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The start of the Rolex Fastnet Race will take place from the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes on Sunday, with a first warning signal for the multihull classes at 1100, followed at 15-minute intervals by the IMOCAs/Class40s, and then the five IRC classes starting with IRC Four and finishing with IRC Zero at 1230.

The largest offshore race in the world, the Fastnet Race fleet represents a complete pantheon of almost 350 yachts, ranging from giant Ultime trimarans and brand new 125ft monohulls, down to 30 footers. Usually, 48 hours out from the start of this race the weather forecast provides some indication of whether it will favour a particular part of the fleet, such as the fastest or slowest boats. Sadly, due to a complex, volatile weather scenario over the southwest United Kingdom, the forecast remains uncertain, and predicting if any part of the fleet could be favoured is far from easy.

“The only certain thing is that it is going to be windy on Sunday. Thereafter the weather models aren’t in agreement,” states veteran navigator, New Zealander Campbell Field, racing aboard David Collins’ IRC 52 Tala.
The forecasts currently show the wind for Sunday’s start being 25 knots from the southwest, with gusts into the 30s. This means the start is upwind and, from the time the ebb starts in the western Solent at 1230 local time, wind against tide. “It is going to be pretty hairy,” Field advises, “so there could be some early attrition, but hopefully there is enough wisdom across the fleet to understand what the forecast is saying and to remember as always that ‘to finish first, first you must finish’.”

Veteran navigator, New Zealander Campbell Field will be racing aboard David Collins’ IRC 52 Tala Photo: Rick TomlinsonVeteran navigator, New Zealander Campbell Field will be racing aboard David Collins’ IRC 52 Tala Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Leading the charge in the IRC fleet will be Dmitry Rybolovlev’s newly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, the largest monohull ever to have entered the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event. Once they have got out of the Solent, the larger faster boats will be the first to see the breeze easing. “As soon as we get to Portland Bill it will drop,” says Skorpios’ skipper, Spanish Olympic gold medallist and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, Fernando Echavarri. “We are upwind to the Lizard and then it will about 080° TWA and then a bit of upwind close to the Irish coast and then reaching back.”

On board Tala racing in IRC Zero, Field believes they will see the wind easing on Monday en route to the Lizard, but notes it is ‘easing’ rather than ‘dropping’. “It will be still be in the 20s and there will still be plenty of pressure across the Irish Sea, but at the moment it is too far ahead to really project what is going to happen on Monday-Tuesday, because the models disagree.”

The cause of the uncertainty is the location, direction and speed of movement of a significant low pressure system and its associated front approaching the west coast of Ireland mid-week. “A subtle shift with this could radically change everything. It is changing day by day,” advises Field. For example, for the return journey to the Cherbourg finish from Bishop Rock, Field says one model is showing welcome southwesterlies for Tala all the way, another shows 3-4 knots en route to Cherbourg and one shows their routing returning them up the south coast of the UK before turning south to cross the Channel. “I am not drawing too many conclusions about the way back from the Rock. Indications are it will be a beam reach on starboard back to the Scillies, but thereafter the weather models aren’t in agreement. I can’t say if it will be a big or a small boat race. Maybe the guy rounding the Rock on Thursday afternoon will scream back with his pants on fire!”

The larger faster boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race, such as Dmitry Rybolovlev’s newly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios will be the first to see the breeze easing once they are down the Channel Photo: RORC/Myles Warden-OwenThe larger faster boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race, such as Dmitry Rybolovlev’s newly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios will be the first to see the breeze easing once they are down the Channel Photo: RORC/Myles Warden-Owen

One of the stars of the IMOCA fleet will be Yannick Bestaven on board Maître CoQ, recent winner of the 2020-21 Vendée Globe. Bestaven is racing with another legend of the IMOCA fleet, Roland Jourdain.

“We will be heading upwind in about 20 knots,” forecasts Bestaven. “We expect a lot of tacking and manoeuvring in the Solent. The wind will remain strong, up to 30 knots, before easing at the end of the day. We will pass the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday morning, after a long port tack. On the way back from the Rock, we will still have wind, but quite light. For us, with small foils, it will be hard compared to those with big foils. We should finish on the 11th, in the middle of the day. "

Yannick Bestaven returns to the IMOCA fleet having recently won the Vendée GlobeYannick Bestaven returns to the IMOCA fleet having recently won the Vendée Globe

On RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX, navigator Coriolan Rousselle says they are resigned to a breezy start and a beat all of the way to Land’s End. “We haven’t seen that much wind for a long time in a RORC race, but the wind will decrease at some point. Then for us it looks upwind all the way to the Rock, with the wind decreasing in the Irish Sea (15 knots by Monday and gradually freeing off to dropping to 10-12 by the time they reach the Rock).

Depending upon the progress of the front, Rousselle is anticipating close reaching in a southerly en route back from the Fastnet Rock. “Hopefully we can get to Bishop with still some cracked off sheets and then we can accelerate to the finish. At the moment for us it looks like it is getting light for the last six hours. Hopefully we will be in the right phase of the tide…” To tackle the Alderney Race/Raz Blanchard Rousselle says that they plan to rest the crew as much as possible on the approach, as they will need maximum concentration for that.

RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX Photo: Paul WyethRORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX Photo: Paul Wyeth

In 2019 the Goodhews’ Sun Fast 3200 Cora was the top British finisher in IRC Four, coming home fourth behind the strong French entry. This time Tim Goodhew is racing again in IRC Four and IRC Two-Handed with North Sails’ Kelvin Matthews.

“It will be one of the windiest races we have done with the RORC this year because so many races have been in 8 knots,” Goodhew continues.

Being smaller, Cora may enjoy a more reasonable outbound crossing of the Celtic Sea. “It could be quite good for slightly slower boats as we might get more reaching,” says Goodhew. “It is going into the south and then it comes in from the west at some point during Wednesday. All the faster boats will be coming back in a southerly to get back to the Scillies while all the slower boats should be coming back in on the westerly and should be faster. I am keeping my eye on that.”

The arrival of the big depression from the west later in the week could favour the smaller boats he feels. “The faster boats might have lighter breeze at the finish, whereas the boats in the middle of the fleet or IRC Four might have a bit more breeze there, which suggests the slow boats might be in with a chance, depending the tides. I think it is quite open…”

Racing doublehanded is likely to take more of a toll in the big conditions, however upwind there is less to do and it will just be a case of hanging on for the first hours. “In the 2019 race we beat all the way to the Rock and we got there with Winsome, but there was a bit of downwind at the start, which may have given us a bit of a head start. Cora will hold her own. We just need to get through Sunday and then we’ll be fine.”

On Saturday, 7 August there will be on Cowes Parade, plus streamed live on the RORC’s social media channels:

- At 1500 BST, the press conference/preview show
- At 1600 BST, official weather briefing and skippers’ briefing

Published in Fastnet
Tagged under

Time was when doing the Fastnet Race seemed a natural part of sailing life. The world was young, yet we'd sufficient maturity (no sniggering at the back, please) to appreciate the full meaning of the experience as a uniquely significant element in the tapestry of world sailing. Thus it looms large despite the fact that I've only done three, but they were sufficiently varied to provide a complete kaleidoscope of many memories.

After that, the newly-introduced Round Ireland Race and the later Dun Laoghaire to Dingle sprint provided more accessible distance racing when ISORA events could also assuage the sea racing fever, while cruising loomed ever larger in a complex life matrix in which a family somehow also appeared.

Of those three Fastnets, the best was 1971. And this morning is the exact Golden Jubilee, for in those more civilised days, the race went off westward on the Saturday at the end of Cowes Week - almost invariably slugging into a westerly - and of course it ended in Plymouth as Nature intended, where it almost equally invariably rained.

With the privilege of having this entertaining suite of classic Fastnet Race personal memories, it was with only mildly mixed feelings that we greeted the news that in 2021 the course was to be lengthened 15% to 695 miles to move the finish to Cherbourg. For the world of offshore racing at this level is much changed anyway, yet no matter what they do to the course now – provided they retain The Rock itself - they can't change the precious personal memories that the previous generations of Fastnet contenders cherish, in which the highly romantic atmosphere of Plymouth's Millbay Dock in the rain is an integral part.

The 1971 Hustler 35 Setanta as she is today, a familiar summer resident of Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Photo W M NixonThe 1971 Hustler 35 Setanta as she is today, a familiar summer resident of Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Photo W M Nixon

Does it really matter that much now? The fact is that in a week's time, there'll be a whole new wave of Fastnet Racers for whom the Cherbourg finish is the only known finish. And though there's talk of Plymouth returning to the equation for the centenary Fastnet Race in 2025, with the fleets probably returning to enormous levels again as the pandemic memories recede (we hope) in 2023, it's likely that Cherbourg will have bedded in with limpet-like determination.

As it is, despite the continuing though easing pandemic problems, there are 353 boats listed to be heading off tomorrow as the extraordinary choreography of a Rolex Fastnet Race start in the Solent swings into action. However, before we look at those with special Irish interest, a bit of clarification on the events of fifty and more years ago mightn't go amiss. For in fact, it all started in 1969, when I got involved with a prodigious bundle of energy called Ronnie Wayte, who had a factory in Carrickmacross in County Monaghan which – at that stage – was making oil tanks for Ireland's rapidly-expanding domestic central heating market.

BOAT-BUILDING IN COUNTY MONAGHAN

These were steel tanks, but despite that, Ronnie had decided he wanted to build a fibreglass 35-footer in his factory for the 1969 Fastnet Race. As I'd been in the frame in a couple of offshore races, he reckoned I should be involved from the start, even with zero boat-building experience. Somehow, despite our boat building project in County Monaghan not getting fully under way until April 23rd 1969, the resulting boat Mayro of Skerries was on the starting line for the 1969 Fastnet on Saturday 9th August, having survived a busy little gale of 66 knots off Land's End while heading Cowes-wards.

We knew it was 66 knots, for that was where the needle had jammed on the anemometer dial when the masthead kit was blown clean away. The experience gave us considerable confidence in this crazy craft built in "The Marblehead of Monaghan", and in the 250-boat Fastnet fleet, we placed 122nd, leading to the modest claim that the front part of Mayro was in the top half of the fleet, even if the back part wasn't, with another crew response being that it had taken a helluva lot of boats to beat us.

Mayro of Skerries with Rockabill beyond in 1969. In those days, when you opted for an over-lapping genoa, there was no messing about……Mayro of Skerries with Rockabill beyond in 1969. In those days, when you opted for an over-lapping genoa, there was no messing about……

Mayro ended her days at Skerries (under a subsequent ownership) after breaking her moorings in a severe Autumn nor'east gale and going onto on the beach, where it took forever for her to break up in the surf - we'd known nothing of GRP construction, and she'd been grossly overbuilt.

