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While this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will be highly competitive at the front of the fleet, for many among the record-sized entry of 453 yachts (at present), the objective of tackling the 695-mile course from Cowes to Cherbourg via the legendary rock off southwest Ireland is just to get round successfully. For many, personally, they are taking part to experience the challenge, a lifelong ambition, an adventure, a bonding experience with family and friends, to improve on a previous result or because, this year’s race will be historic, for the first time in its 96 years finishing in Cherbourg. There are many reasons crews will be setting off from the Solent on the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event on 8 August other than to come first.

The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier.The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier

Several yachts are entered with crews from the British Armed Forces, competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race for their own trophies – the Inter-Regimental Cup: Best Service Boat under IRC and the Culdrose Trophy for the top Service Boat to the Fastnet Rock. The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier. This team has enjoyed considerable success notably in 2018 when their X-41 won the RORC Season’s Point Championship. They have since changed to the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier which despite owning her since the end of 2019 they have yet to race it offshore due to the pandemic.

In addition to providing a sports activity for their soldiers, the ASA also views it as training, helping to improve teamwork, and operational effectiveness in their soldiers which encouraging their most promising sailors to progress up the sport.

Across the fleet many are using the event to raise awareness for charities and causes.

Most notable is this year’s youngest competitor 12-year-old Zoe d'Ornano, who will be on one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s two Challenger 72s entered. A keen dinghy sailor and an experienced crew cruising with family and friends, she will use the race to raise awareness of the work of the TSYT while fundraising to give some of the country’s most disadvantaged young people a life-changing experience at sea. Founded in 1956, the Tall Ships Youth Trust has supported over 120,000 young people, aged 12-25, the majority disadvantaged or disabled. It also helps young people redefine their horizons through adventure learning at sea.” Zoe's Just Giving page here

12-year old Zoe d'Ornano is likely to be the youngest crew member in the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be raising money for the Tall Ships Youth Trust Photo: On board Challenger 72 Photo: Lay Koon Tan12-year old Zoe d'Ornano is likely to be the youngest crew member in the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be raising money for the Tall Ships Youth Trust Photo: On board Challenger 72 Photo: Lay Koon Tan

The Dutch Childhood 1 project is entered, aboard the former Team Brunel VO65. They race to raise awareness of children's rights while fundraising for the Childhood Foundation. In 2019 Childhood 1 participated in the RORC Transatlantic Race, winning the International Maxi Association Trophy for line honours.

For those without their own boat, many take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race aboard charter boats or with a crew from a sailing or race training school. For example, Jonathan Moon from Chandlers Ford will be racing with the Sail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 Escapado, skippered by Germaine Williams. Moon chose to do this to coincide with the 40th anniversary of when his father Paul competed on the UFO 31 The Happy Return: “I still recall going to watch the start and feeling excitement and worry, after all this was my Dad - my hero - the man who taught me how to sail, heading off into a race that two years before had taken the lives of 15 sailors.”

Sail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 EscapadoSail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 Escapado Photo: Tim Wright

Sadly his father now suffers from Lewy Body Dementia. During the race, Jonathan will be raising money for St Cross Grange, the Winchester-based care home specialising in dementia, where his father resides. Funds will go towards the purchase of a Tovertafel, an interactive games device that breaks through apathy by stimulating both physical and cognitive activity. 

Also celebrating a family anniversary is German skipper Kai Greten whose beautiful wooden hulled Gerhard Gilgenast One Tonner Oromocto turns 50 this year. Oromocto was left to him by his grandfather upon his death in 1999 and since 2010 Greten has been campaigning her hard out of Kiel. His greatest success to date was winning the Pantaenius Rund Skagen race in 2014.

British Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies has just entered her Initiatives Coeur in the 13-strong IMOCA class. Sam will be continuing her extraordinary fund raising efforts supporting the French charity Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque either through direct donations or, the cleverest part, from her three sponsors, each of whom donates 1 Euro whenever a member of the public clicks ‘like’ on the Initiative Coeurs Facebook or Instagram pages. Do it now!

The charity saves children from poor countries born with heart defects, by bringing them to France to be operated on. Every 12000 Euros raised saves one child’s life. During her Vendée Globe, Sam’s fundraising efforts saved an incredible 103 children. As she puts it: “Every time I look up and I’m having a bad day, it reminds me what I am really out there doing this for. It is pretty motivating.”

Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies will be continuing her drive to save young lives whilst racing her IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Initiatives Coeur  Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies will be continuing her drive to save young lives whilst racing her IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Initiatives Coeur  

Kai Greten will be sailing his Grandfather's beautiful wooden classic One Tonner Oromocto which is celebrating her 50th anniversary Photo: Creator: YACHT/Jozef Kubica   Kai Greten will be sailing his Grandfather's beautiful wooden classic One Tonner Oromocto which is celebrating her 50th anniversary Photo: Creator: YACHT/Jozef Kubica  

Pierre-Louis Attwell is racing Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn to spread awareness of Crohn's Disease Photo: Patrick Deroualle /Drheam CupPierre-Louis Attwell is racing Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn to spread awareness of Crohn's Disease Photo: Patrick Deroualle /Drheam Cup

From Honfleur Pierre-Louis Attwell is racing his Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn, with which he will be spreading awareness of Crohn's Disease, from which he suffers. His team includes a mix of pros and amateurs, including Maxime Bense with whom he will race this autumn’s doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. This will be Attwell’s first Rolex Fastnet Race: “We can't wait to be at the start of this legendary sailing race, to face the best sailors in the world and to live a unique experience.”

One of the largest yachts to be promoting a cause is Romain Pilliard’s Use it Again!, familiar to UK sailing fans as the former B&Q, the trimaran on which Dame Ellen MacArthur sailed singlehanded non-stop around the world in record time in 2005. Pilliard has recycled the famous Irens-designed trimaran and appropriately is now using her to promote the circular economy, a cause championed globally by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “I wanted to experience the Rolex Fastnet Race and highlight my Use It Again! campaign to promote circular economy and ocean protection,” says Pilliard, who adds: “The Rolex Fastnet Race is a legendary race with high level sailors competing in it and the race course is incredible. I'm looking forward to going fast in the Celtic Sea.”

Romain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! Photo: Imbaud VerhaegenRomain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote the circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! Photo: Imbaud Verhaegen

Providing offshore racing miles to young sailors is the remit of the Dutch Ker 46 Van Uden Rotterdam skippered by former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Gerd-Jan Poortman, with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team. The team’s goal is to participate in The Ocean Race (ex-Volvo Ocean Race) and the sailors are therefore being given full responsibility to prepare and maintain their boat, plus its navigation, tactics, training, fitness and PR.

“I am looking forward to gaining experience in offshore sailing, taking part in my first major sailing competition with multiple days at sea, and competing against top notch sailors from different nations,” says Laurien Waller, one of her crew. “A highlight of the course will definitely be the Fastnet Rock and I think if we do a good job and work well as a team, reaching the finish line in Cherbourg will feel amazing. The most difficult part will be choosing the optimal route and maintaining team fitness and tackling fatigue.”

Far in the majority are those with family entries such as Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas, the lowest rated yacht in the fleet. She will be sailing by Declercq with his wife, two children and a family friend. He has raced previously in several Fastnets aboard Sigma 38s and Contessa 32s: “Unfortunately we had to abandon the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2019 because I broke a rib and was in too much pain to continue, so we are really looking forward to the race this year. We are looking forward to fun racing with the family in this fantastic race. For us having a small and rather slow boat, it's a longer race and the weather is more unpredictable, but the vibe around the race and the fact that we can compete against professional boats and crews is amazing.”

Gerd-Jan Poortman with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team will be gaining offshore miles experience during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rotterdam Offshore Sailing teamGerd-Jan Poortman with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team will be gaining offshore miles experience during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rotterdam Offshore Sailing team

Many boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Sportography.TVMany boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Sportography.TV

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Well done to the MOD 70 PowerPlay on almost managing to make the 24 hours for a Fastnet Race course finishing at Plymouth. But we'd suggest in all modesty (we're tops for it) that what they were sailing was NOT the original Fastnet Race course.

