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For the previous four editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the elation of overall victory has been enjoyed by a team racing a yacht of less than 40ft. In the 2013 and 2015 editions of the 605-nautical-mile offshore race, the top three boats overall came from IRC Three and Four.

This year, currently 340 teams will race under IRC for the overall win and over half of them will be competing in IRC Three and Four. The vast majority of the 3,000-strong competitors in the 400-boat fleet are passionate amateurs, racing on a huge variety of boats, with 88 different designs found in these two classes.

Eighty-five yachts have entered IRC Three: 46 from Great Britain, 18 from France and also Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, and the USA.

Twelve JPKs will be competing in IRC Three this year, including their designer Jean-Pierre Kelbert, racing JPK 10.30 Léon Two-Handed, with Alexis Loison.

JPK designs have an impressive track record, winning IRC Three for the last three editions of the race, and the race overall in 2013 (Pascal and Alexis Loison, JPK 10.10 Night and Day). In 2017, the class went to the wire, with Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret’s JPK 10.80 Dream Pearls winning by just 71 seconds from Marc Alperovitch’s JPK 10.80 Timeline. Alperovitch had previously won class in 2009, while taking fourth in 2013, as well as second in 2017. Both teams will be back this year, with Timeline now in two handed mode.

“We reckoned that there were 10 boats in a position to win and that included five British boats,” says Timeline’s owner Alperovitch about the 2017 race. “There was always a competitive boat next to us, it is quite strange to be in the middle of the Celtic Sea and be racing as if it were ‘round the cans’, except it took roughly half a day to overtake another boat!”

Eight Sun Fast 3600s will be in action, including two British teams in top form: Trevor Middleton’s fully crewed Black Sheep and Rob Craigie’s Bellino, racing two handed with Deb Fish.

The Rolex Fastnet Race is likely to decide who will be in pole position overall for the 2019 RORC Season’s Championship. Four of the Black Sheep crew met on the Clipper Round the World Race and this will be Middleton’s third race in succession.

“We are not thinking about the overall win, just to put in our best performance for the race,” explained Middleton. “The competition in our class is really tough, but if I was to single out one area in respect of Bellino, it is that they run symmetric spinnakers to our asymmetric, so a tight reach back from the Rock would be just fine for Black Sheep.”

“TrevorTrevor Middleton’s Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep | Photo: Tim Wright

Eighty-nine yachts have entered IRC Four: 52 from Great Britain, 16 from France and also entries from Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the USA.

Noel Racine’s Foggy Dew is one of 11 JPK 10.10s racing in the class. Racing his former JPK 9.60 and his current charge, Racine has an impressive record in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Taking part in all seven editions since 2005, Racine has won his class three times and placed third and second respectively in the last two races. In this year’s 179-boat Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race, Francois Moriceau’s JPK 10.10 Mary was the class winner and second overall.

“NoelNoel Racine’s Foggy Dew | Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Designed in 1985 by David Thomas in collaboration with the RORC and the Royal Thames YC, and built in Plymouth, Seven Sigma 38s have entered IRC 4. The one-design sloop was built to stand up to tough offshore conditions using data from the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race.

Chris and Vanessa Choules’ With Alacrity is the leading Sigma 38 for the 2019 RORC season. Since 2009, With Alacrity has completed all five editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, finishing in the top three Sigma 38s every year, before finally winning in 2017.

“We have owned With Alacrity for 15 years and having done a transatlantic, we got hooked on the racing, particularly the competitive racing against other Sigma 38s. The Rolex Fastnet Race is the longest race we can realistically do, and we aim to get around safely and with a happy crew,” explained Chris Choules.

“SigmaSigma 38 With Alacrity | Photo: Paul Wyeth

Sixteen J/109s will be competing in IRC Three and IRC Four. The 35ft bowsprit design has its own prize, the J/109 RORC Trophy. The leading J/109 for the RORC season is David McGough’s Just So, overall winner of the 2019 Morgan Cup with 85 teams racing under IRC. Just So won the J/109 RORC Trophy in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race.

The British Armed Forces have a long history in the race and this year, four teams from Her Majesty’s Armed Forces will be racing in the J/109 fleet. The RAF with Red Arrow, the Royal Naval with Jolly Jack Tar, the Royal Engineers with Trojan, and the Royal Armoured Corps with Ajax.