However, just one significant bit of memorabilia survives. Ronnie was so sublimely confident that he could build anything that the already absurdly over-crowded construction programme was further cluttered by the additional manufacture of a glassfibre mast.

In the circumstances, it was quite a good bit of work, but it was too flexible.

THE ETERNAL FLAGSTAFF

So while the boat was in the final fitting-out stages in Skerries, the fiberglass mast was replaced by an orthodox aluminium extrusion, and in due course Mayro's original mast became the Skerries Sailing Club flagstaff. It's still there. In fact, when the oceans of the world rise higher, and Red Island in Skerries reverts to being a disappearing island, the Mast of Mayro will continue in position as a matter of enduring mystery, defiant above the rising ocean.

Meanwhile in 1970, I reverted to a work area in which I was marginally better qualified, editing what was then Irish Yachting magazine and spending some of the summer in Cork for the Royal Cork Quarter Millennium, while Ronnie coined it in with Ireland going bonkers for central heating. So when he asked me for a suggestion for a competitive new 35-footer for a fresh tilt at the Fastnet in 1971, I enthused about the new Holman & Pye-designed Hustler 35 which had seen off most of the then-dominant S&S 34s in the RORC Cowes-Cork Race, and seemed a better all-round proposition, for the S&S 34s were miraculous to windward, but decidedly less so on other points of sailing, whereas the Hustler 35 was a good all-rounder.

Compact but comfortable – the standard layout of the Hustler 35. In Setanta's case, there was an additional pilot berth on the starboard side of the saloon.Compact but comfortable – the standard layout of the Hustler 35. In Setanta's case, there was an additional pilot berth on the starboard side of the saloon.

Thus where 1969 had been a hellish rush of sticky and filthy 24-hours-plus work binges, 1971 became a matter of stylish elegance, with the new Hustler 35 Setanta of Skerries arriving at Bill Partington's yard in Pwllheli fresh out of the wrappers, complete with an Irish wolfhound depicted as leaping across the fashionably forward-raked transom.

Our English competitors - showing the usual Saxon lack of respect for Irish mythology – were soon calling her The Flying Poodle. But that didn't bother us in the least, as it meant they were seeing more of the stern than the bow, and by the time we departed for a cruising delivery to The Big One in Cowes, Setanta of Skerries had already won her Class Championship in the 1971 Irish Sea offshore programme, including victory in the RORC Morecambe Bay Race.

The routine for civilised Irish Fastnet Race participants in those days was a businesslike cruising delivery to the Solent – businesslike perhaps, but definitely cruising nevertheless, and we'd a fine time – then you did the RORC Channel Race when it was still a proper channel triangle on the Friday night before Cowes Week, then you'd do at least two and possibly as many as four races during Cowes Week, and then on Saturday – after close-up witnessing of the Friday night Cowes Week fireworks display – out you went for the Fastnet start.

Setanta of Skerries (centre) berthed in Cowes in 1971, with Ted Heath's new 40ft S&S-designed Morning Cloud on left. Photo: W M NixonSetanta of Skerries (centre) berthed in Cowes in 1971, with Ted Heath's new 40ft S&S-designed Morning Cloud on left. Photo: W M Nixon

By 1971 the fleet numbers were already pushing towards 300, and they kept increasing until 1979's Fastnet Storm softened everyone's cough for a while. But in 1971, only one Fastnet drowning had ever been recorded, and that was way back in 1931. Yet it was a nervy enough fleet which manoeuvred for each class start, and our division – Class IV – being one of the most numerous, there were the usual crowded dry-mouthed moments in under the Squadron battery until we got cleanly away to battle for clear air among the S&S 34s, which were everywhere and revelling in the stiff beat down Solent.

CREATING A CREW

But we were lucky in our crew. Somehow through the first half of the season, Setanta had whittled her way through a large potential panel until the six who did the Fastnet were like a harmonious yet competitive nest of singing birds. Ronnie had persuaded Mermaid superstar Harry Grimes of Skerries into the show, and there was nobody better at making Setanta go to windward in light airs and a sloppy sea – usually her weakest point. Dickie Gomes was there too, in a league of his own helming in a breeze. Pete Adams – who in the 1980s was to be a contender for the British Admirals Cup team despite racing his X40 with a totally Corinthian crew – comfortably fitted into any role, and then we'd Johnny McWilliam, whose only stipulation was that we carry a new McWilliam-specified Rolly Tasker mainsail made for the loft which he was planning to set up at Crosshaven after a hectic few years as a jet fighter pilot.

Setanta had comfortable but compact accommodation, and though I wouldn't say our crew of 1971 was made up of six fully-charged alpha males, somebody else certainly did. Yet as Johnny Mac pointed out when it was over, while it was beyond his previous personal offshore racing experience, there had not been a single bad word said throughout.

Sometimes when you experience a happy ship it's better to simply accept it rather than overdo the analysis thing, but the memories are so good that even the fact that we finished second in class rather than winning it all seems part of the path of destiny. Winning might have given us notions, whereas we'd one mighty fine sail, and getting a second in class was apparently the best Irish placing since Billy Mooney's Aideen had been in the frame in 1947, and Frank and Eric Hopkirk's Glance was up in lights in 1953.

RACING TED TURNER

In those days offshore racers were true cruiser-racers, racing a boat like Setanta was a matter of being efficient yet reasonably comfortable, and you expected moments of semi-relaxation now and again. That said, this photo taken on the Sunday afternoon does seem to over-egg it a bit. But then, we had been the last Class IV boat to be overtaken by Ted Turner's all-conquering 12 Metre American Eagle in the ebb tide rush towards the Needles, subsequently while short-tacking to successfully dodge inside the tide at Portland Bill on Saturday evening we found ourselves in close company with Denis Doyle's 47ft Moonduster, and then after gliding across West Bay towards Start Point through the Saturday night, at first light we came upon a group of boats at the point held back by the last of an adverse tide, and just as the tide turned in everyone's favour, we found we had glided up to be within talking distance of Dick Nye's new 48ft Jim McCurdy-designed Carina - not that they were in a particularly chatty mood.

The hard life. Aboard Setanta on the second day (the Sunday) of the Fastnet Race 1971 with (left to right) Johnny McWilliam, Pete Adams, and Dickie Gomes on the helm. The off watch have two berths on the port side, so they just absolutely had to sit like this to maintain optimum trim. Certainly it was working well, as the nearest boats were larger ones, that's Start Point on the horizon astern, and The Lizard is fine on the starboard bow. Photo: W M NixonThe hard life. Aboard Setanta on the second day (the Sunday) of the Fastnet Race 1971 with (left to right) Johnny McWilliam, Pete Adams, and Dickie Gomes on the helm. The off watch have two berths on the port side, so they just absolutely had to sit like this to maintain optimum trim. Certainly it was working well, as the nearest boats were larger ones, that's Start Point on the horizon astern, and The Lizard is fine on the starboard bow. Photo: W M Nixon

Hubris was bound to strike at some point, and we got our come-uppance while closing in on The Rock from the east, close-hauled on starboard. It had been a wet and breezy night - some said they got 40 knots – but now the rain had gone, the sun was out, and then suddenly – around four miles from the rock – we and about half a dozen other boats found ourselves flat becalmed in our own little private and extremely frustrating mill pond. It was freaky, and it took at least half an hour to crawl out of it, but the wind was piping up again at the rock such that we were soon running flat out for the Bishop, but in comfortable Setanta style so that foul weather gear was draped around the cockpit to dry out.

But darling, back in 1971, EVERYONE wore an Aran jersey….Mermaid Champion Harry Grimes, Dickie Gomes on helm, and Pete Adams re-arranging the drying gear as Setanta runs back from the Fastnet in rather more wind than seems apparent in the photo. Photo: W M NixonBut darling, back in 1971, EVERYONE wore an Aran jersey….Mermaid Champion Harry Grimes, Dickie Gomes on helm, and Pete Adams re-arranging the drying gear as Setanta runs back from the Fastnet in rather more wind than seems apparent in the photo. Photo: W M Nixon

When we got to Plymouth there wasn't another Class IV boat about the place, and for around half an hour Setanta of Skerries was posted as Class IV leader. But then Alan Bourdon and his merry men from Poole came in out of the rain in their new van de Stadt Pionier 10 after surfing like mad things virtually the whole way from the Fastnet, and with a slightly lower rating they pipped us by 17 minutes for the win.

We'd already got to know them in previous races and got on well together, so much so that after the Friday afternoon prize-giving at the Guildhall, some peculiar genius from the Bourdon boat decided both crews should go together for celebration at the only strip club open in Plymouth on a Friday afternoon. In getting out of one of the taxis at the club entrance, Alan stumbled, and the Class IV Cup rolled across the rainy street. So while the winning crew looked after their tired and emotional skipper, one of our lot scooped up the cup, and they asked him to look after it while they minded their boss. So in getting into the hyper-grubby club for an outrageous fee, when our man arrived in clutching the trophy, the gloomy doorman suddenly cheered up and said: "You won the Cup, you can come in for free". The strip show? It was awful, since you ask.

Clarion of Wight (Rory O'Hanlon) on course for the Fastnet Rock and the Philip Whitehead Cup in the 1971 Fastnet RaceClarion of Wight (Rory O'Hanlon) on course for the Fastnet Rock and the Philip Whitehead Cup in the 1971 Fastnet Race

1971 was a good year generally for the Irish contingent in the Fastnet, as Rory O'Hanlon's veteran Clarion of Wight won the Philip Whitehead Cup for the Beta Division for Golden Oldies.

As for Setanta, she has remained in Irish ownership ever since, and for many years now has been based in Dun Laoghaire, where it's grand to see her in good heart. But for the Band of Brothers from 1971, what happened with Setanta stays with Setanta. There are now only four of us still on the planet, and who needs a reunion when the memories are so much better, and there's been an impressive amount of living afloat and ashore going on ever since?

THE IRISH OFFSHORE PACE ACCELERATES

Certainly back in 1971, things were only getting going, and by the mid-1970s Cork had become a global focus of offshore racing development, with Johnny McWilliam's sail-making being joined by Ron Holland's design creation and the Bushe family's wonderful boat-building. Admittedly it suffered a setback when the high likelihood of winning the Admiral's Cup in 1979 and the Fastnet Race with it was wiped into oblivion by the Fastnet storm. But by the 1981 Fastnet, things were in the move again, and Ken Rohan's Regardless had a convincing Class I and Admiral's Cup class win, sailed by rising stars such as Robert Dix, Des Cummins and Drewry Pearson.