Back in the 1920s when the notion of a Fastnet race was first mooted, the conservative Cowes establishment would have nothing to do with such a crazy idea, and thus the first Fastnet Race in 1925 started eastward out of Solent from the Royal Victoria YC at Ryde, and then westward south of St Catherine's Point to sail the "traditional" course thereafter, finishing at Plymouth.

This was the course until 1949 except for 1935, when it started westward from Royal Solent YC at Yarmouth. The record for the original course was set by the new Fife 70ft Bermudan cutter Hallowe'en (now Royal Irish YC) in 1926 (the race was annual until 1931), and Hallowe'en's record stood until 1939, when it was bested by 86ft German Navy yawl Nordwind.

The 86ft Gruber-designed German navy yawl Nordwind finally toppled the 70ft Hallowe'en's Fastnet Race Course record in 1939The 86ft Gruber-designed German navy yawl Nordwind finally toppled the 70ft Hallowe'en's Fastnet Race Course record in 1939 

Nordwind – like Hallowe'en – is still on the go, as a much-loved Henry Gruber-designed classic. In 1939, she was raced by the Kriegsmarine. They looked awfully smart at the prize-giving in Plymouth in their Hugo Boss-designed uniforms with Heil Hitler salutes all round, and all this just a few days before the start of World War II.

Since then, we've had World War III being fought over the change to the Fastnet Race course for 2021, proposing a new and capacious finish port at Cherbourg. But in recent days, with France going into super-lockdown to try and eradicate the latest wave of COVID-19 with every self-respecting country worldwide now claiming its own even more potent variant, Cherbourg may still be off-limits by August.

However, if push comes to shove, instead of sheepishly returning to the traditional Plymouth finish, the more realistic will suggest that the RORC will simply choose to re-locate the finish right back into Cowes (maybe what they've wanted all along), albeit with the Isle of Wight left to port to avoid the total tidal gate east of The Needles.

The current state of play in the 2021 Fastnet Course Stakes. The red extension to Cherbourg may be in doubt if the latest COVID wave in France cannot be brought under control, so one possible solution may be to continue up-Channel, leaving the Isle of Wight close to port and finishing in the Eastern Solent at Ryde – where it all started in 1925.The current state of play in the 2021 Fastnet Course Stakes. The red extension to Cherbourg may be in doubt if the latest COVID wave in France cannot be brought under control, so one possible solution may be to continue up-Channel, leaving the Isle of Wight close to port and finishing in the Eastern Solent at Ryde – where it all started in 1925.

That would handily take the finishing fleet cleanly past Ryde, an ideal finish point. But having been dumped twice – in 1935 and 1949 – as the starting club, it would be understandable if the RVYC told them to do something rather unnatural with the finish line for the Fastnet Race 2021.

Published in Fastnet

How quickly can we hope to return to the carefree style of sailing sociability which reflects the mood displayed above, as seen in the officially-accredited Sporting & Cultural Mission from Howth Yacht Club on its traditional biennial visit to the Sovereign's Cup in Kinsale?

Naturally, we can't go into any personal details or identification - what happens in Kinsale stays in Kinsale. But any contemplation of this display of dynamic camaraderie is a forceful reminder of how the past fourteen months have seen us pushed further and further from everything that makes Irish sailing so effortlessly sociable.

And "effortlessly" is the keyword here, for as you'll deduce, the HYC modus operandi includes taking a block booking in the hotel which is as close as possible to Kinsale YC and its marina, without actually putting the group on conspicuous display in a waterfront establishment.

As various commentators have already pointed out, the official Lockdown Easing pronouncements of recent days seem, on closer examination, to be a series of "definite maybes". But after everything that has been experienced, not to mention what may be yet to come, the sailing community does not at this stage expect its leaders to be setting completely finalised dates.

Ann Kirwan – seen here racing with co-owner Brian Cullen – may be noted for campaigning a Ruffian 23 called Bandit. But as Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, it is the Bandit skipper who will be clarifying the law-keeping for her many membersAnn Kirwan – seen here racing with co-owner Brian Cullen – may be noted for campaigning a Ruffian 23 called Bandit. But as Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, it is the Bandit skipper who will be clarifying the law-keeping for her many members

Thus Ann Kirwan, Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club and thereby the actual and spiritual leader of the largest yacht race organisers in Ireland, got the tone just right when she expressed a hope for starts of sorts in mid-May, but made it clear to any thinking sailor that these things are being monitored on a day-to-day basis while we all hope for the best, and of course at every turn social distancing will continue for some time to be a major consideration.

TRAINING ELEMENT PLAYS SIGNIFICANT ROLE

Where training is involved, there is a significant element of school opening allowances in the equation, and Howth YC Commodore Paddy Judge has expressed the hope that training courses will be underway at or soon after April 26th, which brings a resumption of sorts within the almost foreseeable future.

When it was good, it was very, very good. The season of 2021 may have been truncated, but it provided some superb memories before lockdown returned, and one of the best was Howth's last keelboat race is notably warm weather on Sunday 13th September, with Simon Knowles' J/109 seen here chasing down three of the hot HYC Half Tonners. Photo: Judith Malcolm.When it was good, it was very, very good. The season of 2020 may have been truncated, but it provided some superb memories before lockdown returned, and one of the best was Howth's last keelboat race is notably warm weather on Sunday 13th September, with Simon Knowles' J/109 seen here chasing down three of the hot HYC Half Tonners. Photo: Judith Malcolm.

On the more complex question of sailing for everyone, the feeling was that DBSC got it pretty much spot on in the amount and timing of the racing it organized through 2020's truncated season. But if anything, the controlled success of last year puts even greater pressure on the organisers to make the right call and provisions as the new season approaches. For the background factors keep changing.

After all, every day we hear of increased Brexit-induced ferry connectivity with France, yet France has recently seen Pandemic levels rise to such dangerous numbers that they're now into a three-week lockdown in France, and especially in Paris.

April in Paris, yet the City of Light is closed? But in Paris, not all is as it seems. Once upon a time a long time ago, I met a guy in Paris, an American, who was still living off the regular royalties he'd inherited from the fact that his father had, among other popular works, written the song April in Paris.

Yet April in Paris can feel like winter, as is the case at the moment. However, it's nothing new – this man in Paris admitted that the romantic events in Paris which inspired the song that continued to keep him in such comfort had actually occurred in May. But all his father's skills as a songsmith simply couldn't get May to scan with the rest of the lyrics, so he shifted it to April, and blushed all the way to the bank.

April in Paris – rainy but romantic. The outcome of the current three week April lockdown in France may well play a pivotal role in some important aspects of the 2021 sailing season in Europe.April in Paris – rainy but romantic. The outcome of the current three week April lockdown in France may well play a pivotal role in some important aspects of the 2021 sailing season in Europe.

FRENCH LOCKDOWN MAY AFFECT FASTNET RACE 2021

This may all seem irrelevant to the opening or otherwise of the 2021 sailing season. But in fact what happens in Paris over the next three weeks will be of real importance to the sailing hopes of at least eleven Irish offshore racing crews with a taste for the international competition, as this August is scheduled for the first of the new-look RORC Rolex Fastnet Races finishing in France at Cherbourg, and they're entered for it.

But if the supposedly total three week lockdown in France, which started yesterday, goes astray by being ignored with extensive social unrest to compound the problem, and yet another massive COVID surge results thereafter, then events in August will experience a damaging knock-on effect.

It might even see the Fastnet Race organisers forced to revert to the historic finish port of Plymouth in order to keep all the shoreside activity within one national jurisdiction. And we hasten to add that this is not a belated April Fool notion.

The traditional Fastnet Racecourse in gold, with the planned 2021 extension to finish at Cherbourg in red. If the current newly-introduced Three Week Lockdown in France fails to curb the latest major surge of COVID-19, it's possible that the RORC may have to revert to the Plymouth finish in order to keep all shoreside activity connected to the Fastnet Race restricted to one relatively pandemic-free jurisdiction.The traditional Fastnet Racecourse in gold, with the planned 2021 extension to finish at Cherbourg in red. If the current newly-introduced Three Week Lockdown in France fails to curb the latest major surge of COVID-19, it's possible that the RORC may have to revert to the Plymouth finish in order to keep all shoreside activity connected to the Fastnet Race restricted to one relatively pandemic-free jurisdiction.