“JollyJolly Jack Tar | Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Jolly Jack Tar’s skipper Lt Tom Thicknesse RN started yacht racing with the Royal Navy; this will be his second race, and first as skipper.

“Whatever the weather, we are expecting a mentally and physically draining race that demands everything from the crew. We have our sights set on the Inter-Regimental Trophy for the best service yacht and aim to be in the top five J109s overall,” says Thicknesse.

“Offshore sailing has been a key element of Royal Navy sport and adventurous training for many years as the mental and physical challenge gives the opportunity to develop the endurance, leadership, teamwork and courage of our crew. The race epitomises this challenge.”

Classic yachts abound in IRC Three and Four, including 17 Nautor’s Swans and four more classics from the drawing board of Sparkman & Stephens. These majestic yachts with beautiful lines will also race for the S&S Trophy.

All of the classics competing in the 48th biennial Rolex Fastnet Race will be eligible for a new trophy donated in 2017 by Matt Brooks and Pam Rorke Levy, owners of the S&S yawl Dorade, winner of the Fastnet Race in 1931 and 1933.

Former Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, Rives Potts will race his McCurdy Rhodes 48 Carina having crossed ‘the pond’ with the 2019 Transatlantic Race this summer. Potts’ connection with the race goes back to the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race which he won as crew on media mogul Ted Turner’s Tenacious.

The oldest boat in the race this year is Paul Moxon’s 1939 Amokura. The Shepherd-designed classic yawl was built as ‘a speedy vessel, suitable for both cruising and ocean racing’ and designed for Major Ernest Harston, ADC to Lord Mountbatten. She will be joined in IRC Four by Sir Francis Chichester’s famed 53ft ketch, Gipsy Moth IV which is run as a charity to maintain her sailing heritage.

“PaulPaul Moxon’s 1939 Shepherd-designed classic yawl Amokura | Photo: Beken

Another classic yacht with a strong connection to the 1979 race is the Contessa 32 Assent, which was originally named Tessa of Worth and the only yacht in Class 5 to complete the 1979 Fastnet Race. Assent, which has the shortest waterline length (24ft) in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, is now owned by Kit Rogers and skippered by Simon Rogers. Their Father Jeremy Rogers set up Contessa Yachts in 1961.

“This is a pilgrimage to show respect for the ’79 race, now 40 years ago,” commented Simon Rogers. “Our crew will be my oldest child Hattie, and Kit’s oldest Jonah, who are both 19, and this will be in their first Fastnet.”

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The weather will play a significant outcome in determining the overall results of the Rolex Fastnet Race. Winning your division is more within each team's control, and here we'll look at the top three IRC handicap categories in terms of size and speed. IRC Zero is where the biggest boats congregate and is likely to produce the monohull line honours winner. However, you have to go back to the 2009 and 2011 editions of the race to find the last Maxi to win overall - on both occasions the impeccably sailed Rán 2.

IRC One produced the last edition's winner in 2017, and Lann Ael 2 is back to defend her title, although victory in this hard-fought division will be no picnic for the French crew. IRC Two is also capable of delivering an overall winner, and it is here where the 2015 winner Géry Trentesaux is returning with his new boat, Courrier Recommandé.

Let's take a look at some of the runners and riders, and speculate on who might emerge victorious in 2019

IRC Zero

The biggest boat in IRC Zero is the 100-footer Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 100, owned by Seng Huang Lee from Hong Kong. The international crew is led by experienced Australian sailor David Witt, former 18ft skiff sailor and skipper of the Scallywag team in last year's Volvo Ocean Race. She will be relying on a windy start and light airs conclusion to have a chance at winning on handicap.

RamblerGeorge David's American Rambler 88 Photo: Rick Tomlinson
Closest rival in terms of speed through the water is Rambler 88, George David's canting-keeled sloop from New York. The 88-footer has clocked up some impressive results which include overall winner of Les Voiles de St Barth, line honours winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Rolex Middle Sea Race, as well as third on the water in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Rambler 88 also took monohull line honours in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, so has the raw speed, thanks to an experienced crew that numbers many of the America's Cup winning Alinghi crew in its ranks, not least former Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth. This will be David's fifth time of competing, and the ambitious owner still hankers for the overall win: "Too often we have been bridesmaid, which could be what brings us back - along with the great traditions and scenery of this classic race."