After the 1979 Fastnet storm, Ken Rohan's Regardless got things back on track with Fastnet Race victory in Class I and the Admiral's Cup division. Photo: W M NixonAfter the 1979 Fastnet storm, Ken Rohan's Regardless got things back on track with Fastnet Race victory in Class I and the Admiral's Cup division. Photo: W M Nixon

There was better to come, and from a new direction. The overall winner of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race was Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain. It was a beautiful win in a difficult race, and for my money it is still the greatest Irish sailing achievement of them all, for the resilient Ger was largely his own support team, and the way that he and his navigator/tactician Jochem Visser sailed the race was a joy to behold.

The all-conquering Chieftain racing down the Solent, Fastnet Race 2007.The all-conquering Chieftain racing down the Solent, Fastnet Race 2007.

Since then, while Irish boats have had class placings, the only trophy collected has been the Roger Justice Cup for sailing schools, won by Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing with the Sunfast 37 Desert Star in 2015, and Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School with the J/109 Jedi in 2017.

Desert Star rounding the Fastnet in 2015, on her way to winning the Roger Justice Cup. She is back again this year on the longer course.Desert Star rounding the Fastnet in 2015, on her way to winning the Roger Justice Cup. She is back again this year on the longer course.

So in contemplating 2021's lineup, we're casting the net very wide as to what constitutes Irish interest, and we can begin right at the top, as the biggest boat in the race and the favourite for mono-hull line honours, the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, was built in a 44-month quality project by Killian Bushe, working closely with designer JK, or Juan Kouyoudjian if you prefer.

The exceptionally complex high tech construction of the ClubSwan125 Skorpios (mono-hull line honours favourite for the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021) proved to be a 44-month work project for specialized boatbuilder Killian Bushe from CrosshavenThe exceptionally complex high tech construction of the ClubSwan125 Skorpios (mono-hull line honours favourite for the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021) proved to be a 44-month work project for specialized boatbuilder Killian Bushe from Crosshaven

If there's any sort of breeze towards the time she is finishing, Skorpios will be at an advantage, for the outstanding feature of the new longer course is that whereas the previous Plymouth-finishing courses had tidal gates at Portland Bill, Start Point and to a lesser extent The Lizard, most boats could get past with a decent sailing breeze, particularly if they were prepared to dodge dangerously close inshore.

NEW FASTNET COURSE'S MONSTER TIDAL GATE

But in the approaches to the new finish at Cherbourg, there is something of a complete tidal barrier, an extension of the Alderney Race at Cape de la Hague, the northwest corner of the Cherbourg Peninsula. If the tide is with you when you get there, then you're winning twice over, but if it's adverse, then having a boat with the highest speed potential confers an inbuilt advantage – biggies get through, but little 'uns stop.

The sting in the tail……the old and new Fastnet Race courses. The extension to finish at Cherbourg gives the fleet the additional challenge of the biggest tidal gate of all at Cape de la Hague.The sting in the tail……the old and new Fastnet Race courses. The extension to finish at Cherbourg gives the fleet the additional challenge of the biggest tidal gate of all at Cape de la Hague.

But though Skorpios may be the biggest by far, the sheer speed potential of George David's round Ireland mono-hull record-holder Rambler 88 can never be discounted, she'll seem very nimble by comparison with Skorpios, and this clash of the titans will be fascinating.

Slightly down the size scale, that gallant old war horse, the Irish-Chinese Volvo 70 Green Dragon, continues to sail the seas and race the Fastnet under Austrian ownership, and while the new course changes many things, we mustn't forget that a Volvo 70 was overall winner in 2019.

In IRC Class 1, Cracklin' Rosie, the veteran Corby 40 created by the late Roy Dickson, is still active and very much entered under Stven Anderson's ownership, while closer to home Andrew Hall of Pwllheli is also in Class I, racing the chartered Lombard 45 Pata Negra, which has taken silverware under Irish command.

The late Roy Dickson at the helm of his Corby 40 Cracklin' Rosie in the 1997 Fastnet Race. She goes again this year under the command of Steven Anderson. Photo: W M NixonThe late Roy Dickson at the helm of his Corby 40 Cracklin' Rosie in the 1997 Fastnet Race. She goes again this year under the command of Steven Anderson. Photo: W M Nixon

IRC Class 3 includes the Isle of Man-based First 40.7 Polished Manx, which is also in the two-handed division, but with due respect to all the other boats of Irish interest, IRC 3 – in which there are 80 boats – includes our most serious contender, Denis Murphy and Anna Marie Fegan's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo of the Royal Cork YC, this year's winner of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, and winner last year of the Fastnet 450.

Nieulargo seems to have thing nicely under control in the sometimes difficult countdown to the Fastnet, as Denis and Annamarie and their two daughters Molly and Mia left Crosshaven last Saturday for the delivery, and by mid-week were comfortably into the more ordered ambience of the Hamble, keeping well clear of Cowes where Cowes Week has been taking up all the space.

The successful Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Royal Cork YC) is one of Ireland's strongest entries in the Rolex Fastnet race 2021. Photo: Robert BatemanThe successful Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Royal Cork YC) is one of Ireland's strongest entries in the Rolex Fastnet race 2021. Photo: Robert Bateman

The crew of Nieulago before departing Crosshaven last weekend were (left to right) Molly Murphy, Annamarie Fegan, Denis Murphy, and Mia MurphyThe crew of Nieulago before departing Crosshaven last weekend were (left to right) Molly Murphy, Annamarie Fegan, Denis Murphy, and Mia Murphy

Time was you expected to get a pre-race berth in Cowes in the days before the race. But a serene shore base at a mainland yacht harbour is now the best option, and when Nieulargo joins the fray tomorrow, her full lineup will be the well-tested one of the Murphy-Fegan family foursome together with the notably talented lineup of Nicholas 'Nin' O'Leary, Killian Collins, Harry Durcan, Clive O'Shea, Cliona Connelly and Jamie Tingle.

IRC 4 is the next biggest class numerically with 74 boats, and it includes Keith Milllar's Yamaha 36 Andante from Kilmore Quay, and Irish Offshore Sailing's Sunfast 37 Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire with Ronan O'Siochru co-commanding with Conor Totterdell of the National YC.

Talking of co-commands, we find it in two divisions. There are 63 entries in the straight Fastnet Two-Handed fleet – which has provided an overall winner in times past – where there's special interest for us in the Sunfast 3200 Purple Mist, which has been something of a pace-setter this season in the growing Solent-based Two-Handed scene, and is being raced round the Fastnet by Kate Cope and Matthew Beecher, who hails from Kinsale.

Matt Beecher from Kinsale will be racing the Sunfast 3200 Purple Mist in the two-handed division.Matt Beecher from Kinsale will be racing the Sunfast 3200 Purple Mist in the two-handed division.

The Figaro 3s have their own class, and in it we find Kenneth Rumball and Pamela Lee in RL Sailing, their opposition including Stormwave raced by Cat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw. It's a very interesting situation, for of course last October, Cat Hunt sailed with Pam Lee to establish the new Round Ireland Two-handed Record aboard RL Sailing.

In a fleet of this size we're bound to find individual Irish sailors on several boats, and the National YC sees several of its U30 group involved, with Oisin Cullen and Saoirse Reynolds on Simon Harris's J/112e Ouvert in IRC 2, while in IRC 1 Conor Corson is bowman on the A13 Phorphorus.

Thus we have the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021. It's big, in some very important ways it's new, and it starts tomorrow (Sunday) with regular updates on Afloat.ie in our dedicated Fastnet Race section

Cat Hunt and Pam Lee in team action during their successful round Ireland record attempt last October. In the 2021 Fastnet Race, they'll be in competition with each other on different boats in the two-handed Figaro 3 Division.Cat Hunt and Pam Lee in team action during their successful round Ireland record attempt last October. In the 2021 Fastnet Race, they'll be in competition with each other on different boats in the two-handed Figaro 3 Division.

Published in W M Nixon
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While the UK's Cowes Week is taking centre stage on the Solent at present, final preparations are being made for Sunday’s start (8th August) of the world’s biggest offshore yacht race, the Rolex Fastnet Race.

This year, for the first time since the race was first held in 1925, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event will finish in Cherbourg, France rather than Plymouth. However, this 49th edition of the race will start as usual from Cowes, where the first warning signal for the multihull classes will be given at 1100, followed at 15-minute intervals by the IMOCAs/Class40s and then the five IRC classes starting with IRC Four and finishing with IRC Zero at 1230.

At the latest tally 355 boats are entered ranging in size from the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev, to the lowest rated in the IRC fleet, Pierre Legoupil’s 11m Illingworth/Primose-designed Maica classic, Le Loup Rouge Of Cmn, to the shortest, Tim Whittle 9.33m long T3 Trifoiler L'Albatros, racing in the MOCRA fleet.

The vast majority are competing in the IRC fleet. This spans some of the top international grand prix racers down to mum and dads in family crews and sailing schools.

Among the most decorated is George David’s Rambler 88, which won back-to-back monohull line honours in the last two editions. International Grand Prix racers are low in numbers compared to previous years due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. “It hasn’t been easy getting it together - it is a big commitment by these owners,” admits Rambler 88’s tactician Brad Butterworth. Her 19 crew have all made it into the UK, while the boat arrived on a ship from the USA in June.

This week the silver maxi has been out. “We just want to make sure we can still sail it in anger after a year of not sailing,” Butterworth says. Rambler 88’s last race was the Middle Sea Race in 2019. According to Butterworth the only change they have made since then is adding a light air downwind sail.

Over 350 boats are entered in the Fastnet Race, including the largest - the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev © SkopriosOver 350 boats are entered in the Fastnet Race, including the largest - the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev © Skoprios

Several classic yachts will grace the Fastnet Race fleet, including the 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner © StormvogelSeveral classic yachts will grace the Fastnet Race fleet, including the 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner © Stormvogel

Among the historically significant in the fleet is Eric Tabarly’s Whitbread Round the World Race maxi and 1976 OSTAR winner Pen Duick VI, skippered by his daughter Marie. Then there are two of the most successful 1960s maxis, the Swedish Wallenberg family's S&S 63 Rafanut and Cornelius Brunzeel's 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner.

Several overall winners of the top IRC prize, the Fastnet Challenge Cup are returning. Cherbourg hero Alexis Loison, together with his father Pascal, in 2013 famously became the race's only ever doublehanded crew to win the Fastnet Race overall. He is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title, once again on board the JPK 10.30 Léon, but this time with Guillaume Pirouelle. Other hot British contenders for the IRC Two-Handed class include 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries.

2015 overall winner Géry Trentesaux is racing but this time on Antoine Carpentier’s Class 40 Courrier Redman.

A record number of yachts will be competing Two-Handed in IRC, including 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comA record number of yachts will be competing Two-Handed in IRC, including 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Cherbourg hero Alexis Loison is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title on the JPK 10.30 Léon, with Guillaume Pirouelle © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comCherbourg hero Alexis Loison is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title on the JPK 10.30 Léon, with Guillaume Pirouelle © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Didier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 and has his secret weapon, Figaro sailor Fred Duthil back on board. In 2019 Duthil sailed on board Jacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon, an evolution of the JPK 10.10, when she won IRC One.

