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#FastnetRace - Organisers of the Rolex Fastnet Race have moved to shoot down rumours that the offshore classic was planning a move from its “ancestral home” in Plymouth to France, as the Plymouth Herald reports.

Earlier this month the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) announced a shakeup for next year’s Fastnet with the news that it would start two weeks earlier than originally scheduled, in order to avoid poor weather implications and clashes with the UK bank holiday.

But race organisers have said these changes won’t involve a move away from its traditional Plymouth finish in 2019, despite the idea being mooted some years ago.

Spokesperson Trish Jenkins said RORC executives “are working with [Plymouth’s] city council on the 2019 race to make it bigger and better”.

The Plymouth Herald has more on the story HERE.

This article was updated on Friday 28 September to clarify statements from the RORC in the Plymouth Herald's report

Published in Fastnet
Tagged under

It was announced this week that the 2019 RORC Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes will have a change of its original date, with its start moved back from Sunday, August 18th all the way to Saturday, August 3rd. W M Nixon wonders if this is the indication of bigger changes in the longterm pipeline.

It was a matter-of-fact announcement early last Monday, hidden away among the usual start-of-week newsflow items reporting the weekend’s sailing events. As far as can be discerned, it had been issued relatively unheralded as recently as 06.44 hrs on Monday morning. A trifle odd, surely, for a significant re-jigging in the calendar for a major international biennial event which is now less than 11 months away?

For the reality is that although the Fastnet Race is no longer such a big deal of endurance by comparison with the mega-events like the Volvo and Transoceanic races, for many of us it’s a very big part of our personal sailing life, and it is in turn imbued with its own almost mythic lore which continues to act as a magnet for offshore sailors worldwide, superstars and club sailors alike.

burling budgen2The Fastnet’s universal and eternal attraction is captured in this dawn photo at the rock of New Zealand’s Peter Burling (left) America’s Cup winner in 2017 and Olympic Gold Medallist (49er 2016) with shipmate Ian Budgen aboard the 115ft Nikata in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Photo: Ian Budgen

So any relatively late adjustment to the Rolex Fastnet Race we now know and hold sacred is viewed with a certain suspicion, even if the change – superficially at least – seems to be no more than a 15-day change of date, which is in part dictated by tides. But in fairness, we should post the Royal Ocean Racing Club release in full, and then maybe deconstruct its true meaning with all the paranoid weaponry available to us:

“Rolex Fastnet Race 2019 – Change of Date

The 2019 edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race will start on Saturday 3rd August 2019, which is two weeks earlier than the original published date.
Unusually, the race will now run the week before Lendy Cowes Week, whose dates remain unchanged, starting on Saturday 10th August. This break with tradition, in consultation with Lendy Cowes Week, has been made for a number of reasons, including weather concerns over late August.
"We have been wrestling with this decision over the summer and particularly the relative timing with other events in Cowes and the Solent," said RORC Commodore Steven Anderson. "A late August start has weather implications for our big fleet and we anticipated running into the summer bank holiday would cause difficulty for many participants. Bringing the race forward by two weeks addresses these issues and allows us to encourage the fleet into Cowes in the pre-race days before the start.”
Commenting on the change of date RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone said:
“Bringing the race forward to Saturday 3rd August will give more time for those competitors who wish to race in Lendy Cowes Week. The prize giving in Plymouth will now be held on Thursday 8th August and this will allow competitors to make the journey back to the Solent in time to join the racing.”
More detailed information and the official Notice of Race will become available very soon on the Rolex Fastnet Race website: www.rolexfastnetrace.com”

And that’s it. No matter which way it’s read, this amounts to a major change in the structure of August’s international sailing scene. “So what?” ask most sailors. Well, for those who have done, or are thinking of doing the Rolex Fastnet Race, part of its extraordinary attraction is its history and hallowed traditions. For sure, it can be a frustrating race which has you tearing your hair out. But its mythos is such that when the Entry List is officially opened online, it is filled within minutes despite running into 350-plus boats.

carina fastnet3One of the boats which may be affected by the Fastnet Race change of date is the American 1969 McCurdy-designed 48ft Carina, seen here rounding the rock in 2011’s race, when she won her class. Carina was planning to return in 2019 for the Golden Jubilee of her first participation in the Fastnet, and a 15-day change in the start date will be of significance for her plans. Photo Rolex

In fact, the Rolex Fastnet Race is so popular that, with its traditional starting time at the end of Cowes Week, the fact that Cowes is already well filled with boats racing in the Week itself means there aren’t berths available for the huge numbers shaping up to do the Fastnet, and on the start morning most of them emerge from other havens all around the Solent.

So the desire to be in Cowes for a day or two before the start is certainly acknowledged and dealt with in the new proposal. But because so many crews only join their boats a day or two before the start, and they know that it is much easier to do so on the mainland than by getting yourself across to the Isle of Wight, the attraction of this Cowes-based option is not all that it seems.

And it also carries the risk of crews being led socially astray the night before the big race. The absolutely last thing you need when starting a Fastnet Race is a hangover and a rebellious digestive tract. There’s plenty of time to party after the race is over. And if that isn’t available, you’ve the whole winter to celebrate your own personal Fastnet achievement. But on the night before the start, be sensible. And the easiest way to do that is stay out of Cowes altogether.

But beyond that, what repeatedly comes up on the message board from Fastnet veterans is straightforward: the Fastnet Race from Cowes has simply never ever started before Cowes Week. For although in the Fastnet’s early days they were very much separate events, once they became part of a shared overall programme it all seemed to be as Nature intended.

From being an innovative upstart race in 1925 which had to be started at Ryde and sent off with its seven competitors eastward out of the Solent because none of the big Cowes clubs would touch such a foolhardy venture, the Fastnet Race gradually became a “must-do” event which fitted on neatly at the end of Cowes Week and sent the growing fleet westward through the Needles Channel, an extraordinary sight with the sluicing ebb.

bloodhound sailing4The Charles E Nicholson-designed Bloodhound, overall winner of the 1939 Fastnet Race. By this time, the Fastnet Race – first sailed in 1925 - had become a major event in the annual sailing calendar, and started from Cowes at the end of Cowes Week.

