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Ironic after Sunday’s brutal start, less than 48 hours in and across the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet competitors have been struggling in light winds, especially around the Traffic Separation Scheme between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles and, for those right at the front of the fleet, off Cherbourg.

Since last night’s arrival of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, to a tumultuous reception from the assembled crowds in Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne, this morning two more Ultimes maxi-trimarans have finished with Yves le Blevec’s Actual arriving in an elapsed time of 1d 18h 41m 22s, followed by Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 in 1d 20h 16m 36s.

“We messed up the finish, but not only the finish,” Coville admitted. “We had quite a safe start and actually it was quite tough to have so many tacks on such a big trimaran. The boat is going very well - we were happy with her. We have improved a lot, especially upwind in tough conditions. After the Casquets we were seven miles behind Maxi Edmond de Rothschild but we made a lot of navigation and tactics mistakes during the race. It was quite difficult to be honest with a lot of changes and a lot of different conditions, but very exciting.”

Coville added that on three occasions during the race their maxi-trimaran with its towering rig had run out of wind. “For me, the world’s two most fantastic races are the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the Rolex Fastnet Race. These races are just amazing. We should participate every two years in each of them!”

The next boats due into Cherbourg later today are the final Ultime, Ultim emotion 2, due south of Land's End at 0830 BST this morning with 150 miles to go to Cherbourg. She was just ahead of the leading monohull, the mighty ClubSwan 125 Skorpios. Overnight Skorpios has finally managed to shake off the lead IMOCA, Apivia, sailed doublehanded by Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat which early this morning was due south of the Scilly Isles.

Yves le Blevec and the team on Ultime Actual celebrate after arriving at the finish line in an elapsed time of 1d 18h 41m 22s © Team ActualYves le Blevec and the team on Ultime Actual celebrate after arriving at the finish line in an elapsed time of 1d 18h 41m 22s © Team Actual

At present nine IMOCAs have rounded the Fastnet Rock with Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur lying fifth behind 11th Hour Racing and ahead of her partner Romain Attanasio on Fortinet - Best Western. Initiatives Coeur rounded the Fastnet Rock at 0500 BST this morning, but only after a struggle. “It was pretty tricky to get around because at night there is more coastal effect that knocks the wind away, so it was tricky tacking up to get around the Rock.

“The conditions at night were amazing. It was so nice to be in flat water. There was an amazing sunset. It did rain on us as is tradition before you go around the Fastnet Rock.”

Halfway to Bishop Rock this morning, Initiatives Coeur was in 10-14 knots of unstable wind under their Code 0 headsail. However, Davies warned that the boats behind were set to come in with new breeze: “I think the whole fleet will compress because behind us they have more wind and more header and ahead of us they are still spinnakering and gybing downwind.” The good news is that means a more straightforward run, in pressure, from the Scilly Isles to the finish off Cherbourg, where Initiatives Coeur’s ETA is 1000-1100 BST tomorrow.

Formation flying on a painful-looking starboard tack in the mid-Celtic Sea, were the leading Class 40s. Out in front, by a nose, remains defending champion Luke Berry on Lamotte - Module Création, followed by Pierre Casenave-Péré on Legallais and Italian Andrea Fornaro on Tales2 to their south. All the frontrunners were making 6.5-7.5 knots.

Currently, IRC Zero boats are dominating the overall IRC leaderboard, the winner of which will ultimately claim the coveted Fastnet Challenge Cup this year. While the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios is plainly the run-away leader on the water, it remains the Polish VO70 I Love Poland and the VO65 Sailing Poland which are prevailing under IRC corrected time. I Love Poland rounded the Fastnet Rock at around 02:30 BST this morning followed by Sailing Poland just under two hours later. Both are now making 10-12 knots directly towards Bishop Rock. Top British boat in IRC Zero, David Collins’ Botin 52 Tala this morning was approaching the Fastnet TSS, holding fifth place in class.

The two frontrunners have broken away in IRC One with less than 50 miles to go to the Fastnet Rock this morning, both making 6.5-7.5 knots. Overnight Swede Jonas Grander’s Elliot 44CR Matador has nosed ahead, but RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX holds a better position tactically to weather and will have less costly manoeuvres to make sailing along the top of the TSS approaching the Rock later today. Both are also doing well under IRC corrected time as is Rob Bottomley's Mat 12 Sailplane, Andrew Hall's Lombard 46 Pata Negra, while alongside her the venerable Stormvogel, celebrating 50 years of her line honours victory, has also had a good night.