Pelletier is also returning to defend his title. “It hasn’t been easy to prepare due to the COVID, but during May we sailed at weekends and then we did La Trinite-Cherbourg, Cowes-Dinard and the Channel Race. We hope we are prepared and the crew too, but we are used to sailing together, so we have to cross our fingers.” Pelletier sees Lann Ael 2 as his main IRC One competition this time, but also Michael O'Donnell’s well sailed J/121 Darkwood, which beat him to second in the Channel Race.

Pelletier has done around 11-12 Fastnet Races, his first being in 1973 when they finished sixth. Right now he is ready to go and L’Ange De Milon is already in Cherbourg where they will leave on Saturday in order to reach the Solent on the morning of the start. “It is a pity there’s no possibility of drinking a beer in Cowes,” he says sadly.

Some of the most famous boats are to be found racing outside of the IRC fleet, in the largely French Grand Prix classes. These include the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans such as Yves le Blevec’s Actual (ex MACIF), Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (co-skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winning skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier), and Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3.

Didier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Carlo Borlenghi/RolexDidier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Jacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon is back to defend her IRC One title © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comJacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon is back to defend her IRC One title © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Three of the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans are entered including 2019 winners the Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier skippered Maxi Edmond de Rothschild © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comThree of the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans are entered including 2019 winners the Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier skippered Maxi Edmond de Rothschild © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Fresh from last winter’s Vendée Globe are 13 IMOCAs. These 60 footers, many of which are fitted with foils that make them ‘fly’, include the 2020-21 Vendée Globe winner Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ, as well as the boat that was first home (losing to Bestaven following a time correction), Charlie Dalin’s Apivia. The IMOCA fleet also includes two of Britain’s top offshore sailors, Alex Thomson board HUGO BOSS and Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur.

The line-up in the Class40s is giant with 37 boats. It is also highly international with eight nations represented from afar afield as Japan and the USA. This includes several of the very latest 'scow' designs such as Courrier Redman, winner of the recent Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race.

Across the whole fleet, and perhaps surprisingly due to the pandemic, 24 nations are still represented, although more this year comes from the UK (149) and France (111). Nonetheless, boats have still come from afar afield as Japan, Hong Kong and Mexico among others.

For most at this stage the hard work has been done, boats are qualified and now it is down to fine tuning.

British top offshore sailor, Alex Thomson aboard HUGO BOSS is one of 13 IMOCA 60s in the Fastnet Race © Alex Thomson RacingBritish top offshore sailor, Alex Thomson aboard HUGO BOSS is one of 13 IMOCA 60s in the Fastnet Race © Alex Thomson Racing

Team Edenred is one of 37 Class40s in the 2021 Fastnet Race © Jean-Marie LiotTeam Edenred is one of 37 Class40s in the 2021 Fastnet Race © Jean-Marie Liot

Racing in IRC Four is the Poole-based JPK 10.10 Joy which has been entered for a second time by the Butters family, skippered by Peter and including father Dave and younger brother Jack. Their crew also includes other Parkstone Yacht Club members, Ian Milliard and Rob McGregor, younger brother of well known RORC racer Jim (and uncle of Olympic sailors/match racers Lucy and Kate).

They have been campaigning their JPK 10.10 for five years and have become friends with other owners like Jangada’s Richard Palmer, who have helped them a great deal with setting up their boat.

Already this year the Butters have competed in another major event, the 3 Peaks Yacht Race, from Barmouth to Fort Williams. This will be their second: “With the Fastnet Race finishing in Cherbourg for the first time it seemed interesting, although sadly we don’t get to enjoy going ashore in France with the on-going restrictions,” says Peter. “The Fastnet is always difficult to do well in just because there is such a range of boats and there are so many good boats as well. There is a reason that it is the premier competition it is…”

Preliminary weather forecasts show that competitors will be in for a brisk ride from start time and through the first night with 23-28 knot south-westerly headwinds. On Monday conditions are set to ease to 13-18 knots, however the weather pattern is very unsettled with the wind generally in the south to south-west quadrant which will provide fast reaching to and from the Fastnet Rock on the southern tip of Ireland.

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A substantial fleet of more than 300 yachts is set to compete in the 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The entry list is evidence once again of the illustrious status and widespread appeal of the event, which starts from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in England on Sunday, 8 August.

Rolex this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its partnership with the biennial competition and its organizers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC). The offshore race is one of the cornerstones of the brand’s enduring association with the sport of sailing.

Since 1925, when seven yachts first competed and the winning entry, Jolie Brise, took nearly a week to complete the course, the Fastnet has constantly adapted to the times, developing a revered position as a standard-bearer in yachting. Over the decades the feats of intrepid competitors have built the legend, supported by the RORC’s continuing dedication to deliver the highest standards of race management and ensure it caters for an ever-increasing interest.

An inspiring and often gruelling challenge, nothing can be left to chance. Preparation needs to be total and teamwork exemplary, while all physical and mental demands must be embraced. Only with the strongest will, the keenest experience and a sharp intuition can crews overcome factors such as the prevailing winds, currents and sea state. Paul Cayard, a Rolex Testimonee and winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race, has experienced the race’s unique character on several occasions since his debut in 1993. He believes it to be one the most complete tests in offshore racing: “The Fastnet is a rite of passage for any sailor. Throughout the race you are exposed to the elements and some of the world’s most challenging and ferocious waters. The course has a raw beauty and is a stringent test of seamanship, demanding full focus, concentration and determination. On crossing the finishing line, your sense of achievement is tangible.”

As part of the process of evolution, this year’s race will finish at Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France, rather than the traditional end point, the port of Plymouth on the south coast of England. RORC race director Chris Stone explains: “Despite difficulties caused by the pandemic, we are excited by the prospect of finishing in Cherbourg. The town’s impressive facilities allow the club to accommodate a greater number of competitors. The entry list is an incredible array of boats and crews, from the fastest and most professional to the more Corinthian. The nature of the challenge, though, is unchanged, with most yachts facing two or more nights at sea and a mix of challenging conditions.”

Fastnet Race Course 2021

Like the challenge, much of the course remains the same. The start is a line set off the imperious Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS). Crews will head west through the Solent, before a long passage along the English Channel to Land’s End, passing noted landmarks such as The Needles and Portland Bill. A long and sometimes brutal leg awaits. Crossing the open waters of the Celtic Sea to the iconic Fastnet Rock, the race’s eponymous symbol off the southern coast of Ireland, is often into the teeth of an Atlantic weather system. The imposing rock and lighthouse are a welcome sight whatever the time of day. Following a typically exhilarating leg back to the Isles of Scilly, for the first time the fleet will then turn towards the French coast, where new tidal challenges come into play, particularly between Alderney and Cap de la Hague just before Cherbourg. The alteration to the finish has lengthened the course to 695 nautical miles (1,287 kilometres), some 87 nautical miles (161 kilometres) longer than recent editions.

Reaching the famous rock in the Fastnet RaceReaching the famous rock in the Fastnet Race

The fleet for the 2021 Fastnet is truly global in its composition, with yachts representing 31 countries. The largest registered entrant is Skorpios, a ClubSwan 125 measuring 42.62 metres (139.83 feet); the smallest yachts are a mere 9.33m (31ft). The fastest monohull and multihull yachts from 2019 return. Two years ago, the French trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild clinched the multihull victory just metres from the finish, while George David’s United States maxi Rambler 88 secured the monohull title. Both crews will encounter stiff competition in their quest to repeat their success.

Claiming the race’s main prize, overall victory under IRC handicap and the Fastnet Challenge Cup, marks a level of achievement hard to quantify.

The varied roll of honour is united by skill, dedication and fortitude. Winning skippers in this year’s fleet include Frenchman Didier Gaudoux, hoping to reprise his 2017 performance with Lann Ael 2.

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The Irish Offshore Sailing team RL Sailing, sponsored by Hanley Energy, recently completed the gruelling Tour De Bretagne a La Voile. The famous race was spread across several stages over nine days, with a combination of inshore and offshore racing in the one design Beneteau Figaro 3 fleet.

RL Sailing finished with a final 24th place in the overall series and 5th in the mixed teams. The race was an opportunity for the team to learn and progress in their first season of racing doublehanded in the circuit. The intense racing that included coastal races from port to port as well as inshore and offshore battles, provided the perfect environment to test speed, tactics and manoeuvres against a closely packed fleet. The event also brought in aspects of small boat racing as every start line hotly contested with plenty of general recalls and a huge significance placed on the first upwind leg.

“This event was much more intense than we ever previously thought it would be. It really challenges you as a sailor on every level. The format of short intense races really pushed the fleet and no race was ever over. Every place and position were hard fought!” Said skipper Kenneth Rumball.

Close racing in the Tour De Bretagne a La VoileClose racing in the Tour De Bretagne a La Voile

Kenny Rumball and Pamela LeeKenny Rumball and Pamela Lee“The shorter legs in this race meant we had more opportunity for post-race discussion and analysis and the chance to try different things the next day. Our goal for this race was to learn and improve as much as possible and with the support of Hanley Energy we certainly achieved that.” continues Skipper Pamela Lee.

 

For RL Sailing, the Tour De Bretagne was the team’s second Figaro 3 doublehanded race having competed in the Sardinha Cup in April this year. Both races have been a completely different format and challenge, with the Sardinha Cup including a stage over 500 nautical miles and lasting five days. The next and final race on the 2021 calendar for the team is the Rolex Fastnet Cherbourg. The Figaro fleet is racing in its own class within the race, and it will once again be a completely different challenge for the team as the one-design boats will be mixed in with the larger fleet of over 500 boats from all over the world. The complexities for a bigger fleet and a one-design race within it, as well as very different sailing conditions across the Irish Sea, will make for an exciting and challenging race.

“I’m really looking forward to the next challenge of the Fastnet, it’s going to be a great opportunity to get stuck into some complex navigation and continue learning and improving, and of course representing Ireland in doublehanded offshore racing,” comments skipper Pamela Lee.

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More than 70 boats are expected to be on the start line racing in IRC Four for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Nearly all of the 500 plus sailors racing in the class are amateurs, and all bar a few boats are under 40ft. For the small boat class, the race is a labour of love and in many respects the toughest challenge of the Fastnet Race.

First established for the race in 2011, IRC Four is a relatively new class to the Race. Jean-Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33 Iromiguy won the class in 2011, following on from Iromiguy’s famous overall victory in 2005.