There has always been some level of Irish involvement in it from the very start, as Harry Donegan’s 17-ton cutter Gull from Cork was one of the pioneering seven in 1925, and finished third overall. And as the annual programme evolved over the years, the Fastnet’s established timing worked very well for Irish boats, as it enabled you to fit in some racing in Cowes Week, do the 603-mile Fastnet Race with its finish in Plymouth, and thus be left nicely placed to be back in Ireland before the late August gales became an increasing likelihood.

There even was a period – the Golden Years we might call them – when the boats involved really did live up to Uffa Fox’s dictum that “The best offshore racers make the best cruisers”. For in those halcyon days, offshore racers were very comfortably appointed down below, though you did try to keep weight out of the ends - but then that’s a good rule for any sailing boat including total cruisers.

Thus when an offshore race was over, you had this performance cruiser that could comfortably take you home on a proper little cruise to round out the season, and as a result there evolved the magic RORC-oriented high summer of sailing.

In this Summer of Dreams, you began sailing towards the peak of your programme with the RORC Channel Race, which started from Gosport on the Friday before Cowes Week, and put in a couple of hundred miles in a triangular course in the English Channel with the southerly turn off Cherbourg and the finish back at Gosport. Then you tootled across to Cowes where the Week was getting underway with morning service in the Parish church – “How nice to see all the old Cowes faces” as the Vicar used to start his sermon – and if you’d a Class I boat, during the Week the Britannia Cup on the Tuesday and the New York YC Cup in the Thursday were almost obligatory, after which you got ready for the Fastnet, and off you went on Saturday.

glance sailing5Frank & Eric Hopkirk’s 1894-built Glance (RUYC) at the start of the 1953 Fastnet Race, in which she won the Jolie Brise Cup

The hope was to be in Plymouth in time for the prize-giving in the Guildhall on the following Friday night, following which most Irish boats headed for home. But in the most enthusiastic years of the Corinthian era, there was even a post-Fastnet option, a RORC race from Plymouth to South Brittany or even La Rochelle to allow the possibility of some French coastal cruising before the summer was out.

By this time most folk had long since used up all their holiday time and in some cases all their money too. But a few determined hedonists, those with private means or barristers with their ludicrously long summer vacations, or perhaps stockbrokers and investors who operated on the old mantra of “Sell in May and Go Away, Come Back on St Leger Day”, they would be game for it, and in at least one year that included Frank and Eric Hopkirk from Belfast with their venerable cutter Glance and a crew of lawyers on leave.

It made for a long summer. Glance finally reappeared back in Ireland at Dunmore East sometime in September, and was left there “for collection by us next weekend”. But it took at least three weekends before the Glance crew eventually broke away from Dunmore East’s glue-pot embrace, and it was pushing November by the time she was finally hauled for the winter back at Bertie Slater’s boatyard on the shores of Ballyholme Bay.

chieftain at finish3Ireland finally gets an overall Rolex Fastnet Race winner. Ger O’Rourke of Limerick’s Cookson 50 Chieftain at the finish line in Plymouth to take the supreme prize in 2007. One of Skipper O’Rourke’s first tasks ashore was to get himself a new shirt for the prize-giving. Photo: Rolex

So when your own offshore racing years began in a place and an era when the legends of Glance and her crew still set the tone, the very idea that a valid Fastnet Race could be staged before Cowes Week would have seemed very peculiar indeed. And it still does. But the fact that it has to be contemplated shows how busy the international programme has become, and how much Cowes has moved on from being a little town which was the global focus of sailing for ten days early in August, into a place which is hiving with world class sailing for weeks on end.

And every second year, it has to cope with the unbelievable logistical challenge of choreographing a Rolex Fastnet Race start safely on its way. Visiting crews find this the most impressive thing of all until they get into the whitewater rush through the Needles Channel, and that can blow the mind. Then they add to the memory bank the rounding of the great headlands, until there’s the Fastnet Rock itself, the heart and soul and symbol of global offshore racing.

After that, the rush into Plymouth is sometimes not a rush at all, but it’s all part of the story, as is being in Plymouth itself. But the very idea that, after an inevitably hasty prize-giving on the night of Thursday 8th August 2019 in Plymouth, many crews will immediately wish to gather themselves and head for Cowes Week - that is just something that seems to fly right in the face of the natural order.

fastnet race course7The traditional 603-mile Rolex Fastnet Race course

But that is probably the curmudgeonly reaction of someone who found much pleasure in the old way of doing things. And maybe it will only be for this one year – maybe in 2021 the plan is to get back to the Fastnet Race following on immediately after Cowes Week in the traditional style.

But before that happens, we’ve to get through this year’s programme, and those who plan to go on to Cowes Week from Plymouth after the Fastnet Race will inevitably ask one simple question. Why not finish the Rolex Fastnet Race in Cowes while they’re at it? After all, the RORC - in addition to its splendid main clubhouse in London - has its fully-equipped support clubhouse in Cowes, and it would be a notable economy of effort and expense to finish the Fastnet Race where it started.

It’s not a new idea by any means, but it is bound to surface again next year of all years, and it will be like a red rag to a bull for all of those who think that sailing is much too Cowes-centred for its own good in any case.

Nevertheless, the logic of it is inescapable, even if it would mean the end of the Fastnet Race as we have known it for decades. For sure, a Fastnet Race starting and finishing at Cowes would have most of the essential elements of the historic event. But for Irish crews in particular, it would never be quite the same again.