Expect to see a tough battle between the Maxi 72s Lucky and Sorcha (formerly the two-time Fastnet winner Rán 2) along with Jethou which was extended over the winter from a 72-footer to 77ft. Lucky was previously the Maxi 72 World Champion Bella Mente now in the hands of American owner Bryon Ehrhart, following in the footsteps of his 63ft Reichel Pugh design and before that the TP52 in which he scored a series of strong results. Lucky has already demonstrated her class with some strong performances in the Mediterranean including Capri Sailing Week, the Rolex Giraglia Race, Palermo to Monaco and the Maxi Worlds. Ehrhart has twice competed in the Fastnet, so knows some of the pitfalls along the way, not least from running aground on the Shingles bank not long after the 2015 start, which forced his RP63 out of the race. No wonder then that Ehrhart identifies the start as one of the most critical parts of the course, where he believes the key to success will be "picking lanes through smaller, slower boats in restricted waters. We'll aim to sail safe, sail hard and sail fast."

Quite a few ex-Volvo Ocean Race boats show up in this division, with Volvo 60s, 65s and 70s all hoping for some fast downwind sailing to make the most of their round-the-world design pedigree. Perhaps the most competitive of these is the VO70 Wizard, formerly Franck Cammas' 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race winner Groupama 4, now owned by Baltimore brothers, David and Peter Askew. Recent winner of the Transatlantic Race 2019, Wizard keeps on clocking up significant victories, notably the RORC Caribbean 600, Chicago Mackinac, Bayview Mackinac and Newport - Bermuda Race, along with a class win at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. Not so surprising when you learn that the team includes a couple of Volvo Ocean Race veterans - former winner Rob Greenhalgh from the UK, two-time skipper Charlie Enright of the USA and Australian navigator Will Oxley.

Further down the size range are a bunch of competitive 50-something-footers, including David Collins' Botin IRC52 Tala (formerly Interlodge and Spookie) which recently claimed line honours victory in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Myth of Malham race. Tala will enjoy a good battle with Outsider, a purpose-built offshore TP52. Expect a tight fight between five Cookson 50s, including the Italian team Endlessgame owned by Pietro Moschini, which includes past America's Cup helmsman Paolo Cian in the crew. Watch out for Ron O'Hanley's Privateer as the pick of the bunch after finishing runner-up to Lann Ael 2 in the overall standings for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race.

A couple of other boats in this size range are Oystercatcher XXXIII, owned by east-coast racing veteran, Richard Matthews, who this year will be celebrating his 23rd Fastnet Race, and exactly 50 years since he and fellow crew member, Alan Brooke, first raced around the lighthouse. Oystercatcher XXXIII is a Ker 51 which was previously campaigned by Dutch race veteran Piet Vroon, best known for his series of Tonnerre yachts. Among the crew is the 470 Olympic Champion from Rio 2016, Saskia Clark, who hails from the same part of the country as Matthews.

Teasing Machine is a NMYD 54 which has recently completed the slowest ever Transatlantic Race, after which 600 miles of Fastnet racing will seem but a sprint. Eric de Turckheim is the French owner of a boat which was designed specifically with distance races in mind. Teasing Machine has already proven her pedigree with third overall in the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race, winning the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race and the 2018 Atlantic Anniversary Regatta. De Turckheim has similarly impressive results in his previous Fastnets, 2nd in IRC2 in 2013 and 3rd in IRC1 in 2015. The crew are a mix of amateurs and professionals, including some Volvo Ocean Race veterans, led by Laurent Pages.

IRC One

As outright winner of the last Fastnet Race in 2017, Lann Ael 2 must be considered a hot favourite to win IRC One. After Didier Gaudoux skippered the JND 39 to a near-perfect race in 2017, the Frenchman and his mostly Corinthian crew will be hoping for another set of perfect conditions for their yacht. A lifelong sailor who did his first RORC races in 1978, Gaudoux says the yacht was designed with the Fastnet in mind. "You have to be a bit lucky with the weather to win, but I am very proud to have designed a boat with Bernard Nivelt to win the Fastnet."