Since its conception, IRC Four has always been won by a French boat and for the last four editions by a team racing a JPK 10.10. Noel Racine’s JPK 10.10 Foggy Dew won in 2013 and 2019, but having changed his boat to a JPK 10.30, Foggy Dew will not be racing in IRC Four. This year’s edition has nine JPK10.10s in action, several can be considered favourites for class victory.

Emmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the last race in 2019, co-skippered by his brother Etienne. "Gioia means joy in Italian and this race is a dream for us," commented Emmanuel. "As children, sailing in St Vaas, Normandy, we dreamed of doing the Fastnet Race together.” Just to add a little charm to the Gioia story, in 2013 racing as Night and Day in IRC Three, the boat was the overall race winner.

Emmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the 2019 race Photo: Paul Wyeth Emmanuel Pinteaux’s JPK 10.10 Gioia was second in class in the 2019 race Photo: Paul Wyeth

Richard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt Photo: Arthur Daniel/RORCRichard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt Photo: Arthur Daniel/RORC

Among the 40 or so British teams competing in IRC Four, perhaps Richard Palmer’s JPK 10.10 has the best shot of breaking France’s winning streak. Racing Two-Handed with Jeremy Waitt, Jangada has an enviable track record: 2020 RORC Boat of the Year and winner of the 2019 RORC Transatlantic Race. Richard Palmer is competing in his tenth Fastnet. “It’s the world's most competitive offshore IRC event,” commented Richard. “We are looking forward to the increasing level of competition in the Two-Handed fleet and the new route into Cherbourg. The most difficult part this time will be strategies for the main tidal gates.”

Eleven Sun Fast 3200s are set for a battle in IRC Four; the majority are from France, but the best result for the Jeanneau design in the Fastnet Race came last year, and by a British boat. In 2019, Nigel Goodhew’s Cora, racing with son Tim was fourth in class. Cora is back for a crack at IRC Four, but this time Tim Goodhew is racing Two-Handed with Kelvin Matthews. Cora has been in fine form this season, especially for the longer RORC offshore races; winning class in the Myth of Malham and second in the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race.

Six Sigma 38s will have their own private battle within IRC Four. Designed in 1985 by David Thomas in collaboration with the RORC and the Royal Thames YC, the one-design sloop was built to stand up to tough offshore conditions using data from the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race. Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity is the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season, including a second overall in the De Guingand Bowl Race. Since 2009, With Alacrity has completed all six editions of the Fastnet Race, finishing in the top three Sigma 38s every year, winning in 2017 and 2019.

Seventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity - the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season Photo: Paul WyethSeventh Fastnet Race for Chris and Vanessa Choules' With Alacrity - the leading Sigma 38 for the 2021 RORC season Photo: Paul Wyeth
Nigel Goodhew’s Cora is back for a crack at IRC Four, but this time his son Tim Goodhew is racing Two-Handed with Kelvin Matthews © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com   Nigel Goodhew’s Cora is back for a crack at IRC Four, but this time his son Tim Goodhew is racing Two-Handed with Kelvin Matthews Photo: Paul Wyeth

At least 18 classic yachts have entered the Fastnet Race in IRC Four. These yachts are typically owned by seasoned veterans of offshore racing - true Corinthians that race for passion not for profit.

In 2017, Jonathan Rolls’ Xara was undoubtedly the star of the elegant classics racing in the Fastnet Race. Best Swan overall, best S&S design and the Dorade Cup for best corrected time under IRC for classic yachts. In 2019, Xara retained the title of best Swan Overall. Xara has a long history in the Fastnet Race, including surviving the tragic 1979 edition. Xara has been in top form for the 2021 RORC Season’s Points Championship prior to racing in the Fastnet Race, winning the Guingand Bowl Race overall in a fleet of 71 yachts and placing third in IRC Four for the Cowes Dinard St Malo Race.

“We are old fashioned amateurs, very definitely not professional. The crew are all family and friends.” explains Jonathan. “Son Tom is Xara’s navigator, cousin Giles will be racing, plus Tom’s Best Man, Ashley Rudd and Sam Spencer; they all went to school together. The younger crew look after this ancient old man and we will do what we normally do – just keep trying.”

The Sparkman and Stephens Trophy for the best yacht of that design, will this year be defended by the S&S yawl Lulotte, owned by Ben Morris from Brixham, Devon, who will be competing in his ninth race.

"Going around the Fastnet Rock we have a little tradition - we have a family house on Heir Island overlooking the rock. In past events, as Lulotte rounded the Fastnet Lighthouse, all of the wonderful crew enjoyed roast lamb, cooked on board by Dan Ptacek. Lulotte goes to windward well, but off the breeze with a mizzen staysail up you are having to work the wheel quite hard, but she looks after us and you never feel in danger – she's a Devon girl!”

Paul Moxon and Steve Jones’ Amokura is the oldest boat in the race. The Fredrick Shepherd 50ft Bermudan yawl was built by Moodys, Swanwick in 1939, originally for Lord Mountbatten’s Aide de Camp, Ernest Harston. With a pitch pine hull on oak beams, teak deck and seven ton bilge keel, Amokura is a heavy displacement yacht. She competed in the 1959 Fastnet Race and again 60 years on in 2019, but finished neither. Amokura’s relationship with Cherbourg dates back to 1946 when she was credited as being the first British yacht into Cherbourg after the war. It is highly unlikely that Amokura will take line honours for the Fastnet Race, but there is no doubt that she will receive an ovation for finally finish the race that she was built for.

Jonathan Rolls’ elegant Swan 38 classic Xara has good form in the Rolex Fastnet Race and recently won the Guingand Bowl Photo: Paul WyethJonathan Rolls’ elegant Swan 38 classic Xara has good form in the Rolex Fastnet Race and recently won the Guingand Bowl Photo: Paul Wyeth

Ben Morris's Swan 55 yawl, Lulotte Photo: Rick TomlinsonBen Morris's Swan 55 yawl, Lulotte Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Unfinished business - Paul Moxon's 1939 Amokura is the oldest boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race. She competed in the 1959 race and again 60 years on in 2019, but did not complete either Photo: Nic ComptonUnfinished business - Paul Moxon's 1939 Amokura is the oldest boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race. She competed in the 1959 race and again 60 years on in 2019, but did not complete either Photo: Nic Compton

For the yachts racing in IRC Four, the longer course for the 2021 Fastnet Race is likely to result in at least four days and nights at sea to complete the race. The mental and physical stamina required is colossal. In many respects, the race is harder for this class than any other.

With crew positions hard to come by among the hi-tech modern yachts, IRC Four is where many young aspiring sailors get their first taste of offshore racing. One of the most advanced boats racing this year will be Alex Thomson’s IMOCA HUGO BOSS. Alex’s first offshore race was the 1995 Fastnet, racing a Sigma 33. Since that first race Alex has competed in five Vendee Globes. While IRC Four has never produced an overall winner, the teams can dare to dream - it is only a matter of time before that tribute is achieved.

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With less than a month before the start of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, IRC Three boasts the largest class competing with 88 teams entered from at least 10 different countries. IRC Three has a cornucopia of boat designs, mainly raced by amateur crews. However, amongst these Corinthian sailors is a rich vein of world class professionals, especially racing in the Two-Handed discipline. In recent editions, IRC Three has produced two overall winners of the race - Pascal and Alexis Loison racing Two-Handed with Night and Day (2013) and Gery Trentesaux’s fully-crewed Courrier Du Leon (2015).

Two-Handed Warriors

The vast majority of the 2021 Fastnet Race’s IRC Two-Handed teams will be racing in IRC Three. The double-handed discipline has become hugely popular, almost doubling in the number of entries over the last decade. The 49th edition is set to eclipse the 64 entries in the 2019 race.

2013 was a golden edition for the father and son duo, Pascal and Alexis Loison, racing JPK 1010 Night and Day to overall victory. Alexis Loison’s success continued in 2019 with JPK 1030 Léon. Racing with the boat’s builder Jean Pierre Kelbert, Léon was the winner of IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed. Léon was leading the Two-Handed Class by 17 minutes at the Fastnet Rock but won the class by nearly five hours by the finish. “After the Rock we had strong reaching conditions with big seas,” recalls Alexis Loison. “With the A5 spinnaker up we were surfing at 19 knots and by the time we reached the Scilly Isles we were with IRC One!”

For the 2021 edition, Alexis will race Léon with a rising star. Guillaume Pirouelle excelled in the 470 Class, won the Tour de France à la voile, and was selected to skipper Region Normandie in the Figaro Class. Should the pair taste success in this year’s race, the two Normans will undoubtedly receive a hero’s welcome in Alexis’ home port of Cherbourg.

“We don’t think about the finish; all of our effort is put into preparing Léon for the race,” continued Alex. “The competition in the Two-Handed Class is very strong from the British Sun Fast teams and like Léon, they will be very fast in strong reaching conditions.”

Past winner, Alexis Loison will race Léon with Guillaume Pirouelle in IRC Three Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/RolexPast winner, Alexis Loison will race Léon with Guillaume Pirouelle in IRC Three Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

British Two-Handed teams competing for glory in IRC Three include the leading team for the class in the 2021 RORC Season’s Points Championship. Rob Craigie’s Sun Fast 3600 Bellino, racing with Deb Fish. Bellino’s best Fastnet Race to date was 2017 with a third in both classes. Between them, Rob and Deb have competed in 18 races.

“We're as always excited by the pinnacle race of the season,” commented Deb Fish. “It's a fascinating course with lots of challenges for the navigator and we have already started analysing the tides and strategies for passing Alderney for the new course. We would love to do better than our 2017 result, but that will be a tall order with the influx of boats and talent into the class.”

A new Two-Handed pairing this year and proven race winners are James Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo. Dee has vast offshore experience, including the Volvo Ocean Race, six Round the World races, the Vendée Globe, and was the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the world in both directions. James competed in 2019 on Gallivanter and is looking forward to the new course and tactical decisions that come with it. “I love the race for the adventure, excitement and challenge and am looking forward to the new finish destination of Cherbourg,” said Harayda.

Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson will be racing Sun Fast 3300 Swell in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Henry was second in the Two-Handed Class in 2019, racing Fastrak XI with Hannah Diamond. Four times Figaro sailor Henry Bomby also competed in the last Volvo Ocean Race and this will be his fifth Rolex Fastnet Race. Shirley Robertson was the first British woman to claim consecutive gold medals in the Olympics. This will be Shirley’s third race, but she is under no illusion that it will be a very different experience, racing doublehanded in the Fastnet Race for the first time.

2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries. Kelvin is an amateur sailor with decades of big boat racing success. Stuart is a two-time Etchells World Champion and double-Olympian. Stuart will be racing after returning from the Tokyo Games where he is Race Officer for the Finn Class. The Aries crew has a combined age of 126 years. Earlier in the 2021 season, Aries put in a winning performance beating both Bellino and Gentoo. "It’s all down to Stuart Childerley, I am only the labourer on the bow!" joked Rawlings. "Our aim is to win by sailing as best and as hard as we can. I enjoy every second of it.”