For many of us, the passage home from Plymouth was the essential final chapter, just long enough to re-adjust to the upcoming realities of ordinary life. And for those of us returning to Ireland’s East Coast, it was always something special when, after the long haul up from Land’s End, you began to get into the lee of the Wexford coast, with the hint of the scent of farmland in the air, and thistledown carrying out over the sea in the sunlit evening breeze, a reminder that summer was going fast.

rambler finishes8Could this become history? George David’s Rambler 88 finishes the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 in traditional style at Plymouth. Photo Rolex

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
10th September 2018

Fastnet Race 2019 Date Change

The 2019 edition of the Fastnet Race will start on Saturday 3rd August 2019, which is two weeks earlier than the original published date.

Unusually, the race will now run the week before Cowes Week, whose dates remain unchanged, starting on Saturday 10th August. This break with tradition, in consultation with Lendy Cowes Week, has been made for a number of reasons, including weather concerns over late August.

"We have been wrestling with this decision over the summer and particularly the relative timing with other events in Cowes and the Solent," said RORC Commodore Steven Anderson. "A late August start has weather implications for our big fleet and we anticipated running into the summer bank holiday would cause difficulty for many participants. Bringing the race forward by two weeks addresses these issues and allows us to encourage the fleet into Cowes in the pre-race days before the start.”

Commenting on the change of date RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone said:

“Bringing the race forward to Saturday 3rd August will give more time for those competitors who wish to race in Cowes Week. The prize giving in Plymouth will now be held on Thursday 8th August and this will allow competitors to make the journey back to the Solent in time to join the racing.”

More detailed information and the official Notice of Race will become available here 

Published in Fastnet
Tagged under

Another successful annual IRC Congress meeting was held in early October in the popular sailing venue and race destination of St Malo on the northern French coast. Forty delegates from as far afield as Japan and the USA came together to talk about the International Rating Certificate (IRC) racing around the world, technical development and ideas on encouraging participation in yacht racing generally.

In 2018, there is the exciting prospect of the IRC European Championship combined with the RORC’s Commodores’ Cup in Cowes in June, closely followed by the joint IRC and ORC Hague Offshore World Championship in the Netherlands in July. These events set the high standard for IRC racing in 2018, along with the major offshore classic races that continue to be scored using IRC.

However, the IRC Congress never loses sight of the core of the IRC fleet who are taking part in club racing around the world every week and much talk at Congress was how to further encourage this. Everyone agreed that exciting events drive participation. This is demonstrated by the record four minutes for the Rolex Fastnet Race entry to be fully subscribed and the large number of boats that entered the Offshore Worlds straight after registration opened. Clubs were encouraged to put on events that provide an escape from the stresses of modern life, with a variety of courses, and some longer races with interesting destinations.

The IRC Technical Committee has been working on technical developments including the rating of boats equipped with foils, and a longer term review on rating ‘code zero’ sails. IRC has always been fast to embrace new developments in yacht design, while as far as possible retaining the characteristic simplicity of the IRC Rule and avoiding too much complexity for the majority of owners.

Published in RORC
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With 312 entries in the IRC divisions alone, and numbers pushing towards the 400 mark when all classes are included, the record-breaking Fastnet Race 2017 was surely on the edge of becoming an unwieldy beast as it got under way in classic style westward down the Solent on Sunday August 6th. Add in the fact that the mountain of results was only being finalised on the following Friday, when the rhythm of the sporting week was already starting to bring major weekend arena events to the top of the demanding media agenda, and you inevitably have the prescription for a hasty allocation of subsidiary awards which risks seeing some trophies going to the wrong recipients. W M Nixon takes a look at how it all eventually came right in one very special case.

The Roger Justice Trophy is a handsome cup in the Rolex Fastnet Race array of silverware, yet it’s a cup for which nobody specifically competes. It goes to whichever offshore sailing school has done best in the overall results, and there were upwards of thirty boats eligible for it in 2017. But as Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School tersely comments, if you’re racing a school boat in the Fastnet and you’re only interested in the Roger Justice Trophy, then you’re missing the point completely.

For as he sees it, the entire purpose of taking your training vessel in the Fastnet is to throw the tyro crew into open competition. You’re not seeking any special concessions because you’re a school boat. On the contrary, you’re there because this is the big boys’ game. You’re playing by the big boys’ rules. And you’re taking on the very best of them head-to-head, with no concessions expected.

jedi fastnet start2Head-to-head competition in the open fleet with no concessions expected. Jedi makes a dream of a port tack start in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. And yes, she did pass clear ahead of that boat (top left) romping in on starboard tack. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

The story of how the Irish National Sailing School in its busy corner of the Inner Harbour of Dun Laoghaire came into being in the 1970s is now the stuff of legend. Our most recent detailed look at it came in this blog on 16th May 2015, when we headlined with an account of how school founder Alistair Rumball had expanded his additional advisory and boat provision role with the TV and movie business by organising the longships for the television series Vikings, thereby providing an additional income source to help the INSS through the depths of the economic recession.

In this he had the full support of his wife Muriel, who is the overall administrator of the school. And as it was a situation that demanded sacrifices in terms of working hours, pay and conditions which could never be expected from a non-family employee, their son Kenneth jacked in his job in Dublin as an accountant, and became the on-water principal.

By 2015 the light at the end of the tunnel had become a warm, steady and reassuring glow, and when we were there on a May evening, things were definitely on the up-and-up. In the basic but very functional premises, the first committee meeting of the recently-formed Irish National Sailing Club was being held. It had been set up in order to organize races and provide sailing school graduates with a club membership to comply with major event requirements, and to reflect that while the INSS was definitely a school, for many participants it had attractive elements of a club about it.

alistair muriel kenneth3Alistair, Muriel and Kenneth Rumball – the family’s devoted work with the Irish National Sailing School has made an enormous contribution to Irish sailing. Photo: W M Nixon

Alistair was busier than ever with Viking ships which had to be replaced from time to time just wherever he could find a builder who could comply with strict standards and a tight budget, and Kenneth was thinking ahead to further development of the uses of a fleet which included craft up to 1720s size, with the Reflex 38 Lynx in prospect as the school flagship with serious offshore racing possibilities.