Philippe Frantz and his NMD 43 Albator will be one of a number to give Lann Ael 2 a run for her money. Launched in 2017, Albator went on to win class in the 2018 RORC Caribbean 600 and the 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race, where she also finished 3rd overall. This is the first time Frantz has attempted the Fastnet Race and he is wary of the weather, conditions and speed, but is nevertheless focused on the win. The yacht comes well prepared, with a crew comprising a mix of dinghy sailors, a Figaro sailor and previous competitors from the Route du Rhum, America's Cup, Half Ton Cup and Trophée Jules Verne. If anyone could win at his first attempt on the Fastnet, it's Frantz.

Conor Fogerty RAW 4649Conor Fogerty's new foiling Figaro 3 Raw Photo: Afloat

Competing in the 138-boat Myth of Malham Race this season was the HH42 Ino XXX raced by James Neville who was second on corrected time in the 30-hour race. Sixth overall in the 2017 Fastnet, Ino XXX will find herself competing against the recent third-placed Myth of Malham finisher, the Ker 40 Keronimo raced by Lars & Birgitta Elfverson (SWE).

If the conditions come right for Raw, one of the new foiling Figaro 3 keelboats, then former Irish Sailor of the Year, Conor Fogerty, could be lighting up the Celtic Sea. Fogerty is intent on an Olympic campaign for the new doublehanded offshore event in Marseille 2024, but is sailing four-up for the Fastnet.

Based on sheer experience in the Fastnet, the crew of Lutine from Gosport must be considered as a contender. Neil Armstrong is skippering the X-55 this year, and he's looking forward to the amateur crew showing what can be achieved with a concerted training programme.

Another crew that never misses a Fastnet is Moana, a First 47.7 skippered by François Goubau who races with his wife and three sons. This will be the Belgian boat's 10th Fastnet Race and one of the three sons, Mathieu, will be steering the boat as he has been since the age of 16; this is his 11th Fastnet yet he's still only 38 years old. Over the years Moana has been a RORC race regular, ranging from the Commodores' Cup (second in 2016) to the IRC Nationals and Cowes Week (class winner) and has taken three podium places in class at the Fastnet.

IRC Two

The most likely winner of IRC Two will be Géry Trentesaux, who won the race in a JPK 10.80 in 2015 and won last year's Rolex Middle Race in his present boat, JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé.

Gery Trentesaux Courrier Recommandé Gery Trentesaux's JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé Photo: Paul Wyeth
Having spotted the success of the JPK designs and Trentesaux in particular, Tom Kneen bought a JPK 11.80 last year with a view to winning the Fastnet Race at his third attempt. From a comedy of errors in his first Fastnet just four years ago, the Plymouth businessman has proven a fast learner with his Sunrise crew. "The biggest challenges are the tides between the Solent and Land's End - we have lots of decisions to make," says Kneen, whose team are almost all RORC Under 35 crew and three of whom are members of the RORC Youth Griffin Committee. Additional expertise comes from the young navigator Tom Cheney who works for INEOS Team UK.

Christian Teichmann and Hugh Brayshaw are racing Abu 43 in the doublehanded fleet but could threaten for a division win. Formerly owned by the Artemis Offshore Academy, Abu 43 is an enhanced Figaro II, optimised for racing under IRC. Teichmann, a German investor, is competing in his first Fastnet while this is Brayshaw's second assault on the Rock. Young, but with a wealth of offshore experience, Brayshaw is optimistic about their chances. "I think this time racing shorthanded will mean the latter stages of the race could be hard. But last time we rounded the Rock with a clear sunrise and all these boats around us. We are hoping to finish amongst the top of the Figaro IIs, however, if conditions are right then we could see ourselves towards the front of our class and two-handed."

Another double hander worth watching in IRC Two is Ajeto!, a J/122 sailed by joint owner-skippers, Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre from the Netherlands. The engineer and dentist from The Hague have been Dutch IRC champions four times, and were European J/111 champions in 2015 with a previous boat, Xcentric Ripper, with which they won class in the 2015 Fastnet. It's the fourth Fastnet for another J/122, Junique Raymarine Sailing Team, specially adapted for shorthanded sailing and a proven performer in the hands of Chris Revelman and Pascal Bakker who took 3rd in class at the 2018 Round Britain and Ireland race.