Tala at the Fastnet RockTala at the Fastnet Rock

The IRC Two leaders on the water are now into the top third of the IRC One fleet. The lead duo, both JPK 10.80s Tom Kneen’s Sunrise and the Dutchwoman Astrid de Vin’s Il Corvo, headed up the east side of the Land’s End TSS yesterday, as the rest of the pack went west of it. They have since tacked to cover with the result that Sunrise has made a net gain of 18 miles on sistership Richard Fromentin’s Leclerc Hennebont / Cocody. Under IRC this trio is also looking good under corrected time, with Ronald Prins’ J/122e Sailmon JR on the ascent overnight.

the IRC Three leaders are approaching a quarter of the way across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet RockIRC Three leaders are approaching a quarter of the way across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock. See live tracker below

Half way up the IRC Two fleet on the water, the IRC Three leaders are approaching a quarter of the way across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock. Here it is much tighter at the front with four boats fighting it out on the water. Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier is a nose ahead of Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080’ Raging-bee² and Philippe Girardin’s J/120 Hey Jude and Alexis Loison and Guillaume Pirouelle’s defending champions, JPK 1030 Léon. Loison/Pirouelle continue to hold a slender lead in the class, but hold a much stronger lead in the IRC Two Handed class, where Figaro sailor Loison proudly holds the record for the most number of victories.

Just 12 miles astern of the IRC Three leader, also heading out into a relatively clement Celtic Sea, are the IRC Four frontrunners. They are slightly more spread out with David le Goff's JPK 10.10 Raphael leading on the water from Harry J. Heijst’s S&S 41 Winsome, which is having a spectacular race. Both are looking strong under IRC corrected time as are Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews on their Sun Fast 3200 Cora and Francois Charles’ Dehler 33 Cruising Sun Hill 3.

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Day 3 0900: The Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 has been continuing its theme of conditions seeming to favour the largest or the fastest boats. This may not mean that every biggie is doing well – far from it – but as of 8:30 this (Tuesday) morning, on-water mono-hull leader, the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, was eastward bound and already due south of Land's End, having rounded the Fastnet at almost exactly 18:00 hrs yesterday (Monday) evening, and now with just 155 miles to sail to the new finish at Cherbourg. Her closest challenger in straight mono-hull finishing terms, Charlie Dalin's brilliantly-sailed Imoca 60 Apivia – less than half Skorpios's overall length – was due south of the Isle of Scilly.

Around them are many much smaller boats, still gallantly plugging to windward with a long way to go out to the Fastnet, though a slow backing of the west wind may favour the mid-fleet craft later today.

The ClubSwan 125 Skorpios with the Fastnet Rock in her wake Photo: Carlo Borlneghi/RolexThe ClubSwan 125 Skorpios with the Fastnet Rock in her wake Photo: Carlo Borlneghi/Rolex

France's Charlie Dalin is having a brilliant year with his Imoca 60 Apivia. On January 27th he was first to finish in the Vendee Globe, and in the current Rolex Fastnet Race, his out-of-the-box tactic of plotting his early windward work to go south of the Channel Islands proved to be a win move and below at the Fastnet Rock Photo: Thomas NewmanFrance's Charlie Dalin is having a brilliant year with his Imoca 60 Apivia. On January 27th he was first to finish in the Vendee Globe, and in the current Rolex Fastnet Race, his out-of-the-box tactic of plotting his early windward work to go south of the Channel Islands proved to be a win move and (below) at the Fastnet Rock Photo: Thomas Newman

France's Charlie Dalin is having a brilliant year with his Imoca 60 Apivia. On January 27th he was first to finish in the Vendee Globe, and in the current Rolex Fastnet Race, his out-of-the-box tactic of plotting his early windward work to go south of the Channel Islands proved to be a win move and below at the Fastnet Rock Photo: Thomas Newman

At the Rock itself, however, winds are light, and as Apivia sweeps effortlessly past the Isles of Scilly, way back at The Rock her fellow Imoca 60 Hugo Boss is still struggling to get round, showing a frustrating speed of only 3.2 knots.

In the overall picture, some boats of special Irish interest continue to show well. ISORA skipper Andrew Hall of Pwllheli with the recently-bought Lombard 45 Pata Negra is maintaining the battle for the IRC 1 lead, and though at time of writing she is shown at fourth in class, she is well on her way our to the Rock, and has had her share and more of being in first place.

The interesting Lombard 45 Pata Negra – on several chartered occasions, she was a boat of success for Irish crews – is now owned by ISORA skipper Andrew Hall of Pwllheli SC, and is in contention for the IRC1 winThe interesting Lombard 45 Pata Negra – on several chartered occasions, she was a boat of success for Irish crews – is now owned by ISORA skipper Andrew Hall of Pwllheli SC, and is in contention for the IRC1 win

IRC 3 continues to see France's multi-talented Alexis Loison in the lead with the JPK 10.30 Leon, and at times he heads IRC2H as well. But Cork's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Denis Murphy & Annamarie Fegan) continues in the top six and occasionally in the top three, and makes steady progress.

Meanwhile, Dun Laoghaire's Kenneth Rumball with Greystones' Pamela Lee in the Figaro 3 RL Sailing are pacing impressively with the Lison crew on Leone, and maintain their lead in the three-way duel of the Figaro 3 2H division.

The Sunfast 37 Desert Star (Irish Offshore Sailing, Dun Laoghaire) continues to do well in IRC 4The Sunfast 37 Desert Star (Irish Offshore Sailing, Dun Laoghaire) continues to do well in IRC 4 Photo: Afloat

In IRC 4, Dun Laoghaire's indefatigable Sunfast 37 Desert Star (Irish Offshore Sailing) took the slightly risky option of sailing east of the TSS directly off Land's End. But unlike others, they avoided light airs off that most westerly headland, and this morning they're indicated as staying solidly in 4th in IRC 4.