In the intervening two and more years, many things have happened. Sadly, Alistair’s brother Arthur died much mourned in December 2016. He had been a cornerstone of the school structure as he was in charge of maintenance of the enormous, very varied and growing training fleet, but he’d trained his staff well, and his high standards have been maintained.

But by December 2016, the club’s fleet structure had been enhanced with the addition of the Reflex 38 which Kenneth had skippered to tenth overall in the fleet of 63 boats in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, winning the sailing schools division.

Yet despite this successful debut on what was now the international scene, they’d already concluded that the technically difficult Reflex 38 was not the ideal offshore racing boat for a Dun Laoghaire-based sailing school to make the best use of the unique combination of possibilities which Dublin Bay and its adjacent long distance racing areas provided.

Longterm readers of Afloat.ie don’t need reminding that we have been banging on for a very long time indeed about just how ideal is the J/109 to embody Dublin Bay’s noble One-Design tradition. So when word came through that the Irish National Sailing School had bought the 2002-built J/109 Jedi II with the aim of serious campaigning in the 2017 season, it was very good news indeed.

It’s the perfect package – a very manageable boat, straightforward to sail with a bowsprit and asymmetricals, plenty of sister-ships to pace yourself against offshore, and a cracking fleet in Dublin Bay to give INSS students a taste of inshore One-Design racing at its very best.

kenneth rumball4Kenneth Rumball in the INSS’s decidedly basic premises on Dun Laoghaire’s Inner Harbour this week. He took a 15-year-old J/109 and transformed her into a race winner. Photo: W M Nixon

But there was much to be done to bring Jedi up to Kenneth Rumball’s demanding requirements. At 29, he was already a successful veteran of the Round Ireland, Fastnet, Middle Sea and Sydney-Hobart Races. So a year’s campaigning culminating in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 demanded a programme of painstaking remedial work to optimize Jedi for the serious stuff.

In doing this, he was helped by two things. Arthur Rumball’s legacy was a skilled workshop staff who could assist Kenneth in reducing superfluous weight in Jedi – in all, about 350 kilogrammes of unnecessary equipment and “ornaments” came out of her, while her underwater hull was taken down to the gelcost and her keel got a proper fairing. But as well, Andrew Algeo had also recently also joined the Dublin Bay J/109 fleet with the newer Joggerknot. He too was engaged in optimizing her for the high standard of racing of the Dun Laoghaire fleet, so between them they provided a real Brain’s Trust for the exchange and implementation of ideas.

At a high point in January 2017, it looked as if the INSS might have two boats in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Kenneth had just come back from racing the Sydney-Hobart in a First 40, and was filled with enthusiasm for the potential of having the school’s two boats in the Fastnet. So he set up two Rolex Fastnet Race 2017s entry procedures side-by-side on two separate laptops on the school’s work table. There was just time to have everything in order as the closing date arrived, and for those who have had difficulty in even getting their Fastnet Race entry considered, it will be maddening to hear that both INSS boats made the cut.

But over the coming months, harsh reality intervened as the sheer logistics challenge of managing and manning two proper school entries from a base in Dun Laoghaire in a race starting off Cowes became apparent, and Lynx’s slot was returned to the RORC office.

Thanks to this slimming of the operation, things were looking very good for the season’s campaigning of the revitalized Jedi. Early races were providing increasingly encouraging results, and the places in the training programme towards participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 had been quickly snapped up and money paid up front by a diverse line-up of trainees. This meant they’d comfortably comply with the RORC’s fairly modest definition of a sailing school entry as a boat which was sailing school-owned, and had a 50/50 lineup between experienced and trainee crew.

It has to be remembered that this was all taking shape as the INSS was entering its busiest time of the year in its core activity of being a sailing school which gets hundreds of people from every background afloat in a wide variety of boats in Dublin Bay, a significant proportion of them for the very first time.

jedi leading5Jedi leading the offshore fleet. The combination of Dublin Bay One-Design sailing with the J/109s, combined with readily-available offshore racing, offers a superb opportunity to learn – but only for those who can stick the pace. Photo: Afloat.ie

So it was a cruel blow when the wheels came off the Jedi programme on May 13th with the ISORA Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire Race. A rugged event with wind-over-tide conditions and the sea at its coldest, it may have seen hardened veterans like Paul O’Higgins and his tough crew in the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI revelling in the going to win, and there was also good going by second-placed Transatlantic veteran Conor Fogerty in the Sunfast 3600 Bam. But aboard Jedi there was misery and seasickness rampant among the trainees, and at race’s end three of them pulled out of the Fastnet programme.

They’d already paid up, but in time an amicable financial settlement was reached, and Kenneth Rumball set about filling the empty places, though as the end of May approached, he was not feeling optimistic. Yet they managed to get a crew with the right configuration together for the vital Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race on 11th June, seen as a key qualifier and training event, yet here too things went pear-shaped.

The unbelievably rugged beat round Ireland’s rocky southeast corner took a savage toll with wholesale retirals, and one of Jedi’s crew became ill beyond seasickness. It was feared they were having a stroke, and the whole purpose on board became focussed on getting into Dunmore East as quickly as possible and getting the casualty to hospital, where recovery was complete. But by the time that had been done, it was clear they were out of the race, and they sailed disconsolately back to Dun Laoghaire to pick up the pieces.

Fortunately the rest of the crew were still more than game for the Fastnet challenge, and they’d ISORA’s Lyver Trophy Race on June 30th before the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from 6th to 9th July to provide the final necessary qualifier. But the race was postponed because of a severe gale, put back to a date three weeks hence, which would leave the final Jedi qualifier only a narrow window of opportunity.