As it happens, we don't have to look to France for the need for restrained behaviour. Easter in Ireland with imposed social limitations will seem particularly irksome to a people accustomed to make this their great traditional Springtime get-together, especially so after the cancellation for a second year of St Patrick's Day.

Let us hope that it is not blind optimism to expect that the population generally will be carefully regarding the regulations over this long weekend. The nation has barely got things back in an even keel after the huge post-Christmas & New Year surge before this new threat is upon us. And vaccinations are still running at a worryingly low level, yet we find ourselves thrust back into a pressure-cooker situation to keep the virus-spread under control.

APRIL 20TH WILL BE DATE WHEN SITUATION CLARIFIES

All of which means that while we may talk of a significant easing of restrictions around April 26th, it won't be until the days around the 20th April – 14 days after Easter – that we'll have the actual figures and the accurate graphs to tell us the real story about the level of after-effect from any illicit Easter socialising, and what expectations can be realistically expressed about various levels of resumption of activity.

We'll have to accept that it must start quietly and in a restrained and socially distanced way, and all strictly at club level. Admittedly our clubs are of such variety in size and character that "at club level" will have different meanings at different sailing centres. But any sailor of responsibility and goodwill will know the limitations without them having to be rigidly enforced, for as we learned last year, the strength of the Irish sailing club tradition is such that the Commodores and Admirals are expected to quietly clarify the developing situation for their members, and this was done at all main sailing harbours through 2021, with a reassuring level of both thoroughness and rightness.

A moment of real hope. Proper and officially-sanctioned club keelboat racing finally gets underway on a glorious sailing evening at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven on July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert BatemanA moment of real hope. Proper and officially-sanctioned club keelboat racing finally gets underway on a glorious sailing evening at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven on July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert Bateman

The Pilot. Colin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork YC. In January 2021 he was acclaimed as Cork's "Person of the Month" for the skilled way he had guided his club through the incredibly difficult experience of effectively cancelling his club's long-planned Tricentenary, and then being involved in arranging regulation-compliant events which included the offshore Fastnet 450 Race to optimize his members' severely constrained 2020 season.The Pilot. Colin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork YC. In January 2021 he was acclaimed as Cork's "Person of the Month" for the skilled way he had guided his club through the incredibly difficult experience of effectively cancelling his club's long-planned Tricentenary, and then being involved in arranging regulation-compliant events which included the offshore Fastnet 450 Race to optimize his members' severely constrained 2020 season 

However, the very nature of sailing as a vehicle sport, where crew numbers can quickly rise to threaten the limitations of family or bubble numbers, means that each situation may have to be decided on its own merits. We're told that in the current circumstances, sailing as a sport is grouped in with tennis, golf and cycling, but that obviously creates problems of interpretation.

Naturally the solo-sailing brigade are in something of a category of their own, but there's no escaping the fact that the invisible but very real on-water camaraderie of a fleet of solo sailors can very quickly translate into shoreside social-distancing problems as the group comes ashore in a wave of banter at race's end.

You can of course have two folk from the same bubble racing Lasers of Aero RSs or whatever in match events to their heart's content, though I suppose they'd have to make some sort of allowances for having a rescue boat. But if you want to push the fleet numbers out, it can always be designated as a training and coaching session, for once a certain level of competence has been attained, there is simply no better way of improving someone's solo sailing ability than through racing.

Now there's a real start……In pandemic circumstances, there are few healthier group sporting activities than big-fleet Laser racing – but problems arise when the fleet tries to get organised ashore.Now there's a real start……In pandemic circumstances, there are few healthier group sporting activities than big-fleet Laser racing – but problems arise when the fleet tries to get organised ashore.

Certainly, the charms of match racing can soon wear off, with it becoming a reminder – and here's something you mightn't have known – of the fact that in Scotland, there has never been a complete ban on playing golf throughout the pandemic. But since January 1st, it has been limited to a maximum of two players (and presumably a minimum of one), with the players regulation-compliant in every way, a dour enough situation perhaps, but it must have seemed like a relative paradise to unnecessarily restricted golfers in Ireland.

It's something to think about as we wait to see what the graphs and numbers are like on April 20th. Anyone who thinks otherwise has clearly forgotten about how the balloon went up in the second and third weeks of January. Meanwhile, it's arguable that there's currently no justification for prematurely cancelling any planned local events scheduled from mid-May onwards provided their local credentials are impeccable, and by June who knows, but we may indeed see the national season of 2021 get underway in style with the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of Wednesday, June 9th, even if it is slightly subdued by shoreside restrictions.

Sacred activity. With the addition of face-masks, these two would have been allowed to continue their sport in Scotland through January, February and March.Sacred activity. With the addition of face-masks, these two would have been allowed to continue their sport in Scotland through January, February and March.

Published in W M Nixon

Doublehanded offshore racing had been gaining popularity with the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC Two Handed class almost doubling in size between 2009 and 2019. But for this year’s edition of the world’s largest offshore yacht race its entry has soared to 89 yachts, a giant step up from 2019’s 64.

Long term this trend has been attributed to owners finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a full crew. Over this time shorthanded offshore racing has become more accepted, no longer seen as being on the fringe of the sport, certainly helped by boats and gear becoming better tailored to this discipline. Extra exposure has caused more people to become intrigued by this uniquely challenging form of yacht racing.

Social distancing requirements enabled this to be the first type of racing to be reintroduced by the Royal Ocean Racing Club in 2020, with doublehanders enjoying the most days out on the water over the season. But the most significant boost internationally has come from the possibility of mixed doublehanded offshore racing being introduced to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Whether this will happen awaits a final decision by the International Olympic Committee due soon.

With events like the Route du Rhum and Vendée Globe and classes like the Figaro, Class40 and IMOCA, France is the world’s stand-out nation when it comes to shorthanded offshore racing, but surprisingly in recent Fastnet races, it is the IRC Two Handed class where French teams have faced some of the toughest competition. In 2019, of the top 10 in IRC Two Handed only five were French compared to eight in IRC Four and seven in IRC Three. This was probably because the A-list French talent mostly has confined itself to the Ultime, IMOCA and Class40 and not the IRC fleet. However one consistently has.

2013 Fastnet Challenge Cup winner, Alexis Loison will race once again Two Handed with Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon Photo: Paul Wyeth/RORC2013 Fastnet Challenge Cup winner, Alexis Loison will race once again Two Handed with Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon Photo: Paul Wyeth/RORC

Cherbourg-based Alexis Loison has finished in the top ten in yacht racing’s unofficial solo offshore world championship, La Solitaire du Figaro no less than six times, which makes him one of the best offshore sailors in the world. However Loison’s father Pascal is a keen IRC racer and father and son entered the history books in 2013 when they became the first doublehanded crew ever to win the Rolex Fastnet Race outright, ahead of the fully crewed fleet. Alexis holds the record for the most victories in the IRC Two Handed class. He won it three times with Pascal and is its defending champion after winning it for a fourth time sailing with Jean Pierre Kelbert on the French boatbuilder’s latest JPK 10.30 model Léon.

“I love the Rolex Fastnet Race, it is special,” says Loison. “I have participated five times and won [my class] on four of them and overall once. I am trying to keep my record for winning the Two handed division!

“I love this kind of race where professionals are on the same course as amateurs. I prefer to do this race in the two handed class with an IRC boat [rather than the Figaro]. This year is special because it will finish in my home town of Cherbourg, which is good news for me.”

JPK and Loison return accompanied by three other French JPK 10.30s. Two – Francois Moriceau’s Mary 3 and Gerard Quenot’s Mecanique Expertises - finished just inside the top ten of the UNCL’s Manche-Atlantique two handed series in 2020, while Yves Paul Robert’s Very Good Trip - Septieme Ciel was fourth in IRC Two Handed in the last Rolex Fastnet Race.

A formidable duo Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson compete on the new Sun Fast 3300 Photo: Tim Butt/Vertigo FilmsA formidable duo Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson compete on the new Sun Fast 3300 Photo: Tim Butt/Vertigo Films

In the 2019 French domination at the top of IRC Two Handed was partly halted by British Figaro and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Henry Bomby and Hannah Diamond, who finished second. This time Bomby returns with a familiar figure, but one largely new to offshore racing, in double Olympic gold medallist turned TV presenter, Shirley Robertson.