The veteran Polish Volvo 70 I Love Poland (Grzegorz Baranowski) continues to hold the IRC lead in both Class Zero and Overall, she's halfway to the Isles of Scilly from The Rock, and already – after Wizard's notable win in 2019 – the speculation is developing that the old classic Volvo 70s have found a new lease of life as steadily successful Rolex Fastnet Race contenders.

The Volvo 70 I Love Poland currently leads IRC overall. For several years she has been based at Cascais in Portugal in order to maximize training opportunities for Poland's growing offshore racing enthusiasm. Photo: James TominsonThe Volvo 70 I Love Poland currently leads IRC overall. For several years she has been based at Cascais in Portugal in order to maximize training opportunities for Poland's growing offshore racing enthusiasm. Photo: James Tominson

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The extraordinary 32m long Ultime Maxi Edmond de Rothschild showed a clean pair of heels to the rest of the fleet in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race arriving this evening (Monday 9 August) at 20:24:54 BST, setting a new record for the race’s new longer 695-mile course to Cherbourg of 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 54 seconds.

As the huge blue and white trimaran arrived in Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne, the marina was packed with cheering fans of the team and of its famous crew of six led by co-skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier. Also on board were David Boileau, Erwan Israel, Morgan Lagraviere and Yann Riou.

“The boat is amazing – we have improved since last year, so we are very happy,” said Caudrelier. “The team has done a fantastic job over the last year to develop the boat and we can’t stop that because new boats are coming. We are very happy about this race and the result of it, and the way it has happened.”

After an exciting start Maxi Edmond de Rothschild exited the Solent and then led the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet south towards the Channel Islands. Here, significantly, they tacked further south than their main Ultime rivals.
“For us it was important to get south to get the shift,” continues Caudrelier. “It was obvious and we wanted to stay on the left of the fleet. Then we were worried about getting too close to the south of England approaching the Sevenstones [lightship], so we were very happy with what we did. We didn’t make too many mistakes.”

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild co-skippers Franck Cammas (left) and Charles Caudrelier. Photo: Paul WyethMaxi Edmond de Rothschild co-skippers Franck Cammas (left) and Charles Caudrelier. Photo: Paul Wyeth

Cammas added: “Charles and Erwan [Israel] did a good job with the routing and we had one good shift by going further south that enabled us to put more than 20 miles on Sodebo and Actual. What was strange was that the French boats went on the south of the Channel and the English boats stayed in the north! Perhaps they are using different routing software!”

With so much of their race upwind, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild hadn’t often hit super-high speeds. However, they had briefly reached 40-41 knots after passing Bishop Rock on their return journey.

With the wind dropping overnight and forecast to be sub-10 knots by tomorrow morning, it is likely that the next Ultimes, Sodebo Ultim 3 and Actual, are likely to lose further ground on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild.
Of their arrival into the Rolex Fastnet Race’s new finish port of Cherbourg, Franck Cammas commented: “It is good because there is a very good ambience - maybe a little more than when we finish in England! We are very happy to come back in two years.”

This edition was Cammas’ fourth Rolex Fastnet Race and he is a fan: “It is a very famous race because it has many boats. It is like the Sydney Hobart - it is not just the professionals, there are many amateur boats too. It is very good to have these all on the same line. It is also very nice to have big multihulls, big monohulls, all the new IMOCAs, etc all on the same start line.”

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Fastnet Race Day 2 2000 - While offshore racers may learn to take things as they come, in the Fastnet Race it’s rather less than a barrel of laughs to slug to windward from Land’s End out to the Rock, and then find that off the coast of West Cork, the wind is backing and you’ll have it forward of the beam - maybe well forward of the beam - once again as you make your way back towards the Isle of Scilly. Yet this is one of the more likely meteorological scenarios facing the medium and smaller boats as they head into the second night, knowing that somewhere way up ahead, the biggies such as the 140ft Skorpios, the mighty Rambler 88, sundry superannuated Volvo 70s and an entire slew of Imoca 60s, have had themselves a relatively straightforward long-and-short beat out to The Rock, and are looking at the prospect of fair wind sailing back into the English Channel, where an entirely new and probably favourable weather prospect presents itself for the intriguing 2021-style finish leg from the Isles of Scilly to Cherbourg.

The bulk of the fleet are still between Start Point and Land’s End, plodding westward as best they can into unreliable headwinds, knowing that beyond Land's End the World’s Most Irritating Traffic Separation Scheme presents itself to provide the quandary of whether to throw away hard-gained weathering in order to gain freedom, or else continue slugging on until you can leave this enormous imaginary island to starboard. It may be imaginary, but it looms so large that some demented navigators have taken to visualising it as a vast Dutch polder, complete with cow-filled farms and windmills, comely rosy-cheeked maidens, laughing children and much honest rural toil…….