Yet suddenly, they were in a time of hope. Jedi with many of her potential Fastnet crew on board had a great Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. They finished second in class, and the team were bonding in a very encouraging way.

Jedi vdlr6When it all finally started to come together. Alistair & Muriel Rumball with Jedi’s crew at the prize-giving ceremony for Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta, July 9th 2017. To celebrate Dun Laoghaire’s 200th Anniversary, one of the prizes was a picture of the first regatta at the harbour, in 1828.

Two weeks later, the Lyver Trophy was sailed on July 21st from Holyhead round Rockabill to Dun Laoghaire, and they’d a good race of it. Although the winner was the all-conquering J/109 Sgrech (Stephen Tudor), Rumball and his crew were right in the thick of it chasing in a three-way match race with sister ship Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox), and they finished with the feeling that at last they had the basis of a proper Fastnet challenge, albeit with just a fortnight to go to the start.

So the fact that Kenneth Rumball finally filled in the form to define them as a sailing school entry with less than a fortnight to go to the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 may have had something to do with the subsequent initial post-race mis-allocation of an award. He himself regarded the sailing school thing as very secondary to the core Jedei theme of being in the midst of the main fleet, and in any case he had the prodigious logistical challenge of transferring the focal point of the campaign from the school office in Dun Laoghaire to the Solent.

In times long past, anyone doing the Fastnet Race expected to spend the days beforehand berthed in Cowes. But with current entry numbers and the Solent area’s overcrowded situation, being in Cowes is if anything a disadvantage for a campaign from Dublin with limited resources and very extended lines of communication. In the circumstances, the way the Jedi team handled this was real textbook stuff.

Time and personnel resources were of the essence, so they arranged for the boat to be delivered on a semi-professional basis to the relative peace and quiet of Mercury Yacht Harbour well up the Hamble River over on the Solent’s mainland shore. And while the rest of the crew flew over in time to allow three clear days for final preparation, Kenneth and Lorcan Tighe stocked up a mini-bus to double as shore transport and a workshop/storeroom, and they took the Holyead ferry and drove it post-haste to the Hamble

jedi crew7Just ever so slightly nervous….Jedi crew in Mercury Yacht Harbour on the River Hamble early on the morning of the start of the Rolex Fastet Race 2017 

Lorcan Tighe (17) may have been be Jedi’s most junior crewman in terms of age, but he was one of the most experienced on board. From Killiney in Dublin, his family is non-sailing though his dad is into scuba diving. But when he was just six, Lorcan took a week-long course at the INSS, and was hooked. So although he now has his own Laser based at the National YC, his heart stays with the INSS where he instructs evenings and weekends and during holidays (he’s in final year at Marian College in Ballsbridge). And he’s mad keen on the offshore thing, taking on the hugely challenging job of being the bowman on Lynx during the 2016 Volvo Round Ireland Race.

He’s a talented helmsman too, so he was very much on the “experienced sailor” side of the equation aboard Jedi, where the co-skipper with Kenneth Rumball was Conor Kinsella (28), who’s from Tullamore and works in finance.

As for the “trainees”, they were very much of the Ireland of today. Deirdre Foley works in banking, Kylie McMillan (29) is in financial consulting, Keith Kiernan (41) is in insurance, George Tottenham (38) is in windfarms, and Fearghus McCormack – whom Kenneth Rumball reckons to be about 40 – is Mine Host of that splendid establishment, the Merrion Inn in the heart of Dublin 4.

Kenneth Rumball is refreshingly non-ageist, so apart from Lorcan Tighe who put us right on his young age, all those ages are only guesses. And Rumball is also refreshingly dismissive of the whole experienced/trainee divide. As far as he and his shipmates were concerned, they were a team, they were crew together, they had a joint mission to perform and everyone was doing his or her very best, and that was all there was to it. There were emphatically no artificial them-and-us divisions on Jedi.

jedi departs8Here we go…Jedi leaves the now-familiar surroundings of Mercury Yacht Harbour, heading for the start of the Fastnet Race

After such a saga of setback and breakthrough, the Fastnet Race itself could have just been just the concluding chapter in an extraordinary tale of triumph over tribulation. But of course for Jedi’s crew, it was the pinnacle. And it was high adrenalin stuff from the start. Kenneth Rumball set out to take on the best of the opposition head-to-head, and he’d the great Carlo Borlenghi to photograph the moment when Jedi made the sort of clear-away port tack start that is inevitable in traditional Fastnet conditions, yet few manage it so well.

As for the race itself, Deirdre Foley speaks for all with her enthusiastic memories: “I loved every minute of it. Superior planning and attention to tactics/routes etc, a great crew – great sense of humour and craic……on water we had some great wind overnight on our return journey to Plymouth – what looked to be a full moon, nice sea state, Jedi flying along like the wind, for me the best part of a wonderful race”

Young Loran Tighe takes, as you’d expect, a mature overview despite his youth. After all, this is a guy who was working the foredeck of Lynx at the age of 16, racing through the night off Ireland’s Atlantic coast:

“It was great to get the chance to experience the Fastnet Race, but also everything that led up to it including the ISORA series and Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Great boat, good plan, and in the end, a crew put together that made a super season of it”.

As to the actual race, the irony of it is that it looked as though they were having their closest race with sister-ship Mojito from the other side of the Irish Sea but the reality of a fleet the size of the Fastnet is that you’ve races going on at every side of you, and in the end the way that conditions of tide, wind and whatever pan out will mean that boats a certain size, type, and rating cohort will win out.

Thus everything was going the way of Jedi and her cohort after beating out to the Fastnet in classic style. The overall leader on IRC at the Rock was the JPK 10.10 Night and Day (Pascal Loison), with fellow French skipper Noel Racine second in sister-ship Foggy Dew, while third was Ireland’s Paul Kavanagh in the vintage Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan.