Veteran racer Alex Bennett will be racing Two-Handed with fellow pro-sailor, Conrad Humphreys in his 1984 Swan 46 Ginny B. The British teams accolades run off the page with Bennett excelling in the Mini Transat and Class40 arena, whilst Humphreys’ success includes winning skipper in the BT Global Challenge and completing the Vendée Globe.

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

Rob Craigie and Deb Fish will compete Two-Handed on Sun Fast 3600 Bellino Rob Craigie and Deb Fish will compete Two-Handed on Sun Fast 3600 Bellino Photo: James Tomlinson  


James Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 GentooJames Harayda and Dee Caffari racing Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo © James Tomlinson

Team Bomby/Robertson: Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson on Sun Fast 3300 Swell in the Rolex Fastnet RaceTeam Bomby/Robertson: Henry Bomby and Shirley Robertson on Sun Fast 3300 Swell in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Paul Wyeth

 2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries2015 Two-Handed winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley will be racing Kelvin’s Sun Fast 3300 Aries Photo: Paul Wyeth

Fully Crewed Internationals

Over half of the teams racing in IRC Three for the Rolex Fastnet Race will be competing with a full crew. With team rotation and all hands on deck for manoeuvres, these teams can push their boats harder for longer than their doublehanded adversaries. Whilst the Two-Handed favourites come from France and Great Britain, there is a rich diversity of nationalities racing fully crewed with British and French teams joined by crews from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia and the United States.

This will be the fourth Rolex Fastnet Race in a row for the Black Sheep crew. Trevor Middleton bought the Sun Fast 3600 from new to win the 2019 RORC Season’s Championship overall. “Always nice to round the Rock and I’m looking forward to seeing what the different route is like,” commented Middleton. The Rolex Fastnet Race is always a ‘must do race’ on the calendar. We like the bigger races, Rolex Fastnet, RORC Caribbean 600, Rolex Middle Sea etc. The most difficult part is getting to the start line with everything ready and prepared, but the race is simply a classic which will be hard to miss when the time comes to stop racing. I will be competing with a crew of friends who have sailed together for a while, skippered by Jake Carter.”

One of the fancied French teams, racing fully crewed in IRC Three, will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee², which will be racing to their home port of Cherbourg. Racing Raging-Bee² raced Two-Handed in the 2019 edition and was third in class. The fully crewed Raging-Bee² was in fine form for the recent Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race, winning IRC Three. “It is wonderful to race again in Cowes and see all our English friends on the starting line,” commented Dussere. “We know that we are very good upwind against the top competition, so, we hope there will be a lot of upwind components to the race.”

The fourth Rolex Fastnet Race for 2019 RORC Season’s Points Championship winners - Trevor Middleton's Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep Photo: Paul WyethThe fourth Rolex Fastnet Race for 2019 RORC Season’s Points Championship winners - Trevor Middleton's Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep Photo: Paul Wyeth 

Racing fully crewed in IRC Three back to their home port of Cherbourg will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee² Photo: Paul WyethRacing fully crewed in IRC Three back to their home port of Cherbourg will be Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-Bee² Photo: Paul Wyeth

Denis Murphy and Royal Cork Yacht Club Rear Admiral, Annamarie Fegan will be racing Irish Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo for the Fastnet Race. The tactician will be one of Ireland’s top sailors, Nicholas O’Leary, who has competed in three races, including doublehanded with Alex Thomson on IMOCA60 HUGO BOSS. The Nieulargo crew includes 21-year-old Harry Durcan, a champion Optimist, Laser and 29er sailor, and Killian Collins who represented Ireland in the 2004 Olympic Games.

“All of the crew are from Cork, including Denis’ two daughters Mia and Molly who are the principal drivers, and bow woman extraordinaire, Cliodhna Connolly,” commented Nicholas. “We had a good result winning the Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race overall this year, to add to a win in the Dun Laoghaire to Cork race in 2020. Nieulargo will be proudly representing the Royal Cork Yacht Club and as always, it will be a special moment in the race when we round the Fastnet Rock.”

Fifteen J/109 teams have entered the Fastnet Race for the J/109 Trophy, 12 will be racing in IRC Three. One of the fancied performers in the J/109s will be Mike Yates’ JAGO, racing Two-Handed with Eivind Bøymo-Malm. This will be Mike Yates’ first Fastnet Race after 30 years of racing, which includes winning the Commodores’ Cup (way back when), Etchells, Ultras, Skiffs, Mumm30, Ton-class racing, as well as various transatlantics. Yates is also aiming for a top 10 in the Two-Handed class.

Six classic design yachts have entered the Fastnet Race in IRC Three, including Robert Nichols’ Swan 48 Snow Wolf, Ben Morris’ Swan 55 yawl Lulotte and Swan 48 Dantes sailed by Michael Orgzey. Hiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 for the original owner Chuck Kirsch. In 2019, Hiro, with his all-amateur Corinthian crew, sailed to victory in the Transatlantic Race, taking first in class for the 3,200nm race.

Denis Murphy and Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral, Annamarie Fegan will be racing Irish Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, with tactician Nicholas O’Leary Photo: Afloat.ieDenis Murphy and Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral, Annamarie Fegan will be racing Irish Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, with tactician Nicholas O’Leary Photo: Afloat.ie

One of the fancied performers in the J/109s will be Mike Yates’ JAGO, racing Two-Handed with Eivind Bøymo-Malm Photo: Rick TomlinsonOne of the fancied performers in the J/109s will be Mike Yates’ JAGO, racing Two-Handed with Eivind Bøymo-Malm Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Hiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 Photo: Rick TomlinsonHiroshi Nakajima’s American S&S 49 Hiro Maru is a one-off aluminium yacht designed in 1969 Photo: Rick Tomlinson

The myriad of boat designs and crews racing in IRC Three mirrors the character of theFastnet Race. From its inception in 1925, the race has proven highly influential in the growth of offshore racing and remains closely linked to advances in yacht design and sailing technique. As always, the winner of the class will be the team that sails a near perfect race. The weather then decides if the class winner will win the Fastnet Race overall, but with recent winners of the race coming from IRC Three, this class will be one to watch.

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Among many hot boats in IRC Two will be the JPK 1180, big brother to the JPK 10.10 Night and Day and 10.80 Courrier Du Leon, which won the Rolex Fastnet Races in 2013 and 2015 respectively. This year five of those potent IRC performers are entered in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event: Eric Fries' Fastwave 6 and Richard Fromentin's Cocody from France, Astrid de Vin's Il Corvo from the Netherlands and from the UK, Ed Bell's Dawn Treader and Thomas Kneen's Sunrise.

Veteran of the Volvo Ocean Race, Dave Swete is sailing master on board Sunrise this season. The Hamble-based Kiwi professional is looking forward to sailing with her young crew, who earlier this season finished third from 112 finishers in the RORC’s Myth of Malham Race, covering the first part of the Rolex Fastnet Race race course down to the Eddystone Lighthouse. Owner Tom Kneen is only 36 and many of his crew are part of the RORC’s long term initiative to develop racing for Under 35s, run by the club’s Griffin Committee. Swete sees great value in the programme: “In the UK I think there is a link that is missing between people who come out of university or school or out of dinghies and into keelboats.

“On Sunrise we have a youth crew who are all amateurs, apart from me, and up and coming sailors who might make a career out of it. We have three girls on board – in fact, I don’t know a Performance 40 that doesn’t have a girl on board. It is quite an inclusive class like that.” (Swete is also Class Manager for the Performance 40 class, which straddles IRC One and Two in the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Eric Fries and his crew on Fastwave 6 are seen as quiet favourites for winning IRC Two, a dark horse to watch out for in this fiercely contested class. Under her former guise of Adam Gosling’s Yes!, Dawn Treader was a proven performer and Ed Bell continues to campaign her very seriously.

Tom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise - helping to foster offshore sailing opportunities for under 35sTom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise - helping to foster offshore sailing opportunities for under 35s Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Just as serious, but always with a smile on their faces, are the crew of Richard Fromentin’s Cocody. Crewman Nicolas Dupard comments: “Our main goal is to win on corrected time in our class. At least we are aiming for a top three! In the end, the most important thing for us is to have done the most to achieve our goal, even if we've not won the race.

“We are all good friends, and we are pretty sure that if we’ve done our best, we will have a lot of fun on this fantastic race. As a private joke, we call ourselves “Cocody’s Rangers” - and a Ranger never gives up! Do not hesitate to inform our competitors! Also, we noticed that Rolex Fastnet Race ‘RFR’ could be the ‘Richard Fromentin Race’! Maybe it will bring us luck for this year.”

Bringing a huge amount of experience from competing in the previous six Rolex Fastnet Races is Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam. Their track record includes IRC One victories in 2009 and 2011 and overall finishes of tenth and seventh in 2017 and 2011 respectively.

The J Boat family will be out in force for the Rolex Fastnet Race and are well represented in IRC Two. Stuart Lawrence and his crew on the J/120 Scream 2 have been making a noise in JOG races this season. If the wind direction sets up the course for a reach to the Rock and back, Lawrence & Co. will have a scream on corrected time.

Of the J/111s lining up in this division, pick of the bunch is probably SL Energies skippered by Laurent Charmy, who finished third overall under IRC in last season’s Drheam Cup.

Corinne Migraine co-owns the successful J/133 Pintia with her father Gilles Fournier. This family team are very long-term supporters of RORC races and fare very well in them too - this year’s second place overall in the Myth of Malham being a perfect example. Fournier is proud of his family line-up on board. “I sail with my daughter Corinne, my grandson Victor Migraine and my two nephews - Yan and Thomas Fournier. We are all from the Société des Régates du Havre, the best sailing school in France.”

Seventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau - Grand Soleil 43 CodiamSeventh Rolex Fastnet Race for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau - Grand Soleil 43 Codiam Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

J/111 SL Energies skippered by Laurent CharmyJ/111 SL Energies skippered by Laurent Charmy Photo: Paul Wyeth

Another French family with a long and strong association with the Rolex Fastnet Race are the Catherineaus. Back in that fateful year of 1979, Alain Catherineau risked his life coming to the rescue of seven sailors on board the RORC’s youth training yacht Griffin, skippered by Stuart Quarrie. For his efforts, he was voted the YJA Yachtsman of the Year for 1979. Despite that bruising experience, he continues to come back to the race and with great competitive spirit. Skippered by his daughter Marie, and with his other daughter Anne-Sophie on board, the J/122 Lorelei has won the RORC’s La Trinité Race and will be a serious contender in IRC Two.