The First 40 and First 40.7s will be out in force for IRC Two but whether any can threaten the more optimised boats in this division is another matter. The First 40, Sailplane, is owned by Rob Bottomley and skippered by Nick Martin, and will be hosting Catherine Keohane and her friends and family. It will be Keohane's second Fastnet and this time she is driving a more competitive entry. "We decided to choose the crew and the boat to be more competitive. It is a challenging race attracting a world-class fleet from around the world and it gives us a 'kick' to be taking part alongside professional and amateur sailors alike." With seven out of the 10 crew having completed one or more Fastnets, this is an experienced Corinthian crew.

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Unseasonable gales in August have little meaning for those who experienced a terrible night that month in 1979, on the third day of that year’s Fastnet Race, as the skipper and crew of Flicka recall.

The morning after the hurricane hit, it was the lead story around the world. For a small group of Schull Harbour Sailing Club members, it was just a lucky escape.

In Schull that afternoon, fellow sailors and newsmen armed with cameras and seasick pills were going to watch the Fastnet Race frontrunners round the rock.

Michael Murphy — our skipper — and wife Derval, together with Mick Barnett, Steve Cone and the Collins girls were keen to go.

Frank Boland had offered them the use of his 36ft heavy displacement motor cruiser Flicka, and suggested that the two older members of his family, Mary and John, would come along. They headed for sea with a picnic, a bottle of grog for the crew — and a warning to be careful from harbour master Jimmy Reilly.

As Flicka nosed into the bay, the other boats were returning. Past Long Island, the swell deepened and the boat bounced to the Fastnet Rock. A feast was consumed on board, and as the cruiser hung around, head to wind off the lighthouse, dusk descended, with the onset of heavy rain and an ever increasing wind. In hindsight it was fortunate there was no marine radio on board, as to the east the horror of the night was beginning.

Many years later, while attending a book launch for The Lightkeeper, author Gerald Butler confirmed that he was on duty on the Fastnet that night and was trying to contact Flicka on the VHF, and eventually when he lost sight of her navigation lights he called Baltimore lifeboat, which immediately launched, but was then diverted to the Irish yacht, Ken Rohan’s Regardless which was in serious danger, having lost her steering off the Staggs.

In hindsight it was fortunate there was no marine radio on board, as to the east the horror of the night was beginning

The mystery of the boat described in his book was all the more intriguing when he discovered that the owner, Frank Boland, was one of the Commissioners of Irish Lights who had overall responsibility for the operation of the Fastnet.

Having turned for home, the full force of the storm hit — together with the realisation of the vessel’s unsuitability for the weather, with the following sea in danger of swamping the boat.

The sing-song provided a little comfort, while all eyes peered through the darkness as the nearer to Schull they motored, the more serious the situation became.

In the harbour, the wind was beyond gale force and appeared cyclonic in direction, hitting the hull from all angles. The raindrops were like thimbles flying upwards into a night that was as black as a witch’s hat. Shapes whirled in the water and lights faded in and out as the screen wipers thwacked.

Through prisms of water, Steve Cone on the bow pointed out the lights of a yacht battling its way up Long Island Sound, which subsequently turned out to be Ted Crosbie, who hugged the island shore for shelter all night. Steve’s face, lit by the bow navigation lights that matched his green oilskins, made him look like the Incredible Hulk.

With Schull pier underwater and a chaotic scene developing for the yachts lining the pier wall, it was decided to try for Flicka’s moorings. Here, Mary Boland played her ace card, managing to locate the mooring buoys. Mick Barnett and Steve managed to hook it at the first attempt, but were unable to hold on when struck by a particularly powerful gust, losing the only boathook on board. A quick search located a hooked-on boarding ladder with which Steve, lying over the bow, managed to secure the mooring, while Mick Barnett held onto his legs for dear life.