Their ratings are 1.003, 1.002 and 0.985 respectively, which tells us much. Mojito at the stage was at he best place in the race, she was ninth overall rating 1.010, while Jedi was in contention, rating 1.008 and in 11th place overall, just one place ahead of RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of the RIYC racing the first 44.7 Lisa.

jedi fastnet9On top of the world….with 17-year-old Lorcan Tighe on the wheel, Jedi heads for Plymouth from the Fastnet Rock lying 11th overall in the 312-strong fleet

But on the fast sail back to Plymouth, it was boats around the 40ft mark which carried the favourable conditions best, and the JNA 39 Llan Ael 2 (Didier Gaoudoux, France) rose up the rankings from 29th overall at the Rock to become overall winner, while Lisa was remarkably consistent to move up from 12th to 8th.

But for the smaller J/109s, things became distinctly unfavourable, and though Jedi did indeed run like the wind, getting ahead of Mojito despite seeing her A3 blow out when it shouldn’t have, by the time she was in the final approaches to Plynouth the bite had long gone gone from the wind, and she cascaded down to 58th overall.

She was still very much the first J/109, and while she was 8th in IRC 3, she was first in IRC 3B for boats doing their first Fastnet. There was a cherished medallion in line for that, for a first in class in the greatest Rolex Fastnet Race ever held is something very special.

jedi plymouth approach10Aboard Jedi approaching Plymouth and the finish as night draws on, Thursday 10th August. The wind is slipping away, and she no longer holds a top overall placing, but is leading Class 3B.

On that crowded Friday afternoon in Plymouth with mountains of results figures still being assimilated and analysed, the Roger Justice Trophy went to a Sailing School Farr 60. Something strange here. A scan of the results showed that Jedi been well ahead of that Farr 60 on corrected time. But with everyone going their various ways with Conor Kinsella heading off to retrieve the mini-bus from the Hamble while Kenneth Rumball cruised Jedi home, sorting it out could be left to a later date.

With that Class 3B win under their belt, there was time enough to see about putting the record straight. And when they later contacted the RORC office, they were told that there had indeed indeed been an error, and the winner of the Roger Justice Trophy was Irish Offshore Sailing of Dun Laoghaire in the Sunfast 37 Desert Star, thereby repeating Ronan O Siochru’s success of 2015.

So then they’d to get back to the number crunchers again, and gently suggest to them that it was indeed a Dun Laoghaire-based sailing school which had won the Roger Justice Trophy, but it was a different one - it was the Irish National Sailing School and the boat was called Jedi.

jedi gets justice11Jedi gets Justice – RORC Commodore Michael Boyd, Committee Member Lucy Reynolds, and Kenneth Rumball as the Roger Justice Trophy finally reaches its rightful winner in RORC headquarters in London last week.

It’s understandable that it happened. After all, Jedi’s final fully-qualified crew list as a sailing school was only submitted to the race office with about ten days to go to the start of the race. The sheer weight of data flying about by this stage must have been smothering for those handling it.

But it all came right at the end, though admittedly it was the very end. At an awards ceremony in the RORC in London last week, at the last moment Jedi was finally called forward to receive the Roger Justice Trophy. Forget that old saying about justice delayed is justice denied. In sailing, it’s acceptable if justice is done in due course, and is seen to be done.

Published in W M Nixon

Michael Boyd of the Royal Irish Yacht Club is so successful in his multi-tasking as an impressive Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and a very competent and frequently-competing skipper in in its annual 12-race Mainseries Points Championship, that we risk taking his achievements for granted.

Yet in August he excelled himself with a brilliantly consistent Fastnet Race, well-placed at both the Rock and the finish in skippering the First 44.7 Lisa to place second in class, and becoming far and away the leading Irish skipper to win the Gull Salver and become our “Sailor of the Month (Offshore)” for August.

But the duties were only beginning for the RORC Commodore as the Fastnet finishers in this record fleet crossed the line. In Plymouth he recorded an early-morning video just after finishing which so eloquently expressed the deeper meaning of this great race that he spoke for all competitors in a memorable display of quiet yet very committed enthusiasm.

In this current weekend, Boyd and his crew – with includes some other noted Irish offshore racing names – are shaping up to place well in the RORC’s penultimate race of the 2017 season. But we would remind everyone that September finished on Thursday, Afloat.ie then take two days for the adjudication process, and our current batch of awards refer only to achievement in August.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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An event as complex as the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 throws up so many facts and figures in a very short space of time that we have to make sense of it all on the hop as best we can writes W M Nixon. Thus it may well be that in the long run, people will remember that this year’s classic showed that when the Volvo World Race people said their new generation of boats were going to be completely and utterly one design, they really meant it – they finished as a group, and the winner Dongfeng was only 54 seconds ahead of second-placed Mapfre.

But with 312 boats racing in the IRC Division, trying to make sense of it takes quite a bit of doing, and every so often the Secret Angels of the Internet throw in a glitch which give us pause for thought, and then some.

fulmar fever2The yellow-hulled Fulmar Fever getting a good start in a WHSC event at Dunmore East
One such pause came at lunchtime yesterday. There we were, all wondering what were the chances of that decent man Ron O’Hanley from America holding on to his popular overall lead with his Cookson 50 Privateer, when up it popped on the Official Leaderboard: The winning boat was Robert Marchant’s Fulmar 32 Fulmar Fever from Waterford Harbour SC at Dunmore East.

fulmar fever3Her moment of glory. At lunchtime today, Fulmar Fever was on top

fulmar fever4And it seems it was no error. She may still have been at sea, slugging along towards the Fastnet, but the fates had decided it was Fulmar Fever’s day to be overall winner

Click over to the Tracker Chart, and it was further confirmed, even if somehow it had happened while the bright yellow Fulmar Fever was still slugging to windward in the middle of the Celtic Sea at a determined 5.4 knots.

By now, it has all been sorted out. But that little twist to events was a reminder of the sheer variety of the Fastnet fleet, and the gallant effort made by people like Robert Marchant and his Number One helm Dave Delahunt to get to Cowes, and then get themselves around the Fastnet course in a hefty boat of another era.

