d 19h 55m 2s, 1 hour and 16 minutes off the record set by the Volvo Open 70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2011.

Not that George David was complaining. This was his fifth assault on the Rolex Fastnet Race and he has succeeded in repeating his line honours victory from two years ago. "We're delighted to have that outcome. It was a contest this year because we had the big hundred footer Scallywag and they had some, should we say, strong statements ahead of the race about how good they were! And so we were especially motivated to get here 10 or 12 miles ahead of them, which we did. And we were in heavy competition right from the start."

George DavidGeorge David (centre) and team on Rambler 88 - Rodney Ardern, Scott Beavis, Curtis Blewett, Brad Butterworth, Antonio Cuervas Mons, Rodney Daniel, Simon Daubney, Jan Dekker, Brian Giorgio, Jerry Kirby, Tony Langley, Will McCarthy, Mark Newbrook, Dean Phipps, Aaron Reynolds-Lovegrove, Julian Salter,  Joca Signorini, Peter van Niekerk, Stuart Wilson © Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Passing the Rock was an emotional moment for David, with Rambler 88 encountering very similar, rough conditions that had befallen the ill-fated Rambler 100 there eight years ago. As the boat reached the Rock this time, David had no idea that he'd just set a new record to the Fastnet lighthouse. "I had some other things on my mind - from 2011 when we were up there in comparable conditions, 25-30 knots in really lumpy seas a few miles west of the Rock. The keel came off, the boat rolled over and that was the end of that. So we have some special memories. At least I did personally.

"My wife Wendy wasn't on the boat this time. She was in 2011 and she and I spent three hours in the Celtic Sea courtesy of that little issue. Baltimore lifeboat was there yesterday, to meet and greet and wave and say hello. We know those people pretty well. We've been back to Baltimore four or five times since." David paid tribute to everyone who helped in that rescue operation and remains grateful to this day for an outcome that could have been a lot, lot worse.

Once past the Fastnet, the New Yorker's mind turned towards the possibility of breaking the race record. It was looking good until the final run in from the Scillies. "Our route plan at the rock was we would finish at six or seven this morning, which would have been ahead of the record. The problem was we turned the corner at the Scillies and came down the Channel and it was VMG the whole way. So we sailed probably an extra 40 or 50 miles. And that extra distance sailed added maybe another two or three hours on to our time."

Rambler 88's navigator, Jules Salter, had just completed his 14th consecutive Fastnet Race but said this was one of the best. "That was a great run on board a fantastic boat with a really good bunch of guys. It would have been great to have beaten the record, but at least I've still got the record because I was on board Abu Dhabi in 2011. We'll have to come back for another go."

SHK Scallywag finished just 27 minutes after Rambler 88. "It was a very close, exciting race," said owner Seng Huang Lee. "We had a little bit of everything - fine weather, rough sea and a squall just before we rounded the Rock. But these were the conditions that Rambler was designed for, so congratulations to them."

Published in Fastnet
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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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