Yet while this is what it’s like for the ordinary sailors, the surrealistic reality is that in the western approaches to Cherbourg, the giant multi-hull Maxi Edmund de Rothschild is sweeping in towards the finish at 20 knots, and will probably have crossed the line by the time this is posted.

So with so many known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we can only throw ourselves back on the figures. The former Volvo 70 I Love Poland is closing in on the West Cork coast in impressive style, and leads all of IRC. This will cause dancing in the streets of Cascais in Portugal, where the old war horse is usually based so that Polish offshore wannabes can avail of decidedly rigorous training all year round, and it is certainly paying off. ILP also leads IRC Zero. Meanwhile, in the foothills of Snowdonia they can allow themselves a pirouette or two in Pwllheli, as Andrew Hall’s newly-acquired Lombard 45 Pata Negra - having had her fingers burnt by going too far into Lyme Bay yesterday - had sailed a blinder since to get herself back into the IRC1 lead, and is currently rounding the north end of the TSS island and making 7 knots in a local wind mutation to have herself on course for the Rock.

IRC3 is our next main area of interest, and here the hyper-talented Alexis Loison continues to lead with Leon just to the west of the Lizard, but Cork’s own Nieulargo is still very much on touch and is currently 5th in this largest class of all. However, in IRC 4 the Sunfast Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire had been finding the going tough against more modern boats, but after slipping in the class rankings the Irish Offshore Sailing crew have clawed themselves back up to fourth, which is some going for a now-mature boat which has been round the block more than a few times.

In the Figaro 3 two-handed division, it has resolved itself as a two boat race, and at the time of writing its the turn of RL Sailing (Kenneth Rumball & Pamela Lee) to lead, while in general fleet terms they’ve got themselves close ahead of Leon just west of the Lizard, which is impressive company to be keeping. But both boats still have to cope with the Land’s End TSS quandary, while away to the northwest, the brilliantly-sailed Imoca 60 Apivia (Charlie Dalin) has been the second mono-hull after Skorpios to get round The Rock, Rambler 88 will soon be doing the same very welcome turn, while away to the southeast somewhere towards Lundy, the Imoca 60 Hugo Boss is demonstrating yet again in the Fastnet Race that whatever philosophy motivates the HB design team, windward ability is not an important part of it.

Tracker below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fastnet Race Day 2 0830 - Irish Offshore Sailing’s school ship, the veteran Sunfast 37 Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire sailed by Ronan O’Siochru and Conor Totterdell, emerges this morning with the best current Irish class place in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 with fourth overall in IRC4 in a class of 70 boats. And after a rugged night slugging into mostly west-south-west winds with most of the fleet tacking along the northern side of the English Channel, France's Charlie Dalin in the highly-regarded Imoca 60 Apivia did some very successful thinking right outside the box - he led a small group of class companions and a handful of multi-hullos right across the Channel close west of the Cotentin Peninsula, and didn't go onto port tack until he was south of the Channel Islands, close towards the Brittany coast at St Malo.

It was a win move that gave him space to sail fast and free, and this morning when the leading mono-hull - the giant Swan 125 Skorpios - finally neared the Isles of Scilly after an arduous tacking regime along the English coast. Apivia was right there with her, though as there’s a slight veering of the win beyond Land’s End, the big boat is now lengthening away.

France's Charlie Dalin in the Imoca 60 Apivia Photo: Rick Tomlinson/RolexFrance's Charlie Dalin in the Imoca 60 Apivia Photo: Rick Tomlinson/Rolex

Skorpio’s other rival for the mono-hull line honours slot, George David’s Rambler 88, meanwhile went to the east of the TSS at Lands End, and is now clear of it and - for the time being - is able to lay the rock, though the veering winds may mean some tacking close to the Irish coast. Something experienced by the leading multihull Maxi Edmund de Rothschild, which rounded the Fastnet just before 08:00 hrs this morning.

The giant Swan 125 SkorpiosSwan 125 Skorpios Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

In the fleet generally, overnight overall IRC leader Pata Negra (Lombard 45, Andrew Hall, Pwllheli Sailing Club) seemed to go too far in towards Exmouth in West Bay in the night, and now she’s back in 5th in IRC1, and 15th overall, while Ireland’s Michael O’Donnell with the J/121 Darwoood is 7th in IRC1. In IR3 meanwhile, Alexis Loison in the JPK 10.80 Leon is putting in a trebly impressive performance - he’s currently off Plymouth, leading IRC 3, also leading IRC 2H (his crew is Guillaume Pioruelle), and he also lies 11th overall in a mainly big-boat race.

The leading multihull Maxi Edmund de Rothschild rounded the Fastnet just before 08:00 hrs this morning Photo: Schull SailingThe leading multihull Maxi Edmund de Rothschild rounded the Fastnet just before 08:00 hrs this morning Photo: Schull Sailing

The Murphy family’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Royal Cork YC) has never slipped out of the top ten in the largest class of all - 73 boats in IRC 3 - and she currently lies 6th, but has been finding temporarily lighter conditions after putting Start Point astern. And in the depleted Figaro III two-hands class (just three boats still racing), Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball crewed by Greystones' Pam Lee has regained the lead with RL sailing, putting in an impressive showing as she’s working to windward close off Plymouth in the same broad group as Leon and Darkwood.