Meanwhile, in the zippier end of the fleet, for the Irish contingent it emerges the Donegal men have been doing well, and so has a top skipper from Belfast Lough. Best placed finisher at 30th overall is Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly in command of the Infiniti 46R Maverick, while his clubmate Richie Fearon in charge of Alan Hannon’s RP 45 Katsu is 32nd.

artemis ocean5Skippered by Mikey Ferguson from Bangor, Artemis Ocean Racing has managed to beat Rambler 88 by one place on corrected time

Mikey Ferguson from Bangor is skipper of the IRC-rated former IMOCA 60 Artemis Ocean Racing, and he has finished to place 34th, which puts him one place ahead on corrected time of the mighty Rambler 88, no less, so this is something to be savoured.

For many in the body of the fleet, there’s still a long way to go, but Afloat.ie suggests you keep a close eye on the Tracker here 

And if those Secret Angels of the Internet are throwing more magic glitches, you never know what you might find...

Published in Fastnet
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The northwest to north breeze which filled in over the Celtic Sea overnight has refreshed the record Rolex Fastnet race 2017 fleet in every way, and the long beat from Land’s End out to the rock now has many nostalgic overtones of classic Fastnet Race in times past writes W M Nixon.

But in times past the fleet didn’t have to deal with the strict imposition of the enormous Traffic Separation Zone immediately west of Land’s End, which is like a large and awkward phantom island which is quite real enough to have a fundamental effect on tactics.

Yesterday it was Jean-Pierre Dick who first elected to go southwest of it with his IMOCA 60 StMichel-Virbec, and then go on north to northwest between it and the Isles of Scilly. It’s a tactic which many others have followed since, and it certainly seemed to do StMichel-Virbec no harm, as he currently nears the Fastnet Rock lying third in IMOCA 60, and well ahead of arch-rivals Alex Thomson and Nin O’Leary in Hugo Boss, who chose the eastern option.

The MOD 70 Concise 10 finished her lonely race (she’s the only MOD 70 in the game this time round) at 0700hrs in Plymouth this morning, so now attention can focus undistracted on the mono-hulls. George David’s Rambler 88 lead them round the rock at around 0400 hours this morning, very much out on her own by a huge margin, and sailing at the more familiar speed of 16 knots after a slow outward passage. Rambler is now well in front with 187 miles to the finish and 18 knots on the clock.

The mighty 115ft Nikita (Tom Brewer) has found the new going very much to her liking, and on IRC she leads both in Class Zero and overall, having rounded at 0644, while Rambler’s much zippier performance, albeit with higher handicap, means she’s second in both categories. Although pundits had talked of it becoming a big boat race, having a canting-keel 88ft footer and a 115ft Superyacht in the top positions is over-egging the cake more than somewhat, so it will be interesting to see how these positions stack up as smaller craft get into their stride.

Of the other biggies, the IMOCA Open 60 SMA (Paul Meilhat) continues to dominate her class, she’s now making 14.7 knots with the Fastnet astern, while the Volvo 65 Dongfeng Race team is in process of rounding the rock and leading these interesting new One Designs.

The new dominance of the biggies hasn’t totally upset the underlying pattern in the overall placings, as frequent fleet leader on IRC, the J/133 Pintia (Gilles Fournier), is currently in third, while of the Irish Paul Kavanagh of the Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan has had a great night of it, he currently lies fourth overall.

Slightly further down the line, the Pwllheli J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop and Vicky Cox), which races with half her crew from Dun Laoghaire’s National YC, has emerged smelling of roses from yesterday’s swampy calms east of Lizard Point, and currently lies tenth overall, while Michael Boyd with the First 44.7 Lisa is 12th.

Most of the fleet may have already sailed 250 miles and more of the 605 mile course. But with the boats finally out in relatively open water, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 has really only just properly started.

Tracker here 

Published in Fastnet
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Overnight the fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race has been made solid progress upwind, tacking on shifts and dipping in and out of the land according to whether or not the tide is favourable.

At 0900 Tony Lawson's MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10 was off the Irish coast just about to tack towards the Fastnet Rock while the next boat and leading monohull, George David's Rambler 88 had rounded Land's End, followed by SMA, the lead IMOCA 60, sailed doublehanded by Paul Meilhat and Gwénolé Gahinet. The bulk of the handicap fleets were attempting to make progress around Start Point. With the exception of the fastest boats, all of the crews are scratching their heads about how the weather will pan out today with very little wind forecast around the Scilly Isles and a real risk of drifting into the prohibited zone that is the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) off Land's End.

Approaching Land's End this morning Sam Davies sailing, doublehanded on the IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur with Tanguy de Lamotte reported seeing 7 knots of wind from the southwest. How was her first night? "Busy! We did manage each to get two times one hour's sleep because today is going to be even busier!" They spent most of the night short tacking, no mean feat in an unfamiliar IMOCA 60, particularly with sail to re-stack each time.

Their next call was whether to go west or east of the TSS. Leader in the IMOCA 60 class, SMA had already opted for the easterly Land's End side along with IRC Z leader (and impressively within the top five overall under IRC), the 115 footer Nikata and Ludde Ingvall's maxi CQS. "Luckily we will have the tide with us. From then on we see the breeze building back up in the Irish Sea," said Davies.

There was some ladies' fist shaking this morning when Davies' old Team SCA crew mates Dee Caffari and Liz Wardley, aboard the VO65 Turn the Tide on Plastic, tacked right on top of them. "I thought they were going to sail across and say 'hi' and then tack like a nice friend would - because we are not in the same classes. But she tacked right on top of us, in the worst place you could imagine, when there was no reason to do it! And there was I about to say 'hi' to my best friend... Dee Caffari and Liz Wardley owe me a beer when I next see them..."