Having only taken up doublehanded offshore racing last season, Robertson is looking forward to getting back on to the water. They are racing a new Sun Fast 3300, provided by Sea Ventures, the UK dealer for Jeanneau, which numerically has managed to make great inroads into the class: this year their turn-out exceeds even the JPKs with twelve Sun Fast 3200s, ten 3600s and twelve 3300s (plus two more racing fully crewed) entered.

“I really enjoy it, it’s great, it came at the right time - I was ready for something different, but similar,” explains Robertson of her latest venture. “I was a bit undecided what to do and where to go and this really fitted the bill. I’m impressed by Henry. We get on well and I enjoyed the boat from the get-go. It was small enough that I could do everything physically on it. I instantly felt I could make the boat go fast.”

This will be Robertson’s third Fastnet having previously competed on Ludde Ingvall’s maxi Nicorette and with fellow Olympian Ian Walker on Eamonn Conneely’s TP52 Patches. “I’d done a bit of offshore, but generally I steered or trimmed the main, but on this I am busy all the time,” Robertson continues. “Even when you sleep you are listening out for the call to come and help up on deck. And there are periods when you are on your own - or sort of on your own - at night on deck, looking for ships, trying to keep your numbers up and keeping the big idea of where you are going next, etc. I enjoy the intensity of it and also the real partnership. We have to look after each other and work together and be honest if the boat isn’t going well, or if you feel nervous about something.”

Despite being an accomplished sailor, it has been back to school for Robertson to learn about the vital rules of the road when sailing offshore and a new style of boat. Fortunately her highly accomplished co-skipper has all the skill-sets necessary.

British doublehanders Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley look forward to the challenge of the new Fastnet route on their Sun Fast 3300 Aries British double handers Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley look forward to the challenge of the new Fastnet route on their Sun Fast 3300 Aries Photo: John Green - Cowes

Another duo returning to the race having successfully taken on the French are Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley. Childerley has two Olympic Games and two Etchells World Championship titles to his name, while Rawlings was “watch captain on Noah’s Arc” with a giant sailing CV that includes winning the Admiral’s Cup. In the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race they entered Rawlings’ J/105 Jester and proceeded to beat the Loisins into second place (albeit by just 14 seconds) in IRC Two Handed, and across the fleet were top British finishers, coming home fourth overall under IRC.

In 2015 Childerley admits they toughed it out with a boat lacking good comms (for downloading forecasts) and an effective autopilot, but this time they have a tricked-up Sun Fast 3300, Aries: “When we saw the course change [finishing in Cherbourg] and the first opportunity to race on it we thought it would be a great challenge and we had to have a go.”

In the intervening six years the standard of doublehanded racing in the UK has leapt, Childerley observes, but this too was a big attraction along with the opportunity to race in the sizeable fleet of Sun Fast 3300s - a modern IRC boat, tailored for shorthanding in terms of its cockpit layout, sail controls, ballast, twin rudders and much better equipment. However they too are having to get up to speed with technology, with Rawlings mastering the routing software. Childerley says they are keen not to get bogged down in this. So for example they are taking asymmetric kites, but no symmetrics. “If we over-complicate things we are just going to confuse ourselves. We are trying to stick with our principles in keeping it simple, progressing through the race, making decisions and sailing the boat so as not to lose the race. If we can be in a good position in the last quarter of the race, we’ll be very happy with that.”

Winning last year's IRC Two-Handed Nationals, James Harayda's Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo, will be competing with round the world sailor Dee Caffari in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comWinning last year's IRC Two-Handed Nationals, James Harayda's Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo, will be competing with round the world sailor Dee Caffari in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Paul Wyeth

Other notables in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet include James Harayda and round the world legend Dee Caffari on board the former’s Gentoo, winner of last year’s IRC Two Handed Nationals. Then there is regular competitor Ed Broadway with his latest Hooligan VIII, Sea Ventures’ own Nigel Colley aboard Fastrak XII and Irish former Mini and Class 40 sailor Cian McCarthy aboard his latest Cinnamon Girl. A similarly tough group are the Sun Fast 3600s. They include Rob Craigie and Bellino, who finished third in 2017 with Deb Fish when they went on to win the Two Handed class for the season. Then there is Nick Martin whose J/105 Diablo J was RORC Yacht of the Year and the season’s IRC Three winner in 2012.

Other British contenders to watch out for are Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on their JPK 10.10 Jangada. Jangada was the RORC’s 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn Series. At the IRC Two-Handed Nationals Jangada was beaten to the podium by Mike Yates and Norwegian sailmaker Eivind Bøymo-Malm on the J/109 Jago. Eighteen J/109s are competing in this year’s race, five of them doublehanded, Jago among the top tipped.

UK leads France numerically in the IRC Two Handed class, but the line-up is international with 12 nations represented, including two from the USA, one apiece from Hong Kong and Poland. Top contenders again returning from the Netherlands include local champions Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre aboard their trusty J/122e Ajeto! They finished second in IRC Two Handed in 2017 and on their previous J/111 J-Xcentric were third in 2011.
The IRC Two Handed fleet largely comes from IRC Three and IRC Four, but the biggest racing is Richard Tolkien’s Open 60 Rosalba while the smallest (also in the IRC fleet overall) is once again Neal Brewer’s modified Humphreys 30, Bespoke.

Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on JPK 10.10 Jangada - RORC 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn SeriesRichard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt on JPK 10.10 Jangada - RORC 2020 Yacht of the Year following a big season that started with outright victory in the Transatlantic Race and ended with their winning the IRC Two-Handed Autumn Series Photo: Arthur Daniel

The IRC Two Handed class will also see a return to the race course for two notable solo offshore sailors. Alex Bennett was for a while the top ever British finisher in the Mini Transat when he came home fifth in 1999. He was one of Pete Goss’ crew on the ill-fated mega catamaran Team Philips. He has since been through an Open 50 and the Class40 Fujifilm (back this year as Fuji with Finnish sailor Ari Kaensaekoski) in which he came within a minute of winning the two handed Round Britain & Ireland Race in 2010.

In 2019 Bennett acquired a Swan 46 Mk1 and has spent most of lockdown pampering her. Now a family man with two sons, he says Ginny B fulfils his needs for a boat on which to teach his family sailing and he can race. However he admits lacking time on the water with her - to date their only outing was a delivery from Dartmouth to Plymouth.

Bennett is racing with another solo sailor, former Vendée Globe and winning BT Global Challenge skipper Conrad Humphreys. “The challenge is always bigger when you go shorthanded and it offers the greatest challenge over this kind of course,” says Bennett, who is in awe of the IRC Two Handed fleet. “It is huge - like the Mini Transat fleet in terms of numbers.”

The Swan 46 is a cruiser-racer and a very different prospect from the nimble thoroughbreds Bennett is used to racing. “She is a big heavy boat, not set up for shorthanded sailing - you can do it, but it will be a challenge. The reality is that we are we are up against some hot modern designs and really good sailors in Sunfast 3300s and JPKs, so it is a very diverse fleet. It will be interesting to see where we fit in.”

Bennett first sailed the Fastnet in 1995, when, aged 19, he led the Fastnet Youth Challenge to second place in class aboard a Sigma 36.

Ginny B is by no means the oldest boat in the IRC Two Handed fleet: This is Paul Moxon’s 50ft yawl Amokura, launched in 1939.Ginny B is by no means the oldest boat in the IRC Two-Handed fleet: Paul Moxon’s 50ft yawl Amokura, launched in 1939, is also racing

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As the Rolex Fastnet Race approaches its 50th edition and the 100th anniversary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club soon after so we can expect to see more classic yachts taking part with ancient associations to what has grown into the world’s largest offshore yacht race.

In this year’s race, oldest among the giant 400+ boat fleet is Amokura, the 50ft yawl built by Moodys in 1939, originally for Lord Mountbatten’s Aide de Camp, Ernest Harston. Amokura competed in the 1959 Fastnet Race and again 60 years on in 2019, but finished neither.