See the live tracker below.

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Heading into the hyper challenging first night of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021, noted ISORA skipper Andrew Hall of Pwllheli with the Lombard 45 Pata Negra - a boat which has brought success to Irish crews in major races on both sides of the Atlantic - is being indicated as overall leader of all IRC Divisions in a tough race in which the placings pattern is currently favouring the boats from IRC Class 1. This class includes Michael O’Donnell’s J/121 Darkwood of the RIYC, currently 10th in IRC 1, and 12th overall.

In IRC3, Nieulargo from Cork - having slipped to sixth in what is the largest class of all with 73 boats starting - is now back up in 4th, with the class lead currently held by France’s Alexis Loison in the JPK 10.30 Leon, who also heads the Two-Handed Division. IRC 4 meanwhile has been witnessing a fine performance by Irish Offshore Sailing of Dun Laoghaire’s Sunfast 37 Desert Star, sailed by Ronan O’Siochru and Conor Totterdell - her placing of sixth in the 70-strong class is a remarkable showing by a sailing school boat.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Rumball of Irish National Sailing School, crewed by Pamela Lee, was leading the five boats in the Figaro 3 class, pacing with IRC 3 leader Leon in convincing style.

The leading multi-hull, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, has already put the The Lizard Point in Cornwall astern, and is nearing Land’s End, while in the mono-hulls the 125ft Skorpios is back in a different county, as she’s off Start Point in Devon, ahead of George David’s Rambler 88 though not by enough to be saving her time, while an impressive winning performance in Class Zero is being put in by the Polish Volvo 70 I Love Poland (Gregor Barinowski), which is snapping at Rambler’s heels and tops in Zero on handicap.

Details here

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The Rolex Fastnet Race has a reputation for the severe weather that it can throw at its competitors. Still strongly remembered is the 1979 race that cost 19 lives. Today the 49th edition of the 96-year-old offshore racing classic lived up to its fame as the first of seven starts got underway at 15-minute intervals starting at 1100 BST. Over the last three days strong southwesterly winds have been blowing up the Channel and competitors in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event were treated to these same headwinds gusting into the 30s and, as the tide turned off the Needles and in the western Solent, a building wind-against-tide sea state developed.

COVID, international travel restrictions due to COVID, plus Brexit have resulted in this year’s Fastnet Race being a unique affair. This along with a lively forecast for the race’s first 24 hours caused entries to drop as start day approached. Nonetheless, crossing line today off Cowes was still a highly impressive turn-out of 337 boats from 24 nations including Japan, Mexico and eight from the USA, but the majority from Europe, including the largest ever turn-out from France.

Despite winds gusting to 35 knots, the starts got away well. Among the multihulls, it was the favourites and defending champions, Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier on the Ultime trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild that pulled the trigger most rapidly. They were followed by Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 and the Yves le Blevec-skippered Actual, but with the two MOD70s Maserati and Argo of Giovanni Soldini and Jason Carroll respectively, leading the charge in the MOCRA fleet. Incredibly just three hours after starting the Ultimes had already crossed the Channel and were putting in a tack to the west of Cape de la Hague, setting themselves up unusually to pass south of the Casquets TSS.

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild co-skippered by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier leads the Rolex Fastnet RaceMaxi Edmond de Rothschild co-skippered by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier leads the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Giovanni Soldini's Multi70 Maserati and Jason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo exit the Solent Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/RolexGiovanni Soldini's Multi70 Maserati and Jason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo exit the Solent Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Similarly an early stand-out leader in the IMOCA class was Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat aboard Apivia, which earlier this year arrived home first in the Vendée Globe, only to see victory elude him when Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ was awarded time compensation for his part in a rescue. Sadly, Bestaven was about to start today when his IMOCA was involved in a collision with a vessel damaging her bow and forcing him to retire.
“It is very upwind to the Fastnet, with strong breeze to start with at the Needles,” forecast Dalin this morning, this being his first race since the Vendée Globe. “The sea will be pretty rough with wind against tide. We will have more than 30 knots at some point. It will be pretty tense. There are some routing options including a southerly route across to France, close to Guernsey.

“There are some small shifts, so at some point we should be slightly freer than fully upwind, when we’ll be able to use the foils. With our big foils we fly fairly early.” The latest IMOCA foilers showed huge pace exiting the Solent in the strong winds, enabling them to stay up with substantially larger boats.

Showing great pace exiting the Solent among the Class40s was Emmanuel Le Roch’s Edenred. However by mid-afternoon as the Class40s were also heading out into the Channel, Axel Trehin’s Project Rescue Ocean and Aurelien Ducroz on Crosscall were leading towards the Cotentin peninsula as another favourite, Antoine Carpentier's Courrier Redman, on which former winner Gery Trentesaux is competing, was one of the few Class40s to have tacked north.

Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on the IMOCA Apivia - an early stand-out leader in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rick TomlinsonCharlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on the IMOCA Apivia - an early stand-out leader in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rick Tomlinson

IMOCA 60 and Class40 start off the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes in the Rolex Fastnet RaceIMOCA 60 and Class40 start off the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex 

Seeing the maxis in IRC Zero, led by Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ClubSwan 125 Skorpios and George David’s Rambler 88, powering down the Solent in the building sea state and then crashing through large waves off Hurst was a sight to behold. Despite their huge length disparity, Rambler 88, monohull line honours winner in the last two editions, was doing well to keep up.

With the breeze looking to lighten mid-week, the smart money is on the hot boats in IRC Zero to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup. George David has his fingers crossed that Rambler 88 might score the elusive ‘triple’ – overall IRC win, monohull line honours and a new course record (likely since this is the first time the race will finish in Cherbourg).

Prior to the start David was uncertain of his prospects: “I focus on the weather as you’d expect for the first 48-60 hours. It could be a tight reach to the Rock and an open reach on the way back which would be a pretty fast race, and [on the routing] it has slowly got longer as the breeze has come around more to the west and looks like there will be a fetch, at best, up to the Rock and that will be a 60+ hour race. But it will be what it will be.”

Of the competition with Skorpios, David added: “I’d like to get line honours for a third time, but that’s going to be a tough challenge with this big new boat out there. It’s a big powerful boat, quite a bit longer than we are, with a lot of stability and it will go really fast on most points of sail, I think most especially on a 90-110° reach.

“If it starts to blow really hard, into the 30s, we might have an edge because we’ve been at this with the same team and with the same boat now for six years. This boat is pretty optimised and it’s pretty well sailed and most things that might break have already broken.”

While the grand prix classes were heading south, both Skorpios and Rambler 88 were taking a more classic route tacking along the Dorset coast including a long dive into the bay east of Portland (Skorpios’ base recently). They were followed by Jens Kellinghusen’s Ker 56 Varuna.

Dmitry Rybolovlev's ClubSwan 125 Skorpios and George David's Maxi Rambler 88 beating into the English Channel © Carlo Borlenghi/RolexDmitry Rybolovlev's ClubSwan 125 Skorpios and George David's Maxi Rambler 88 beating into the English Channel © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Also heading south out into the Channel this afternoon are most of IRC One, with RORC Commodore James Neville leading on the water aboard his HH42 INO XXX. However hanging on to his coattail was not another all-carbon fibre grand prix racer but the venerable Dutch maxi Stormvogel. Under her original owner Cornelius Bruynzeel, this 1961 vintage van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch won line honours in the Fastnet Race 50 years ago. Early leaders on corrected time in IRC One were David Cummins’ Ker 39 Rumbleflurg and Rob Bottomley’s Mat 12 Sailplane.

IRC Two was also heading south this afternoon with Tom Kneen’s youth crew on board the JPK 10.80 Sunrise leading on the water from sisterships Eric Fries’ Fastwave 6 and Richard Fromentin’s Leclerc Hennebont / Cocody. All were looking good under corrected time too but with Oliver Grant’s First 40 Jazz out in front, also heading the Performance 40 ‘race within a race’.

Like the yachts ahead of them, all but a handful of boats in IRC Three were choosing a long starboard tack out into the Channel. Here Ireland’s Denis Murphy and Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral Annamarie Fegan on their Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo were already the stand-out performers. Their Cork entry was leading on the water and on corrected time, despite their boat being by no means the fastest in their class. Tactician on board is Nicholas O’Leary.

As in IRC Two, in IRC Four, yachts from French builder JPK were enjoying similar success with the Butters family’s Poole-based JPK 10.10 Joy leading on the water alongside sistership Benoit Rousselin’s Delnik. As a preliminary indicator of progress, Delnik was leading under IRC from Harry J. Heijst’s S&S 41 Winsome, no doubt taking the ‘washing machine’ conditions in her stride better than her newer lighterweight rivals.

Richard Palmer and Jeremy Waitt racing doublehanded on yet another JPK 10.10, Jangada, had some work to do lying in 20th at this early stage. Prior to the start Palmer said that “getting out past the Needles without breaking anything will be the first challenge; The forecast is looking quite lively with 20-30 knots wind against tide. You can certainly loose the race there. It will be wet and windy for the first 24 hours. And then it is hunker down and persevere. We are looking for the wind to free off as we go across the Celtic Sea, but that means that when we round the Rock there will be a bit more southerly in it, so a reach back and then with a bit of luck spinnaker up at the Scillies and then see what the end of next week has in store for us.”

“I am really looking forward to going into Cherbourg. I have heard they have pulled out all of the stops to make us welcome there. A lot of European boats have been there already and now they have relaxed the quarantine regulations here we’ll certainly be going in there to make the most of it.”