The Infiniti 46 Maverick, racing in IRC Z was half way between Start Point and the Lizard this morning. Tactician Michael Firmin was not only happy with their decision to bang the left side of the course yesterday after exiting the Solent. "We were hoping the models would play out and we'd see a big left shift which never really came, so there was stronger breeze and a slight right and people on the inside made out."

At 0830 they had tacked away from the Eddystone south of Plymouth and were sailing in 9 knots from the west in 0.5 knots of adverse current. Fermin continued: "We are taking a leg out in front of a squall line to get a bit more pressure and hopefully a bit of a lift, just waiting for the change to come through. We are hoping the model gives us something better than what we are currently seeing which is quite light round the corner with about 4 knots of adverse current!" At present a slow moving shallow cold front is lying across the course on a northeast-southwest axis. Firmin was also contemplating the Land's End TSS, the left possibly proving attractive as the side where the wind was expected to fill in first later today.

In a similar location to Maverick was Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine's J/133 Pintia, leading IRC Two on the water as well as IRC overall, from the Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau on the Grand Soleil 43 Codiam. Both boats benefitted greatly from going inshore at Portland overnight.

In the same class, Ireland's Joan Mulloy and Cathal Clarke on board the Figaro Beneteau 2, Offshore Academy 21 were negotiating Start Point. "The night was good we made up some ground," Mulloy reported. "We went really in close to Portland Bill and we were happy with that because we were looking bad coming out of the Solent and we've been a bit slow going around Start Point." Clarke has spent much time below fixing a sail they had managed to blow up leaving the Solent.

"We are just trying to figure out what to do," Mulloy continued. "We are watching people on the AIS to see what's happening with the wind. There are two forecasts and there is a front and if that moved everything changes. I am trying to play it safe and stay in the middle."

Track the fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race here. 

Published in Fastnet
Tagged under

After beating every inch of the way down the English Channel from yesterday’s spectacular start in the Solent, Rolex Fastnet Race mono-hull leader on the water Rambler 88 (George David) has this morning been facing lighter airs and much slowed speeds at Land’s End as the wind pattern flukes around before settling into the expected westerly which will in due course veer northwest to north writes W M Nixon

Although the original southwest wind held up for much of the night, it’s definitely not record-making weather. Having been marching her way up the overall IRC rankings in the small hours, Rambler 88 saw her speed fall back to less than 5 knots for a while as she approached mainland Cornwall’s southwest point, putting her back to 30th overall in IRC and 3rd in IRC Zero.

Now she has decided to pass to pass to the eastward of the enormous Traffic Separation Zone – an area forbidden to racing yachts - between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly, which will involve a long deviation in a northerly direction before she can finally get down to the serious business of making across the Celtic Sea towards the Fastnet’s famous turning point off West Cork.

Through the night in the 312-strong IRC Division, fortunes have waxed and waned depending on where the boat in question found herself as slight changes in wind speed and direction, and the underlying flow of the tides, affected overall placings. The most consistent performance in the IRC fleet has been put in by the biggest boat, the JV 115 Nikata skipper by Tom Brewer, which has sailed a wellnigh faultless race and has never been more than a dozen miles astern of the higher-rated Rambler 88.

The idea of a boat of this size mixing it in the hugely varied Fastnet fleet seemed slightly absurd at first. But the IRC is a broad church, so we should allow even the humblest Supermaxi to race against aristocrats of offshore racing such as Stuart Greenfeld’s Silver Shamrock, Half Ton World Champion in 1976 under Harold Cudnore’s command, whuch in the Fastnet 2017 has been showing very well from time to time both overall and in the Two-handed Division, where the leaders are previous winners, the Loisons father and son, in the JPK 10.80 Night and Day.

However, Nikata has been seldom out of the frame, and she approaches Land’s End at 7.4 knots just 8 miles behind Rambler 88, and lying first in IRC Zero and second overall in IRC. The IRC leader is currently the French J/133 Pintia (Gilles Fournier), at the moment off Plymouth laying seaward on starboard and making just 5.0knots, so the softening of the still southwest wind has spread back into the body of the fleet.

Harry Hiejst’s class S&S 41 Winsome continues to perform consistently with Laura Dillon as lead helm, and she is southeast of Plymouth but with Start Point clear astern, currently first in IRC 4 and fifth overall. However, she’s making only 4.9 knots while boats further inshore seem to be enjoying a slightly better breeze, but such fluctuations have been experienced by most through the night.

Of the other boats of Irish interest, Paul Kavanagh’s Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan is in the hunt in IRC overall, she lies 17th and is 5th in IRC 4. The two J/109s Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox) and jedi (Irish National sailing Sschool) are well offshore sou’southwest of Start Point, and down the rankings after their good showing yesterday, while Irish Offshore Sailing’s Sunfast 37 Desert Star is still southeast of Start Point, she currently lies 29th in IRC 4.

Some of the most interesting racing has been in the nine IMOCA Open 60s and the seven Volvo 65s. The veteran Open 60 SMA(Paul Mailhat and Gwenole Gahinet) has sailed a blinder throughout, and is currently crossing tacks ahead of Nikita near the Runnelstone south of Land’s End. In the earlier part of the night, SMA was being challenged by Jeanne-Pierre Dick’s StMichel-Virbac, but this has petered out, StMichel-Virbac is currently south of Lizard Point and lyng 9th in th Open 60s, while the other favoured contender, Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson & Nin O’Leary) is eight in class, and she’s close northeast of the Lizard, frustrated back to 6.3 knots.

Meanwhile Dongfeng Race Ream head the Volvo 65s after several lead changes though the night. We sign off at 0850 noting that Rambler 88 has shaken off the Land’s End sluggishness, she’s now making north along the east side of the TSZ at better than 11 knots and marching up the overall rankings once more, while SMA, Nikita and the 100ft CQS struggle to reach the crucial Land’s End corner.

Tracker here

Published in Fastnet
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