Sistership to Lorelei, British skipper Andy Theobald’s J/122 R&W is another serious player in this class. Theobald loves to bring in employees from his R&W civil engineering business to share the pleasures and challenges of offshore racing with him. Another to watch will be Christopher Daniel’s J/122e Juno, the 2019 Champion in the Performance 40 class.

Several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s are competing in the race. Among them is the Nicholson 55, Eager, owned by yacht broker Chris Cecil-Wright and skippered by RORC Committee member Richard Powell. Eager was the first Nicholson 55 to be launched when she was known as the Lloyd’s of London Yacht Club’s Lutine until she was sold in 1999. The yacht 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, layout and systems. Expect Eager to be well sailed and very competitive in IRC 2, as several stars of the INEOS Team UK America’s Cup crew are expected to step on board for the ride.

Richard Powell's Nicholson 55 Eager - one of several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Paul WyethRichard Powell's Nicholson 55 Eager - one of several ‘modern classic’ yachts from the 1960s and 1970s competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Paul Wyeth

A few latter-day America’s Cup veterans, such as Paul Standbridge will also be on Desperado of Cowes, the Swan 65 ketch owned since 1986 by Richard Loftus. For this year’s race Loftus’ crew has an average age of 65 to compete with him in his tenth Rolex Fastnet Race. Over the years Loftus has enjoyed success with Desperado, notably in 1989 when his heavyweight ketch and upwind weapon won CHS overall. Desperado also enjoyed the breezy 2007 race, when they found themselves well in the lead 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. 

Even older than Desperado, but almost identical under IRC rating, is Refanut. This 63ft Sparkman & Stephens design was built in Stockholm in 1955, originally for Swedish banker and industrialist Jacob Wallenberg. She is now being campaigned by his grandson Fredrik Wallenburg who can’t wait to get going on his second assault on the Rolex Fastnet Race. “Our first was in 2015. Now, as then, it is still a bucket list race for most of the crew.” Refanut has been raced extensively since her launch in 2015, mostly in the Baltic (the Gotland Runt race being the annual tradition), but she’s also had some success in the Mediterranean, as well as in Newport, Rhode Island.

“The crew is a mixture of my friends (around 50) and my younger brothers group (30 or so). I’d love to call it brains and brawn, but the biggest brawn is in my group and there is no telling where the brains are!” Fredrik and his brother Peder are passionate about continuing to race Refanut. Other notables on the crew are the former Commodore of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Staffan Salén, and the owner/helmsman of Team Inga from Sweden, Richard Göransson.”

A family affair on the 1955 Sparkman & Stephens Refanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his GrandfatherA family affair on the 1955 Sparkman & Stephens Refanut - Fredrik Wallenberg is campaigning the boat built for his Grandfather

One of the biggest ‘races within a race’ will be between the 18 First 40s competing, most falling within the minimum 1.070 IRC TCC limit for the Performance 40 class. Many are making the trip to Cowes from different corners of Europe. Gianrocco Catalano and his Italian crew on Mon Ile Tevere Remo enjoy good results in the Mediterranean including an overall IRC victory in the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar race. Håkan Grönvall, from the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS) is bringing his First 40 C-Me the 1,200 nautical miles from Stockholm to compete.

Alexander Vodovatov, the head of Russian offshore racing club, SeaVentus, is chartering the First 40, Zada, having previously chartered a Farr 50 for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, followed by a J/122 in 2019. “For my club this will be the fifth time in the Rolex Fastnet Race,” said Vodovatov. “We respect this race. We know its history and traditions, and we never miss an opportunity to compete in this legendary race.”

Finally, another strong IRC Two contender will be serial RORC entrant Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster, whose family has been campaigning their Oyster Lightwave 48 continuously for 30 years. During this time they have racked up numerous race wins and class victories in notably the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600. In 2019, Scarlet Oyster won overall both the gnarly De Guingand Bowl and the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo. This year, at the time of writing, Applebey’s red flyer is sitting third in IRC Two in the RORC’s 2021 Seasons Point Championship behind Sunrise and Dawn Treader.

Ross Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster has racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600 Photo: ELWJ PhotosRoss Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster has racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600 Photo: ELWJ Photos

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IRC One will be one of the toughest battlegrounds within the Rolex Fastnet Race, and the French will be a hard act to beat. Among the leading contenders are Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon which won IRC One in the 2019 edition. Runner-up to Pelletier in 2019 was outright race winner in 2017, Didier Gaudoux’s JND39, Lann Ael 2. Gaudoux is returning with the same boat and much of the same victorious crew, who will be part family and part offshore experts such as Figaro veteran Fred Duthil.

There have been few indicators of offshore form over the past 18 months but Lann Ael 2 did win the IRC division in the 2020 edition of the Drheam Cup, ahead of Eric Fries' JPK 11.80 Fastwave 6 and Laurent Charmy's J/111 SL Energies Groupe Fastwave, both of whom will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Two.

Philippe Frantz always puts a good campaign together with his NMD 43 Albator. Launched in 2017, Albator was immediately fast out of the shed, with class wins in the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Rolex Middle Sea Race, where she also finished third overall. This will be Frantz’s second attempt at the Rolex Fastnet Race, with a crew from a variety of high-level offshore backgrounds.

From the same designers as Albator, Phosphorus II is a one-off Archambault 13. Formerly Teasing Machine when successfully campaigned by Eric de Turckheim, Mark Emerson bought the boat in 2017 and has continued to prove the A13’s pedigree. In 2019 the crew campaigned on the RORC offshore circuit extensively, scoring two class wins, one overall win, plus multiple other podiums and were second overall for the season in IRC One and fourth in IRC overall.

Overall winner in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race - Didier Gaudoux’s JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comOverall winner in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race - Didier Gaudoux’s JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Second attempt at the Rolex Fastnet Race for Philippe Frantz's team on his NMD 43 Albator © Tim Wright/photoaction.comSecond attempt at the Rolex Fastnet Race for Philippe Frantz's team on his NMD 43 Albator © Tim Wright

There’s a strong British contingent from the FAST 40+ class that spend a lot of time short-course racing in the Solent, but some of which are capable of gearing up for going offshore. Names to watch include Dutchman Bastiaan Voogd’s Hitchhiker, although the boat has been out of the water for a year. With her water ballast and lighter bulb set-up Ed Fishwick’s Redshift could excel in light winds, whereas in stronger conditions the advantage will move towards RORC Commodore James Neville’s Ino XXX who has recent form in winning the 2021 Cowes Dinard St Malo race. Twin rudders and high-clew reaching sails make this HH42 well suited to fast and furious offshore conditions.

The slightly lower rated Performance 40 fleet (read more about them here) will provide a fascinating ‘race within a race’, with more than 50 boats spanning two classes, IRC One and IRC Two, dependent on their IRC rating. As a concept the Performance 40 has only been around for three years but it has quickly captured the imagination of many sailors. Christopher Daniel, owner of the J/122E Juno, which won the Performance 40’s second season in 2019, says the creation of the category was successful from the outset. While most of their racing is done inshore on windward-leewards, Daniel points out: “Most Performance 40s are perfectly capable of going offshore. This theory that your boat is either an inshore or an offshore racer is wrong.” And so we have 50-odd boats setting out to prove Daniel’s point.

Creating the Performance 40 category has given many boats a renewed lease of life. Robert Bottomley has transferred the name Sailplane from his First 40 in favour of a MAT 12. Others to watch in this field include David Cummins’s potent Ker 39 Rumbleflurg, formerly RORC Admiral Mike Greville’s Erivale. While the Performance 40s’ bread-and-butter racing might be windward-leeward contests in the Solent, if regular southwesterlies kick in for the out and back trip to the Fastnet Rock, they could do very well under IRC.

INO XXX at the Fastnet Rock © Rolex/Kurt ArrigoINO XXX at the Fastnet Rock © Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Dutchman Bastiaan Voogd’s FAST 40+ HitchhikerDutchman Bastiaan Voogd’s FAST 40+ Hitchhiker

Performance 40 - David Cummins’s Ker 39 Rumbleflurg © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comPerformance 40 - David Cummins’s Ker 39 Rumbleflurg © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Christopher Daniel's J/122E Juno, winner of the Performance 40’s second season in 2019 © Rick TomlinsonChristopher Daniel's J/122E Juno, winner of the Performance 40’s second season in 2019 © Rick Tomlinson

Rock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel. Crewman Jonathan Boyd describes himself as ‘the other old guy’ on the crew. “Our immediate goal is to beat the other J/121 in the fleet. Darkwood has been having a great season and is really competitive, so if we beat those guys we'd be pretty chuffed and we would probably have finished in a respectable place. Most of our crew are young and small - Nick and I are the only ones with any 'weight' - so we're hoping the wind doesn't blow too hard! The youngest is Willow, 21 years old, a student at Exeter University and weighs about 8 stone. She is a great sailor - a member of Exeter Uni's team - and doesn't let her lack of weight get in the way of any of the physical jobs on the boat.”

Being based out of Ipswich, the Rock Lobster crew don’t really know where they will fit in with the rest of the fleet having trained mostly on their own. “We're based on the East coast and there haven't been many races up here this season for us to practise. The North Sea race was cancelled and the East Coast Race will be the only significant test before we head south to the Solent. We have been concentrating on training days, relearning the manoeuvres that we unlearned last season when almost nothing happened.”

Boyd anticipates a good welcome in Cherbourg at the end of this new course being run for the first time. “We’re really looking forward to it. We thought the finish in Plymouth was underwhelming. I'm confident that the city of Cherbourg is going to make more of an effort and I am expecting a greater sense of celebration at the finish.”

Darkwood will certainly be one to watch for a division win. Owner Michael O’Donnell, along with Steve Lawrence, have done a lot of optimisation to the boat, moving the ballast, and have an overlapping, triple-head rig for some serious downwind horsepower which helped them win the RORC Channel Race in 2019. A 4th place in this year’s Myth of Malham also bodes well for this immaculately prepared crew.

Stockholm, about 1200 miles of sailing away from Cowes, is a long way to come for a 600-mile race. But Swedish entry, an Elliot 44 CR called Matador, is well used to big journeys for milestone races. Twice winner of ‘Offshore Sailor of the Year’ in Sweden, Matador’s crew have competed in several editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race, RORC Caribbean 600 and two Rolex Fastnet Races.

Rock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel and sailed with a young crewRock Lobster is a J/121 owned by Nick Angel and sailed with a young crew © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Michael O’Donnell's optimised J/121 Darkwood took 4th place overall in the recent Myth of Malham raceMichael O’Donnell's optimised J/121 Darkwood took 4th place overall in the recent Myth of Malham race Photo: Paul Wyeth

For Demian Smith, owner of XP44 Simples, the racing is just one component of the overall experience. “We are primarily a group of friends and family who have all met through various sailing events and clubs. With a broad range of experience and a desire to push ourselves to always do better, we prioritise safety, happiness and speed in that order.” There’s a strong youth focus in the crew with a number of teenagers on board, the youngest of whom is 15-year-old Freddie Denton, son of Mark Denton who skippered BP Explorer in the 2001/2 BT Global Challenge. Smith is excited about returning to the Rolex Fastnet Race. “It's the world's largest and best offshore race where amateurs can compete with professionals and we can race against some of the best performance yachts in the world.”