Present owner Paul Moxon originally bought Amokura to take his family cruising, but has since acquired the bug for racing his classic boat. “A large part of this is about breathing new life into an old boat,” he explains. “Rather than it sitting there looking pretty, it’s designed to sail long distance and there is a real attraction to throwing it back into that world.” However he adds it is challenging, especially if he wants to upgrade her, fitting, for example, modern sails and rigging. “It is a vicious circle, because there is no give in those like there is in traditional rigging and sails. You put more stress on the hull, so you have to reinforce that, which is what we have been doing for the last 18 months.” Amokura is currently having this work carried out at classic boat specialists Butler & Co in Falmouth.

Uniquely among this group, Moxon races two handed with Steve Jones, and while Amokura is not a lightweight flier like the SunFasts or Class40s, her vintage provides other benefits for shorthanding. “Due to the loads you have to be careful how you plan manoeuvres and execute them,” Moxon, warns, “but she is a stable platform and things happen more slowly. Walking up to the bow, you hold on and clip on, etc, but you don’t feel like you are going to get thrown over the side. You haven’t got the jerkiness of movement and you have a nice flat deck to walk on.” As a result reefing and hoisting or dropping sails is performed at the mast rather than in the cockpit. Her fractional yawl rig keeps the centre of effort low and the sails small and provides many gears, such as only flying the mizzen and staysail in big conditions. Her long keel means she holds her course well even when her pilot isn’t on, but Moxon says Amokura is not ideal upwind - she very much prefers reaching.

Keeping it in the family: 63ft S&S designed yawl-rigged offshore racer Rafanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his Grandfather in 1955 Keeping it in the family: 63ft S&S designed yawl-rigged offshore racer Rafanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his Grandfather in 1955 Photo: Lasse Eklöf

Some of the most significant maxis from the third quarter of the 20th century are entered. The 63ft S&S designed yawl-rigged offshore racer Rafanut was originally built in 1955 for Jacob Wallenberg of the famous Swedish banking and business dynasty. She is now campaigned by his grandson Fredrik. Sailing was Jacob’s passion and over 30 years his boats, culminating in the S&S 63, dominated the sport in Sweden. He was a repeat winner of the Baltic’s top offshore race, the Gotland Runt and was also a long term chairman of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS). In Fredrik Wallenberg’s hands Rafanut has most recently won the classic division of the Gotland Runt.

While the majority of Rafanut’s racing historically remained local in the Baltic, this was absolutely not the case for the 1961 van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch Stormvogel, which, while she was being campaigned by her original owner Cornelius Bruynzeel, accumulated silverware in yacht races across the globe. This included line honours in the 1961 Fastnet Race when Holland scored the double; Zwerver II claiming the race overall en route to becoming top boat in that year’s Admiral’s Cup.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of her 1961 line honours Fastnet Race victory and winning races around the globe - the Italian owned 1961 van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch Stormvogel © Stormvogel Below Photo: Beken of CowesCelebrating the 60th anniversary of her 1961 line honours Fastnet Race victory and winning races around the globe - the Italian owned 1961 van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch

 Stormvogel Photo: Beken of Cowes Stormvogel Photo: Beken of Cowes

Stormvogel has belonged to the same Italian owner since 1983, during which time she has sailed to the far corners of the globe, including 19 years spent in South East Asia cruising and racing. She has also posted good results in the Mediterranean Panerai Classic circuit during 2007 and 2008 and competed in the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first race when Bruynzeel won line honours. Her last event was Antigua Classic Week in 2015.

Stormvogel has recently completed an extensive refit in Bodrum Turkey at Metur Yacht with Ian Hulleman, the yacht’s Kiwi skipper for the past 12 years overseeing all work. Stormvogel’s manager and Rolex Fastnet Race skipper Graeme Henry, who has been involved with the yacht since 1987, describes the refit as “bringing Stormvogel back to a new level of performance while maintaining the original 1961 concept and 1960s’ style.” Stormvogel was relaunched in Bodrum just as the pandemic struck, but is now ready for an active sailing schedule.

As to the Fastnet, Henry states: “The owner has done many races including the Rolex China Sea and Rolex Middle Sea races, but hasn’t done the Fastnet before.” This year’s race will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Stormvogel’s 1961 Fastnet line honours victory when Francis Chichester was her navigator. On board for this year’s race, Henry hopes will be several people with connections to Stormvogel’s formative years to keep her historic spirit alive. The Rolex Fastnet 2021 represents the first of a new classic offshore race campaign for Stormvogel.

Other ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 70s include yacht broker Chris Cecil-Wright’s Nicholson 55s Eager, skippered by Richard Powell. Eager was the first Nicholson 55 launched when she was famously the Lloyd’s of London Yacht Club’s Lutine until she was sold in 1999. She has since undergone a massive rebuild and modernisation including the fitting of a much enlarged sail plan based around a carbon spar, a new rudder, deck, deck layout and superstructure, and complete interior and layout and systems right back to the wiring and plumbing. A smaller Nicholson 43 is also competing in Dutchman Eric van den Born’s Stardust, the second last of this series to be built.

Chris Cecil-Wright’s Nicholson 55 Eager, skippered by Richard Powell. Eager was the first Nicholson 55 launched when she was famously the Lloyd’s of London Yacht Club’s LutineChris Cecil-Wright’s Nicholson 55 Eager, skippered by Richard Powell. Eager was the first Nicholson 55 launched when she was famously the Lloyd’s of London Yacht Club’s Lutine Photo: Martin Allen

While this period saw the dawn of wide-spread GRP construction, boats were still being built in wood and an early 1970s example competing this year is the German One Tonner Oromocto. In a similar fashion to Rafanut, Oromocto is a family ‘hand me down’ and has for the last 11 years been raced by Kai Greten, whose grandfather Ernst had originally commissioned and campaigned her during the 1970s. During the latest phase in Oromocto’s life, she has been continually updated with the result that in 2014 she won the ORC class in the Rund Skagen, Germany’s longest offshore race.

Currently on the waiting list for the Rolex Fastnet Race is Pen Duick VI, the last of the famous series of yachts campaigned heavily by France’s most famous yachtsman, Eric Tabarly. The 73ft André Mauric-designed aluminium ketch competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74, during which she dismasted twice. Most impressively Tabarly entered this same maxi yacht in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1976 and entered the history books when he won the race for a second time (following his victory in 1964), despite this 32 tonne beast, usually requiring a crew of 12 to manhandle her. Such was Tabarly’s resulting fame that he unwittingly launched offshore racing in France, not only as a sport, but as the significant business it has become today. Pen Duick VI competed alongside the 1977–78 Whitbread Round the World Race as an unofficial entrant, due to her keel being ballasted with spent uranium.

Other Sparkman & Stevens designs competing this year include the 1967 vintage Swan 36 Finola, skippered by regular RORC racers Chris Frost and Welsh transoceanic rower Elin Haf Davies. Stuart Greenfield’s Morning After is an S&S 34, a sturdy genre of yacht in which former British prime minister Edward Heath won the 1969 Sydney-Hobart and has more recently become the favoured vessel of teenage non-stop round the world sailors.

1967 vintage Swan 36 Finola, skippered by regular RORC racers Chris Frost and Welsh transoceanic rower Elin Haf Davies1967 vintage Swan 36 Finola, skippered by regular RORC racers Chris Frost and Welsh transoceanic rower Elin Haf Davies Photo: Paul Wyeth

One of the most heavily campaigned yachts in RORC races throughout the last 22 years has been Harry J. Heijst’s immaculate S&S 41 Winsome. This year’s race will be the Dutchman’s tenth having missed one due to ill health and another in 2007 when he admits there was a crew mutiny. “We would have started the race in 35 knots of wind - which is not bad for Winsome to have a good result - but there were two crew who, in the middle of the night prior to the start, said they didn’t want to do the race. I was so angry that we sailed the boat back to Holland in 40 knots of wind (downwind).”

Heijst could have changed boats to stay in IRC Two, but has remained faithful to his 1972 classic that was originally built by Royal Huisman and initially campaigned by David May, whose Berthon Boat Company continues to maintain Winsome to this day. “I probably hesitated too long to go for another boat,” he explains. “But at the same time my age has been growing while I love Winsome more every year! This is a really good boat for a man like me, much closer in age to 81 than to 18 - it is a stable, very comfortable boat. If you have 35 knots of wind, you can still sleep reasonably.”