Shapes whirled in the water and lights faded in and out as the screen wipers thwacked

For Flicka’s crew, the danger was increasing. Disembarkation was to be a nightmare. Spouse was separated from spouse, sibling from sibling; if the worst happened, no family would endure a double tragedy.

Boarding the rubber dinghy was like riding a panicking porpoise and every yard travelled shipped a gallon of water. Three seemingly endless journeys landed everyone back to the pier, where the rafted yachts were splintering together while one leg of Peter Jay’s catamaran lay like a beached whale on the head of the pier.

The last to abandon Flicka was Michael Murphy, with Mick Barnett helming the dinghy. On shore, everyone tried to track them in the impenetrable darkness. Lamps were waved back and forth and names called … no sign. The only noise above the wind was the sound of children crying on the rafted yachts.

A horror began to insinuate itself into the minds of the watchers. As their senses verged on the possibility of loss, familiar voices suddenly boomed from the darkness. The little outboard engine had finally given up the ghost and the dinghy had been driven into the shingle beach in the Acres. The short walk, the hugs and laughter brought blessed relief.

The wind dropped off gradually about 4am and as the early dawn rose, both sailors and fisherman met in the metallic light to witness the havoc, only then to learn the fate of those who had encountered the demon in the night.

Patrick O’Reilly has also shared his memories of that fateful night in August 1979:

I was a 10-year-old with my late father, Barry O’Reilly — ex-Dragon sailor and ex-Tritsch-Trasch of Howth — as well as Dr Maurice O’Keeffe, Arabella O’Keeffe and Morgan Sheehy, all of Kinsale, when we left Schull Harbour on August 13th, 1979. We were on Flor O’Dowd’s beautiful 35ft ketch, with Maurice O’Keeffe at the helm.

All day, the sea state at the Fastnet was oily and sloppy. Sitting around at the Fastnet for the day caused almost all of us sea sickness which, as I remember, was fully cured by Campbell’s tomato soup and white sliced pan from O’Dowd’s bakery in Kinsale.

We saw both Ted Turner’s Tenacious and Bob Bell’s Condor round the Fastnet. My 10-year-old self definitely got a triumphal wave from Turner, the ‘mouth of the south’.

I remember well the change in weather around dusk. We surfed the following sea to the mouth of Schull Harbour. We must have got in to the harbour earlier than Flicka as we did not have the same screaming wind that they had and got ashore without incident.

That night we stayed in the East End Hotel. The hotel had the VHF wired to a tannoy, which broascast the drama of Ted Crosbie (was he sailing a Sadlier?) in Long Island Sound and indeed that of others. It was both real and surreal at the same time...

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August 3rd's Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes is shaping up to have more Irish interest than the landmark turning point with eight Irish-flagged boats in the 26-nation race and Irish sailors also registered as competing on boats across the record fleet.

As Afloat reported earlier, this is a significant year, not only for the record 400-boat fleet taking part in the world's biggest offshore race but it marks the 40th anniversary of the 1979 race.

As well as Conor Fogerty's foiling Figaro 3 Raw, from Howth and Keith Miller's Andante, a Yamaha 36 from Wexford, boats with Irish flags include the much campaigned Dehler 34 Big Deal by father and Son duo Derek and Conor Dillon from Foynes Yacht Club.

Big Deal Dehler 0729Derek and Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal from Foynes Yacht Club Photo: Afloat

Ronan O'Siochru's Dun Laoghaire Marina-based Irish Offshore Sailing School will have two entries Desert Star and Sherkin, both Sunfast 37s.

Ronan O Siuchru 3608Ronan O Siuchru from Irish Offshore Sailing Photo: Afloat

Irish Offshore Sailing 2724Irish Offshore Sailing School will have two Sunfast 37s racing. Photo: Afloat

Cian McCarthy's Eos from Kinsale, James Crockatt's Irish-flagged A35 Jump 'n' Shout and Brendan Coghlan's Dun Laoghaire-based Sunfast 3600 YoYo.

Yoyo Brendan Coghlan 2237Brendan Coghlan's Sunfast 3600 YoYo Photo: Afloat

As Afloat previously reported, a special service at Holy Trinity, Cowes will be held the night before the race.