Another crew with a strong emphasis on family are the Goubau clan from Belgium aboard their First 47.7 Moana. François Goubau races with his wife and three sons and they have formed into a highly competitive unit. Incredibly this will be the Belgian boat's 10th Rolex Fastnet Race and one of the three sons, Mathieu, will be steering the boat as he has been since the age of 16. Now aged 38, this will be Mathieu’s 11th Rolex Fastnet Race. Since 2005 they have stood on the class podium three times and there’s every possibility they’ll do so again in 2021.

Slightly higher up the size range is Pata Negra, a modern-looking IRC 46 designed by Marc Lombard and built by CSC Composites in 2016. The boat was overall winner of the 2018 Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race, first in class in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600, and second in class in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, and could be a force to be reckoned with in a range of conditions.

The famous 1961 van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch Stormvogel is on a mission just to get to England, with the boat needing to get from Bodrum in Turkey through the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic. But it’s a historic year for Stormvogel, this being the 60th anniversary since she took line honours in the 1961 race when Francis Chichester was navigator for her original owner Kees Bruynzeel. Recently the boat has been through an extensive refit in Bodrum and according to Stormvogel’s manager and Rolex Fastnet Race skipper Graeme Henry, “Stormvogel is back to a new level of performance while maintaining the original 1961 concept and 1960s’ style.”

A strong youth focus on Demian Smith's XP44 Simples - competing with family and friends as crewA strong youth focus on Demian Smith's XP44 Simples - competing with family and friends as crew © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Winner of the 2018 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race - IRC 46 Pata NegraWinner of the 2018 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race - IRC 46 Pata Negra Photo: James Tomlinson

A maxi from the subsequent decade but even more famous in this year’s line-up is Pen Duick VI. The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and then lapped the globe again alongside the second; an unofficial entry due to the spent uranium installed in her keel. Perhaps most amazing was that in between her legendary French skipper, Eric Tabarly, took this same boat in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race…and won it.

Another big boat in this division is Tall Ships Youth Trust, one of three Challenger 72s in the race, skippered by Sue Geary. On board is the youngest sailor in the Rolex Fastnet Race, 12-year-old Zoë d'Ornano who, as well as learning the ropes of offshore racing, will also be working hard to raise awareness of the vital work of the Trust and fundraising to give some of the UK’s most disadvantaged young people a life-changing experience at sea. Zoë’s arrival in Cherbourg will also be special because she holds dual French and British nationality.

While the Figaros have their own class this year, two of these 35ft long Beneteau-built foil-equipped speed machines are racing in the IRC fleet in Irishman Conor Fogerty’s Raw and Ross Farrow’s Stormwave 2.0.
According to Didier Gaudoux, the Rolex Fastnet Race’s overall winner in 2017, there is much to look forward to with the finish in Cherbourg. “It will be a new challenge tactically between the Scilly Islands and Cherbourg with the tide. A lot of people will be coming to visit, and the harbour is very close to downtown so it will be a special welcome.”

Zoë d'Ornano - The youngest crew member in the race is raising funds for the Tall Ships Youth Trust is sailing on Challenger 2 © Lay KoonZoë d'Ornano - The youngest crew member in the race is raising funds for the Tall Ships Youth Trust is sailing on Challenger 2 © Lay Koon

Pen Duick VI - The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and is being sailed by Marie Tabarly © Pen Duick VIPen Duick VI - The 73ft aluminium maxi competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and is being sailed by Marie Tabarly © Pen Duick VI

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IRC Zero represents the glamour end of the keelboat fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race. It’s likely that we’ll see line honours go to one of the maxis in the class, perhaps George David’s 88ft defending line honour champion Rambler 88 (USA), if she can keep the freshly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios (MON) at bay.

Traditionally IRC Zero produces the most overall winners. Over the last 10 editions, half have been won by IRC Zero competitors, including Niklas Zennstrom's two-time winner Ran 2, while David and Peter Askew's VO70 Wizard won overall IRC honours and the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2019.

Aside from the fully professional teams competing aboard the ‘no excuse to lose’ maxis, there is a growing charter market in the Volvo Ocean 65 and Volvo Open 70 boats. These canting-keeled flying machines were thought to be cutting-edge technology less than a decade ago, and initially were considered too powerful and not sufficiently reliable for the keen amateur crew looking to charter a fast ride to the Rock. However, attitudes have shifted as keen sailors have learned the ropes of racing high-powered race boats in a safe and seaworthy manner, and a number of pay-to-play crews are lining up for the adventure of their lives aboard them.

While there are enormous kudos in being first across the finish line in real-time, every racing sailor knows that the real battle is on corrected time under IRC. As winner of another prestigious RORC offshore race, the Myth of Malham - covering the first part of the course to the Eddystone Light and therefore a strong indicator of form for the Rolex Fastnet Race - things appear to be in Tala’s (GBR) favour, although owner David Collins says that on that occasion his Botin-designed 52-footer enjoyed a large dose of good fortune. “We sailed well, but making the last tide gate in a dying breeze is what gave us the result in the Myth of Malham. It is certainly no indicator for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Our aim for the race is, as ever, to sail error-free and keep the boat moving fast.”

Part of the key to Tala’s success is the consistency of personnel. “It’s a fairly settled crew now,” says Collins, whose navigator is the experienced Campbell Field. “Three will be Volvo Ocean Race veterans. We have a couple of strong trimmers and some talented amateurs.” Two families make up five of the crew.

David Collins Botin-designed 52-footer Tala was third overall in IRC and top British finisher in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comDavid Collins Botin-designed 52-footer Tala was third overall in IRC and top British finisher in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth

RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine, seen here finishing the RORC Transatlantic Race in Grenada © Arthur Daniel/RORCRORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine, seen here finishing the RORC Transatlantic Race in Grenada © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Other boats to watch in this size bracket include the ever-competitive Teasing Machine (FRA). Designed by Bernard Nivelt and Alexis Muratet and built by King Marine in Spain, Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine is a powerful 54-footer with soft chines and a cockpit that has been fully optimised for crewed offshore competition.

At the core of the Teasing Machine, campaign is project manager Laurent Pages, a Volvo Ocean Race winner in 2011/12. Above the water, the 54-footer bears strong similarities with a VO70 or VO65, with a similar deck layout and twin companionways with the pit in between. But Teasing Machine is designed to compete under IRC. The major area of optimisation is her heavy fin keel and a number of concessions to comfort onboard, including hot water, an oven, and two fridges.

From the battle-proven to the barely-touched-the-water example of Sir Richard Matthews’ new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed custom 52-footer. While this may be the boat’s first foray into the Rolex Fastnet Race, for Sir Richard it is his 24th assault on the Rock: “For us, it’s the pinnacle of our racing and at 72 years old, it is a challenge and an experience to enjoy during the race and afterwards.”

24th Fastnet Race for Richard Matthews competing in his new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed 52-footer © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island Race24th Fastnet Race for Richard Matthews competing in his new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed 52-footer © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island Race

Nicolas Groleau's Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom finished second in IRC Zero and overall in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Pierre BourasNicolas Groleau's Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom finished second in IRC Zero and overall in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Pierre Bouras

If offshore racing is a game that rewards experience and sea miles, the group of sailors on Bretagne Telecom from La Trinité-Sur-Mer will again be ones to watch for the overall prize. Second overall on IRC in 2019, boat builder and owner of this canting-keel Mach 45 Nicolas Groleau has campaigned Bretagne Telecom (FRA) in the past six editions of the race. She has twice won her class and stood on the podium on all but one occasion, so an overall race victory is surely only a matter of time and persistence for Groleau and his committed band of Breton hotshots.

What will 25-year-old architecture student Katrina Westphal be able to achieve as skipper of the carbon fibre Grand Prix racer, the Carkeek 47 Störtebeker (GER)? Boris Herrmann’s runaway success in the Vendée Globe turned the IMOCA 60 sailor into a household name in Germany, and the ‘Boris effect’ is generating a resurgence in offshore interest across the country. Not that Westphal is a newcomer to the Rolex Fastnet, as this will be her third time in the race and second time as a skipper. Thanks to the crew training initiative of her yacht club, the Hamburger Verein Seefahrt, this ambitious sailor and her equally youthful crew hold the reins of a high-performance race yacht that could really make waves in the overall standings.

Promoting youth participation - the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team on the Ker 46 Van Uden © Van UdenPromoting youth participation - the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team on the Ker 46 Van Uden 

Another entry with a strong focus on promoting youth participation is the Dutch Ker 46 Van Uden (NED), with Volvo Ocean Race veteran Gerd Jan Poortman looking to turn his crew of 18 to 25-year-olds into world-class offshore sailors. “Our team, the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team, has been training every week and done a fair bit of overnight offshore training but like my kids in the Optimist, we are getting a little tired of training and we want to race! We’ve been preparing for the Rolex Fastnet Race for two years and if the weather is right for us, we will go for the win.

“We are a small boat in IRC Zero - so often it’s a big boat race or a small boat race. When it is a small boat race we are up to the challenge; we have trained hard, have good equipment and talented sailors. Our crew has very little racing experience, but we think we have done more training than the average team over the last two years so we hope that makes the difference.”

The De Graaf family are one of the most faithful Rolex Fastnet Race teams and return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED). Olivier De Graaf comments: “Since the start of Baraka Sailing Team 17 years ago, I have sailed with my father and with my two brothers as well as with friends we know from the world of sailing. This will be our sixth Fastnet together as a team and our second time with this boat. Finishing in Cherbourg is adding a new complexity to the course, which will make the final run into the finish even more important, especially after three days of racing already.”

COVID restrictions have prevented their multinational team from meeting up for training out of the Hamble in the Solent, so they have been meeting up for online boat handling sessions via Microsoft Teams. Olivier admits he has yet to see whether these dry manoeuvres will prove effective in the salt-water reality of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Sixth Rolex Fastnet Race together as a team for the De Graaf family who return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED) © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comSixth Rolex Fastnet Race together as a team for the De Graaf family who return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED) © Paul Wyeth

Seven VO70s and four VO65s are entered in IRC Zero, including The Polish National Foundation's - I Love Poland © Robert HajdukSeven VO70s and four VO65s are entered in IRC Zero, including The Polish National Foundation's - I Love Poland © Robert Hajduk

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