However, Heijst says that the ideal wind for Winsome is 10 knots when there is flat water. Mid-range conditions off the wind, which allows modern boats to plane at 20+ knots, is when Winsome suffers, being more firmly attached to the water.

Harry J. Heijst’s 1972 classic S&S 41 Winsome Photo: Paul WyethHarry J. Heijst’s 1972 classic S&S 41 Winsome Photo: Paul Wyeth

Over the years Winsome has enjoyed some excellent results in the RORC’s flagship event, excelling in 2005’s ‘small boat race’ when she won IRC Two and finished fourth overall under IRC, leaving Jean-Yves Château’s Nicholson 33 Iromiguy (in IRC Three) to claim the Fastnet Challenge Cup. “We thought for a long time after our finish that we would be first, but there were still boats which hadn’t finished,” Heijst recalls. “But we were happy that at least another pure amateur won it.” Winsome had finished second in class in 2003 and also won a sub-class in 2011. Conversely Heijst says their worst race was in 2011 when they looked set to finish with a lead of six miles over the next boat in their class, only to park up some 10 nm short of the line...for eight hours. “One of my crew got so frustrated he dismantled the whole toilet, took the hoses off and repaired it!” Meanwhile those behind caught up and Winsome’s crew could do nothing, but watch as their advantage evaporated.

Currently, Heijst says Winsome is raring to go and he hopes for 10 knots and much kedging in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. “If everyone is anchoring, the lower rated boats win!”

Among the best known S&S designs of this era are the Swans, especially the Swan 65. This year three examples are entered: Paul Stratton’s Hardship III, Placido Arango García-Urtiaga’s Libelula from Spain and the most famous – Richard Loftus’ Desperado of Cowes. The former Accurist boss acquired his steed in 1986 and despite having attempted to sell it from time to time it has remained resolutely in his ownership ever since.

Like Heijst, 2021 will be Loftus’ tenth Rolex Fastnet Race and over the years he has enjoyed success with Desperado, notably in 1989 when his heavyweight ketch and upwind weapon won CHS overall. “We went the wrong way - which turned out to be the right way,” quips Loftus. “We match raced a Swan 59 for about eight hours up the Channel and they turned right and we went left out into the mid-Channel. I was navigating, but I was very inexperienced and didn’t know what I was doing! Mid-Channel we were going backwards - I wanted to put an anchor chain down in 100m but I got talked out of it. We got going after about four or five hours going backwards and much to our surprise when we got to Land’s End all of the Admiral’s Cup boats were inshore and we were outside them all, which meant we had gone the better way. From there, it was easy – we went out to the Rock with wind and came back with a real gale behind us and that was it - we won by about two hours.”

Desperado also enjoyed the breezy 2007 race, when they found themselves solidly leading at the Fastnet Rock under corrected time, only to be overhauled downwind on the way back. Nonetheless the Swan 65 still finished 7th overall under IRC.

Loftus’ crew has included Ted Heath’s former skipper Owen Parker and gnarly South African Whitbread Round the World Race veteran David Bongers, and this year will include notables such as Paul Standbridge, Pat Lilley and John Caulcutt. Desperado over the years has developed unique Fastnet race traditions. “The main one is that we always go round the Rock wearing our dinner jackets with a glass of port and relax,” says Loftus. “We race the boat hard, but we all have fun. We don’t sit on the rail all night or any of that nonsense. We have hot meals, have a bottle of wine in the evening, I play my guitar, etc.”

1991 - Celebrating rounding the Fastnet Rock in style aboard Richard Loftus' Swan 65 Desperado of Cowes1991 - Celebrating rounding the Fastnet Rock in style aboard Richard Loftus' Swan 65 Desperado of Cowes Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Joe Powder the gorilla mascot is one of the crew and a RORC member on board Desperado of Cowes! Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/RolexJoe Powder the gorilla mascot is one of the crew and a RORC member on board Desperado of Cowes! © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Another is Joe Powder, the race’s lone gorilla and as Loftus points out, the only stuffed gorilla that is formally a member of the RORC. “He has sailed three or four Fastnets with us. We put him on the crew list and at the end of one race, we got the crew to fill in forms and provide testimonials and he was made an overseas member of the RORC.” Following his success in 2007, Loftus put up the Joe Powder Trophy for the first boat to reach the Fastnet Rock under corrected time.

Given the COVID pandemic, Loftus says he is considering racing Desperado this year with reduced crew. “We are going to set the boat up for shorthanded and sail it with a furling no2 and asymmetric spinnakers in snuffers and 6-10 crew. That will mean everyone will have their own bunk and their own cabin. It will be quite comfortable!”

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With the Rolex Fastnet Race having so many boats, so many classes and a 96-year history, it is inevitable that many past winners, be they of line honours, individual classes or of the main IRC overall prize, the Fastnet Challenge Trophy, should be among the record 400+ strong entry in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event in 2021.

In fact among the overall winners, 2017’s victor Didier Gaudoux, with his trusty JND39 Lann Ael 2, is at present the only one returning with the same boat and a similar crew. Onboard again will be family members, including his daughter Coralie and possibly son Thomas, as well as veteran Figaro ace Fred Duthil. Lann Ael 2 hasn’t changed apart from a new paint job.

Of course, the big unknown at present is the same for everyone, warns Gaudoux: “It will be a very special campaign because we don’t know when we can start to sail and we don’t know what our preparation for the campaign will be. I intend to do a few RORC races if it is possible.”

In 2020 Lann Ael 2 competed in just a few races but made the most of them, winning the IRC class in the Drheam Cup, ahead of Eric Fries' JPK 11.80 Fastwave 6 and Laurent Charmy's J/111 SL Energies, both of whom are also due on the start line off Cowes in August. That event also provided good preparation, starting from Cherbourg where this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will finish for the first time.

“It will be a new challenge tactically between the Scilly Islands and Cherbourg with the tide,” continues Gaudoux. While his boat is based in southern Brittany, his crew, and especially Duthil, know the complex waters around Cherbourg well. The city is planning for the arrival to include COVID restrictions for the many visitors from the local region. “A lot of people will be coming and the harbour is very close to the downtown so it will be a special welcome.”

2015 overall winner, Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Class40 Courrier Redman2015 overall winner, Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Class40 Courrier Redman. Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

Defending their 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race IRC Two Handed title - Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 LéoDefending their 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race IRC Two Handed title - Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/RORC

While he is not competing on his JPK 10.80, the 2015 overall winner Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Mach 40.4 Class40 Courrier Redman which finished runner-up in this year’s RORC Transatlantic Race. Alexis Loisin, who became the race’s first doublehanded overall winner with his father Pascal in 2013 aboard their JPK 10.10 Night And Day, is back to defend his title in the IRC Two-Handed class onboard the JPK 10.30 Léon with Jean Pierre Kelbert, proprietor of the successful French Chantier JPK. Loisin has won IRC Two-Handed in three of the last four races and only was displaced into second in 2015 by Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley on their J/105 Jester, who that year were fourth overall under IRC and top British finishers. Rawlings and Childerley are back to try their hand again, this time with their newly acquired Sun Fast 3300 Aries.

“We look forward to the new Fastnet course - it will be a hard-fought contest all the way to the finish line,” says Childerley. The big draw is both the heightened competition in IRC Two Handed, with all of the podium finishers from the last two races returning, including the Sun Fast 3300 Fastrak XII, sailed by Henry Bomby and Hannah Diamond two years ago, and Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 10.80 Raging-bee², second and third respectively in 2019. This is bolstered by Two-Handed racing being on the Olympic roster for Paris 2024. “Doublehanded sailing continues to inspire and provide a challenge that is complemented by the Rolex Fastnet Race,” concludes Childerley.

Thomas Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise - hoping to secure a podium place again in IRC TwoThomas Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise - hoping to secure a podium place again in IRC Two © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon topped IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet RaceJacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon topped IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race - © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Many class winners are returning. Among the most successful is the La Trinité-sur-Mer old guard on boat builder Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom, one of several Sam Manuard designs his company JPS Production builds. Bretagne Telecom is one of 13 boats entered this year to have competed in the last six consecutive Rolex Fastnet Races, but she is by far the most successful. 2019 was the canting keel speedster’s most successful year, finishing second to winner Wizard, both overall and under IRC Zero. Previously she has twice won her class and podiumed on all but one occasion.

Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon, which beat Lann Ael 2 into second place in IRC One two years ago, is back. While Trentesaux is not returning to defend his IRC Two title, Francois Lognone’s MC34 Nutmeg Solidaire En Peloton and Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise, the other 2019 podium placers, will be. Nutmeg has a strong track record having won IRC Two in 2015 when she was fifth overall, while Lognone was eighth overall and third in IRC Two aboard his previous J/122 Nutmeg IV in 2011.

Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret who finished on the IRC Three podium in the last three editions, winning in 2017 aboard their JPK 10.80 Dream Pearls, will be sailing on Christian Maby’s Sun Fast 3300, Spoutnik. At the time of writing one of the most successful sailors in IRC Four, Noel Racine and his JPK 10.10 Foggy Dew was not returning to defend his title. Racine, a retired Le Havre pilot, has won his class in three of the last five races and podiumed in all. However the remaining IRC Four podium placers from 2019 are back in Emmanuel Pinteaux’s sistership Gioia and Francois Charles’s Dehler 33, Sun Hill 3.

Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom has competed in six consecutive Rolex Fastnet RacesNicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom has competed in six consecutive Rolex Fastnet Races © Pierre Bouras

Luke Berry and team on Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création won Class40 overall in the 2019 raceLuke Berry and team on Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création won Class40 overall in the 2019 race © Paul Wyeth/RORC

The non-IRC classes had a later deadline to enter than the IRC fleet but already Anglo-Frenchman Luke Berry was signed up to defend his Class40 title aboard the Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création. At the time of writing, 31 Class40s were already entered, including Morgane Ursault-Poupon (daughter of Vendee Globe sailor, Solitaire du Figaro and Route du Rhum winner Philippe Poupon) on board UP Sailing, formerly Tanguy de Lamotte’s Class40 winner in both 2009 and 2011. Tales II, which won in 2015 and was second in 2013 in the hands of Gonzalo Botin, also returns but under new Italian skipper Andrea Fornaro.

While this sounds like yet another dominant French entry there are some potent campaigns from the UK. In addition to those already mentioned is the top British boat from 2019, David Collins’ Botin IRC 52 Tala (ex-Spookie), having finished third both overall and in IRC Zero. Never to be discounted is Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster which was third in IRC Two in 2013 and won her class in 2007. Other potent doublehanders include Rob Craigie and Deb Fish on board the Sun Fast 3600 Bellino, which finished third in both IRC Three and Two Handed in 2017.

Many winners from long ago are also returning. Another team to have competed in the last six races is Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam. Their track record is strong including IRC One victories in 2009 and 2011 and overall finishes of tenth and seventh in 2017 and 2011 respectively. Also likely to be strong will be Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia, which won IRC Two and was fourth overall in 2017, while American Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer is due a top result having finished eighth overall in 2019, second in 2017 when she won IRC Zero and a second place in IRC Canting Keel in 2015.

The Goubau family from Belgium taking part in their 7th consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race on their First 47.7 MoanaThe Goubau family from Belgium taking part in their 7th consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race on their First 47.7 Moana © Paul Wyeth/RORC

A strong track record in IRC One for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 CodiamA strong track record in IRC One for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

A number of yachts and crews are returning who did well in earlier editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, especially, for some reason, from 2005. Jonty and Vicki Layfield, who sailed their Swan 47 Sleeper to seventh overall then, will be racing their Swan 48 Sleeper X. Similarly Ed Broadway, who was third in IRM that year on his Hooligan V (and again in 2007 on Hooligan VI) is back sailing doublehanded on his Sun Fast 3300 Hooligan VIII. Beating Sleeper 16 years ago, in fourth and sixth overall were Xara, Jonathan Rolls Swan 38 and Harry J. Heijst’s S&S41 Winsome, both of which are entered again. Thunder 2, Robert Boulter’s Mills 37 IRC Zero winner that year, returns but now in the hands of Vladimir Phillips, while Guy Sallenave’s X-442 Ster Wenn 5, which was second in IRC One is this year being campaigned by his son Pierre.

No Rolex Fastnet Race is complete without the Goubau family from Belgium taking part aboard their faithful First 47.7 Moana. They have competed in the last six editions and finished third in class in 2005, 2011 and 2013. Longue Pierre, David Cooper and Paul England’s Dehler 38 is back too, having the same participation record, her best result coming in 2005 when she was ninth overall.

Further back, Vendée Globe skipper Conrad Humphreys has teamed up with another solo offshore racer and former Team Philips crewman Alex Bennett on board the latter’s Swan 46, Ginny B. Humphreys won the 1991 Fastnet Race overall with a young Matt Humphries aboard the David Thomas-designed half tonner Min-O-Din. Returning from the 2001 race are Cracklin’ Rosie, ninth overall and third in IRC Zero in the hands of original owner Roy Dickson and now being campaigned by former RORC Commodore Steven Anderson and RORC Treasurer Derek Shakespeare. Present Commodore James Neville is entered aboard his HH42 Ino XXX having finished sixth overall and third in IRC One in 2017, and RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turkheim is back with his lighter and faster NMYD 54 Teasing Machine which finished seventh in IRC Zero and eleventh overall in 2019

Given this vast experience due on the start line, we can look forward to one of the most competitive Rolex Fastnet Races on record.

Back to round 'The Rock' once again - RORC Commodore, James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEXBack to round 'The Rock' once again - RORC Commodore, James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

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If anyone in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's suite of race offices was bothered by the thought that the 2021 change of course in the club's core event, the biennial Fastnet Race, was going to have a detrimental effect on entries, they didn't show it. And there was no need to worry, for within an hour of the list's electronic opening, it was already banging up against the 400-boat ceiling.

For of course as the club has rightly discerned, the USP about the whole business is the epic quality in the experience of rounding the Fastnet Rock itself. Certainly, the start in the Solent is quite something as a crowd control exercise. But it seems the one-boat-at-a-time nature of the finish means that participants are easily swayed by the appeal of more extensive shore facilities offered at the new finish at Cherbourg, rather than the traditional but limited waterfront at Plymouth.

Be that as it may, as the starting sequence gets going – pandemic permitting - on the morning of Sunday, August 8th, there'll be at least 400 boats shaping up with varying degrees of nervousness for their place in the choreography as the ebb begins to run west, and among them will be at least ten Irish boats.

Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right.At least they'll know what it looks like…..Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right

Admittedly this is only one in every forty, or 2.5% if you prefer, but it reflects the number of our active offshore racers relative to the northwest Europe fleet which is the main cohort in the race, with a notably strong French element.

To put it in perspective, it seems that if all the entries in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 were laid end to end, then they'd stretch for five kilometres. We are irresistibly reminded of the comment by Dorothy Parker of The New Yorker, to the effect that if all the girls who attend the Harvard May Ball were laid end to end, then it wouldn't surprise her for a minute. But then that's the sort of coarse thought which occasionally emerges in association with offshore racing, for it's not a sport for those of a delicate disposition…….

So if we're going for tough-mindedness, it's no harm to note that it's the mythology around a very Irish rock which is at the heart of all this. The RORC have admitted it themselves with this photo they recently released, which we post right here with caption exactly as sent out by the RORC.

The legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitorsThe legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Co Kurt Ariggo/ROLEX

"Legendary" indeed……."lure" forsooth…..In other words, if the Fastnet Rock didn't exist, then we'd have to invent, design and build it. But fools that we are in Ireland, were letting them use it for free, and we think it's just grand, even at a time when our magnificent West Coast is being monetised through its marketing as the Wild Atlantic Way.

But of course, they know they have us on a hook, for the Irish participation in the first Fastnet Race in 1925 was with Harry Donegan of Cork with his cutter Gull, and by any metric Harry Donegan was one of the greatest sportsmen – in the traditional sense of the term – that Ireland has ever produced. And if anyone had even hinted to him that a modest fee should be levied for the use of the Fastnet Rock as a globally significant offshore racing mark, he'd have given them very short shrift.

The Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometresThe Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometres. Photo Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

Instead, he would have been much more interested in our lineup for 2021, 96 years after he was so very much involved in starting it all.