The classic 74ft 1961 ketch Stormvogel, skippered by Graeme Henry, smashes to windward after the start © Kurt Arrigo/RolexThe classic 74ft 1961 ketch Stormvogel, skippered by Graeme Henry, smashes to windward after the start © Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

Inevitably in the big conditions there have already been a number of boats that have retired from the race. At 1630 UTC this was up to 24, perhaps the most devastating being Yannick Bestaven’s Vendée Globe winner Maître CoQ. Two of the MOCRA multihull favourites were also out – Christian Guyader, the 2019 winner on board his TS5 catamaran Guyader Mext and Yann Marilley’s Outremer 5x Racing catamaran No Limit on which famous sailor Loick Peyron was racing. No Limit retired after she dismasted.

One of the favourites of IRC Two, Gilles Fournier / Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia was also forced to retire. Similarly Ed Bell’s JPK 11.80 Dawn Treader is out with a broken mast. In IRC One, one of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s most regular competitors, the Goubau family from Belgium, were also forced to pull out on their First 47.7 Moana.

Winners of the IRC Two Handed class in 2015 Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley, back this year to have another go at this title aboard the Sun Fast 3300 Aries sadly have also become a statistic in this race. So too have another British favourite for this class, Rob Craigie and Deb Fish on board the Sun Fast 3600 Bellino.

Competitors are expecting a breezy night but for conditions to slowly abate over the next 24 hours.

Windy start to the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race © Martin AllenWindy start to the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race © Martin Allen

Hundreds of spectators on and off the water enjoyed the spectacle of the Rolex Fastnet Race start © Martin Allen/Fastnet Race spectators on and off the water enjoyed the spectacle of the Rolex Fastnet Race start © Martin Allen/

Published in Fastnet
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With a strong west-south-west headwind against a burgeoning but favourable ebb tide, the start today in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 of IRC3 - the biggest class numerically - was going to be a very tricky one to call and sail.

But the Murphy family’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Royal Cork YC) made it look almost easy, coming in from far out in the Solent very much under control on starboard tack through a fleet of milling boats, and then finding the perfect gap to throw onto port close under the inner end of the line at the Squadron battery, and head westward in clear air while a complete melee of boats close to leeward were making much noise and confusion getting in each other’s way.

As of 1340 hrs, the Race Tracker shows Nieulargo leading IRC 3, and performing well against the closest competition, but there’s a lot of sailing to be done before they get into clearer water at the Needles at the west end of the Isle of Wight.

Nieulargo's Fastnet Race start

With less than 50 seconds to go, Nieulargo is lined up (centre of pic above) and very much in control....

Right on the gun at the pin end, Nieulargo hits the Fastnet start line at speed....Right on the gun at the pin end, Nieulargo hits the Fastnet start line at full speed with an excellently timed start....

...and is immediately clear in IRC 3 to give her the best possible chance of a great 2021 Fastnet Race ...and is immediately in clear air in IRC 3 to give her the best possible chance of a great 2021 Fastnet Race

Scrub to 2:03:09 on the timeline below to replay Nieulargo's start below

Class Zero monohulls

Out in open water meanwhile, while the 125ft Skorpios, has been leading the Class Zero mono-hulls as expected, George David’s Rambler 88 nevertheless now seems to be going every bit as fast as they feel the full effects of the English Channel sea conditions.

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The Solent has been in a blustery mood with an overcast sky, rain and perpetual gusty winds in anticipation of today's start of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

The forecast for the start of the 49th edition of the world’s largest offshore race remains for winds of 20-25 knots with gusts into the 30s, although the rain is set to subside.

There are up to 11 Irish yachts of Irish interest as WM Nixon notes here

Given the conditions, the Fastnet Race’s organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, have decided to rearrange the order of tomorrow’s start times. They will now be:

  • Multihulls (MOCRA, Open) 1110 (BST)
  • IMOCA, Class40 1125
  • IRC Zero 1140
  • IRC 1 and Figaro 3 1155
  • IRC 4 1210
  • IRC 3 1225
  • IRC 2 1240

Previously IRC Zero, home of the largest monohulls entered in the Fastnet Race, was to have started last. Usually, this allows the small boats to enjoy seeing them stride past. However, in the big conditions forecast, the RORC are steering a more prudent course. “The wind angle now makes it fully upwind at the start so we’ve made this change principally to make it safer for the big boats to get through Hurst Narrows,” explained Chris Stone, Race Director of the Fastnet Race.

Meanwhile today in Cherbourg, the exceptional race village has opened and the final check-ins have taken place, including French sailing hero Loick Peyron racing on board Yann Marilley’s Outremer 5X Racing catamaran No Limit. Meanwhile, the international flotilla has been slowly leaving Cherbourg and other ports on the continent ready to arrive off Cowes prior to start time. Some of the faster boats are going to the wire with this – the Bouwe Bekking-skippered VO65 Sailing Poland was due to leave Cherbourg at 0300 while Italian Giovanni Soldini’s modified MOD70 Maserati was departing at 0500.

Back in Cowes, Soldini’s competition at the front end of the MOCRA fleet has been out practising. American Jason Carroll’s Argo has been based in Cowes since setting a new record from Bermuda to Plymouth this summer. Her crew is an international all-star cast including French America’s Cup winner Thierry Fouchier, American Tornado Olympic silver medallist Charlie Ogletree among others, including Britain’s most high capped maxi-multihull veteran Brian Thompson.