Rolex Fastnet Race Irish Entries 2021

375 Andante IRC 0.95 Keith Miller Keith Miller Yamaha 36 10.95 Kilmore Quay IRC
3492 Big Deal IRC 0.93 Conor Dillon Conor Dillon Dehler 34 10.14   2H IRC
3852 Blue Oyster IRC 0.932 Noel Coleman Noel Coleman Oyster 37 11.26 Royal Cork Yacht Club, Crosshaven IRC
1627 Cinnamon Girl IRC 1.023 Cian McCarthy Sam Hunt Sun Fast 3300 9.99 Kinsale Co Cork Ireland 2H IRC
1397 Desert Star Irish Offshore Sailing IRC 0.963 Irish Offshore Sailing Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC
2129 Nieulargo IRC 1.023 Denis Murphy Denis Murphy Grand Soleil 40 12.12 Crosshaven, Royal Cork Yacht Club IRC
1610 Raw IRC 1.115 Conor Fogerty Conor Fogerty Figaro 3 10.85   IRC
1755 Richochet IRC   Kenneth Rumball Kenneth Rumball Sunfast 10 Dun Laoghaire 2H IRC
10800 Rockabill VI IRC 1.05 Paul O'Higgins Paul O'Higgins JPK 1080 10.8 Dun Laoghaire/riyc IRC
1455 Sherkin 2 IRC 0.959 Ronan O'Siochru Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC


Both of the top boats from 2020's truncated season – the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Cork and Paul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI from Dun Laoghaire – are in, the Rockabill entry being of particular interest. Until now, Paul O'Higgins and his team have found so much good racing in their three-and-a-half seasons within Irish waters that they've resisted the temptation of the Fastnet. But after the hobbled racing of 2020, the mood of the moment is to get as much sailing sport as possible when it becomes available again, and the JPK 10.80 continues as an excellent user-friendly Fastnet proposition.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire has been a golden boy of Fastnet racing since winning the Roger Justice Trophy for sailing schools in 2015's race, and his training operation offers such an attractive proposition that he has two boats entered, the Sun Fast 37s Desert Star and Sherkin 2.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in PlymouthRonan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in Plymouth

Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire won the Roger Justice with the J/109 Jedi in 2017, but this time round he's down to do the two-handed division with a new Sunfast, while another Sunfast, Cian McCarthy's 3300 from Kinsale, is likewise two-handed with the owner and Sam Hunt making up the partnership. 

The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.

Conor Dillon from Foynes is going yet again two-handed with the Dehler 34 The Big Deal but where his father Derek and he sailed together many times in the past, the signs are that a generational shift is under way, while 2017s "Sailor of the Year" Conor Fogerty of Howth has entered his Figaro 3 Raw as being fully-crewed.

Virtually all of these Irish entries will have varying degrees of Fastnet Race pre-experience on board, which is something that won't go amiss, as many boats now simply get themselves to the Solent, and after a day or two go straight into the potential mayhem of the Fastnet start. In times past, the traditional RORC Channel Race a week beforehand, with Cowes Week in between, played a significant induction role in many Irish Fastnet campaigns. But now it's a case of straight in at the deep end, and good luck to them all.

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Like tickets to Glastonbury, registration opened on the dot of 1000 UTC today for this summer’s Rolex Fastnet Race and speedily sold out. Within an hour an unprecedented 400 boats had entered the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event, which this year will follow a route finishing for the first time in France. Bow to bow this line-up represents almost 5km of yacht, confirming the Rolex Fastnet Race’s position as by far the world’s largest and most popular offshore yacht race.

“It seems that everyone is looking forward positively to a future of sailing without COVID-19 hanging over their heads as once again we have a ‘sell-out’ Rolex Fastnet Race,” said RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen. “Also the message must have got through that we have more places available with our move of the finish to Cherbourg, because we had the usual early rush for places, but it seemed more orderly than in the past, with more than 400 boats registering in less than an hour. Add to this the non-IRC fleets like the IMOCA and Class40, plus the usual mixture of multihulls makes the tally around 500 boats whose crews want to experience the challenge of the Rolex Fastnet Race. It is very exciting for our sport.”

The legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Photo: Kurt Arrigo/ROLEXThe legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Photo: Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

The first entry, which managed to sign up in a finger-flying sub-two second time after registration opened was Eva Herman’s J/122 Juliett Romeo from the Netherlands. The first British entry followed after 26 seconds in Katherine Cope’s Sun Fast 3200 Purple Mist. The first French entry was 30 seconds into the process in Christian Maby’s Sun Fast 3300 3 Spoutnik with, just a split second later, Conor Dillon’s Dehler 34 Big Deal, the first entry from Ireland and Tomasz Nagas’ Fast Forward first from the USA.

Within three minutes more than 200 entries had signed on before the system became overloaded. Once it had sorted itself out, the tally was up to 370 within thirty minutes.

Today’s registration was for the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC fleet, in which boats compete for the prestigious Fastnet Challenge Cup for the race’s overall winner under corrected time. It does not include professional French classes such as the IMOCAs and Class40s, plus the multihull fleet which is once again expected to include several Ultime maxi trimarans. With at least 100 more boats expected from classes such as these, the total number of boats due to set sail from the Solent on Sunday, 8 August looks set to exceed 500.

At the time of writing yachts were entered from 25 nations, the majority coming from the UK with large turn-outs also from France and the Netherlands, both with entry numbers substantially increased compared to 2019. Entries from further afield included four from Russia, two from Japan and Australia, from one both China and New Zealand.

The route of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the Fastnet Rock - 695nm © RORCThe route of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the Fastnet Rock - 695nm © RORC

“I’m delighted by the strong interest that we’ve had from teams around the world,” said RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone. “With the race finishing in Cherbourg we were anticipating strong interest from French sailors and have received a record number of French IRC entries, which will be boosted by the non-IRC classes that are strong in France.”

French boats have won three of the last four Rolex Fastnet Races outright and the skippers from these will all return: Alexis Loisin (2013) aboard the JPK 10.30 Léon, Gery Trentesaux (2015) aboard Antoine Carpentier’s Class40 Courrier Redman and Didier Gaudoux (2017) aboard his JND39 Lann Ael 2.

The average size of entry at present stands at 12.48m, lengths spanning Australian Peter Harburg’s 30.46m Black Jack (which won Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours in 2009 as Alfa Romeo II and was first monohull home in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race as Esimit Europa II), to the smallest - David O’Shea’s Hustler SJ30 Freedom at 9m.

As usual, the fleet ranges from the ultra-modern to classics. Among the former is George David’s Rambler 88, monohull line honours winner in the last two races and current holder of the monohull record to the Fastnet Rock. Among the latter is one the top maxis of the 1960s – the 78ft yawl Stormvogel, originally owned by Kees Bruynzeel that won Fastnet line honours in 1961 and subsequently repeating this in most of the top ocean races across the planet. From a decade later is Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick VI, the maxi yacht which France’s most famous sailor raced with a crew of 12 in the first Whitbread Round the World Race and who then, incredibly, sailed solo across the north Atlantic to victory in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race.

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Registration for the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race begins at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12th January 2021.

The RORC Race Team are concerned there will be a repeat of the 2019 rush to enter when the race became oversubscribed in less than five minutes.

A new era will begin for the world’s largest offshore yacht race this year. On 8 August 2021, the Rolex Fastnet Race will set sail from Cowes bound for the Fastnet Rock as usual, but then, once the boats have rounded Bishop Rock, they will, for the first time in the race’s 96 year history, point their bows towards Cherbourg, the new finish for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event.

In order to secure a place when registration opens at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12 January, RORC recommends registering boats in advance on RORC's SailGate race entry management system.

The 2021 race sails a new course with a finish in Cherbourg.

More here

Published in Fastnet
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With less than one month to go until entry opens for the 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the RORC Race Team are concerned there will be a repeat of the 2019 rush to enter when the race became oversubscribed in less than five minutes.

In order to secure a place when registration opens at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12 January, RORC recommends registering boats in advance on RORC's SailGate race entry management system.

The 2021 race sails a new course with a finish in Cherbourg.

More here

Published in Fastnet
Tagged under
Page 1 of 9

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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