Thompson says this is his eighth or ninth Fastnet Race, but he has rounded the Fastnet Rock countless additional times in other races and during record attempts.

Argo, their nimble, but sturdy trimaran, is more than capable of dealing with tomorrow’s big conditions. Although, even the highly experienced Thompson admits that they may do their utmost to avoid the severe wind against tide conditions.

“It is going to be a boisterous start for sure; more windy than the last few years,” says Thompson. “We will have 20+ knots most of the way to the Fastnet and over 30 for the first few hours when the tide is increasing the wind. The first six hours could be the toughest sea state-wise. We’ll have to settle in and see how we do. Maybe we are going for the best shifts or the flatter water, we are not sure. We’ll certainly be well reefed down.”

As to their prospects overall in the race, Thompson is bullish. “The forecast is quite good for us. Coming back from the Fastnet Race I think we can get on a fast angle down to the Scillies and then downwind VMG with the genniker to the finish. It is looking like about 15 knots downwind and then dropping at the end, but we will have to see. We have a chance this time, because I don’t think the back of the fleet will be coming in with wind.” Argo’s main competition will be Soldini’s Maserati whom they have to beat into Cherbourg by around 30 minutes when they arrive early on Tuesday morning.

Jason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo © Sharon Green/Ultimate SailingJason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo Photo: Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Several of the French grand prix classes are racing outside of the main IRC fleet in this year’s Fastnet Race, including the Ultimes, IMOCAs and Class40s. Five Figaro 3s are also racing in their own class, including Britain’s aspirant Figaro sailor Cat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw, doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Stormwave 2.0. A former student of the now-defunct Artemis Offshore Academy, Brayshaw has competed in the Solitaire du Figaro three times before joining Musto full time. Both he and Hunt have individually raced the Fastnet Race twice before.

For a 32 footer, the foil-assisted Figaro 3 has huge performance (Stormwave 2.0 has an IRC rating similar to a Grand Prix 40 footer) and as they are one designs, their racing will be hot, even though the top boats aren’t competing due to the proximity of the unofficial world championship of solo offshore racing, the Solitaire du Figaro, to the Fastnet Race. Ireland is represented in this class by Kenny Rumall and Pamela Lee.

“There are four other Figaro 3s and we want to beat all of them,” says Brayshaw.

Like the MOD70, the Figaro 3 is designed for transoceanic racing and withstanding gale force conditions, even wind-against-tide. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see 35 or even 40 knots on the top of waves tomorrow,” continues Brayshaw of tomorrow’s conditions. “We’ll have a small jib up and at least one reef in the main. Fortunately, these boats are hardcore and we can smash through the waves without too much damage. We would all like a bit more comfortable conditions to start with, but we are going to get hammered. We’ll just get cracking into that and see where we’re at each headland. Hopefully, it won’t be too upwind on the way back.”

Brayshaw reckons it will be the last stage where the race will be won or lost. Key will be staying as fresh as possible going into this and having a plan in case the wind is light and the powerful current is foul. “We need to make sure we are close to land when the tide turns. I have done a few races around that point with those who know it well and there are gaps between the rocks you can take. But if it is too light we will get the anchor out.”

Cat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw will compete doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Figaro 3 Stormwave 2.0 © James TomlinsonCat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw will compete doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Figaro 3 Stormwave 2.0 © James Tomlinson

A boat which should perform better in the big conditions of the first 24 hours will be the classic but heavily suped-up Nicholson 55 Eager belonging to leading yacht broker Chris Cecil-Wright. The boat knows the way to the Fastnet Rock for it competed many times in the race as the yacht of the Lloyds of London Yacht Club. This included the 1979 race (her crew in this race reconvened in 2019 to remember the race on its 40th anniversary). Since then Lutine has changed hands and in Rob Grey’s ownership was completely rebuilt. This included fitting a new carbon fibre rig that is 12ft taller, narrowing the shroud base, fitting a smaller cockpit and a new interior. Most recently since agreeing to do the Fastnet Race, Cecil-Wright has added new North sails and a bowsprit. “The Nic 55 was notoriously sluggish downwind. Now we are covered on every angle, which should be exciting.”

This will be Cecil-Wright’s first Fastnet Race and in addition to family members are several hotshots including Richard Powell and Ben Vines.

Despite the forecast, Cecil-Wright is looking forward to the race: “If it wasn’t blowing, it wouldn’t be an adventure. I like adventures and everyone on board is the same. A drift there and back wouldn’t be the same, but I may live to regret saying that! I am apprehensive. When we did the Myth of Malham we had two go down with seasickness and it reminded us how debilitating that is. The big thing on everyone’s mind is to avoid that.”

Once into Cherbourg, the Eager crew is keen to come ashore. “We have a table booked at the Café de Paris! But who knows what time, but we’ll be there!”

Chris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 EagerChris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 Eager Photo Paul Wyeth

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