Irish Sailors in the Fastnet Race

Irish sailors are also competing on the following boats (from the crew lists so far): Venomous, Mardy Gras, Polished Manx II, Catzero, Simples, Lucky, Rho, Galahad of Cowes, Finnish Line, Lutine, Juno, Andante, Sunset, Eos, Rock Lobster, Yoyo, Jengu, Alcibiades III, Rum N Cork II and Jackhammer.

Jackkhammer J125 2464The Welsh ISORA competitor Jackhammer will have Irish crew onboard for the Fastnet Race Photo: Afloat

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County Wexford suckler and tillage farmer Keith Miller is as at home on the water as he is in the fields. Hailing from the Kilmore Quay Boat Club and with 30 years' service with the Rosslare Harbour Lifeboat, this will be Keith's first time doing the Rolex Fastnet Race although he has competed in the last two editions of the Round Ireland Race. He had only just bought the boat in 2015 when he started planning the first race in 2016, competing with his two daughters.

On the Fastnet: "The preparations alone are quite a challenge", says Keith. "After that, we feel the biggest challenges will be how to make best use of the tides at the headlands along the English south coast. The race has such a legendary history, it is a challenge every sailor dreams of and not for the faint-hearted."

Keith's crew is drawn from other local sailors from Ireland including a fellow lifeboat crewman and station mechanic, a secondary school teacher, a retired teacher, an engineer and his daughter Beth, who at 15 was the youngest Round Ireland Race competitor in 2018.

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The atmosphere in Cowes in the days leading up to the start of the Fastnet Race inevitably provides a heightening sense of anticipation and tension writes W M Nixon. And for 2019’s race on Saturday, August 3rd, there is an added intensity of emotion, as it marks the 40th Anniversary of the storm-struck race of 1979 which resulted in a total of 19 deaths.

In solemn acknowledgement of this, and in memory of those lost – some of whose former shipmates will be sailing in this year’s race – a special 40th Anniversary Service will be held the evening before the race in the “Sailors’ Church” in Cowes, Holy Trinity Parish Church, which overlooks the Royal Yacht Squadron starting line from which the Fastnet fleet traditionally starts its race westward.

squadron castle holy trinity2The Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes with Holy Trinity Church beyond

To be held on Friday, August 2nd at 1800 hrs, the service will be in the church which has the Memorial to those lost in August 1979, while there’s another Memorial Stone on Cape Clear Island, the nearest land to the Fastnet Rock itself.

There will be other memorial ceremonies in Baltimore and West Cork. But it’s highly appropriate that the sequence of remembering and honouring those lost should begin where this fateful event, which they had so keenly anticipated as a great sea adventure, finally got underway in the time-honoured flurry of excitement forty long years ago.

fastnet memorial3The 1979 Fastnet memorial in Holy Trinity. David Sheahan and Gerald Winks – lost from the Half Tonner Grimalkin – were both originally from Ireland
Fastnet cape clear memorial4The Cape Clear Memorial stone is an eloquent reminder that the nearby Fastnet Rock is very much of West Cork

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Howth Yacht Club’s Laura Dillon is among six women profiled by the Royal Ocean Racing Club ahead of their participation in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

While crew lists for August’s race are not yet finalised, at present just over 10% of those competing in the biennial voyage will be women — more than double the rate of races in the 1990s.

The RORC cites role models such as Tracy Edwards, Ellen MacArthur and Dee Caffari as a reason for this increase in female participation — but notes that opportunities for women at all levels to go sailing are increasing “too slowly”.

For 40-year-old Laura Dillon, it was a high competitive drive from a young age that saw her progress from dinghies to 1720 Sportsboats to Beneteau Firsts in both the Round Ireland and Fastnet races.

This year she swaps the helm of Harry J Heijst’s S&S 41, Winsome, for a place on the four-strong crew of Conor Fogerty’s Figaro Beneteau 3, Raw — one of only three of the new offshore class in the race.

She observes that women’s participation in the Fastnet as enjoyed a considerable step up in the last generation — but says there is a direct parallel with women’s positions in the business world, and believes it will take another generation yet before their numbers increase substantially.

The Rolex Fastnet Race website has much more on this story HERE.

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While the main kudos in the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from class wins or ultimately the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall IRC winner, who will simply be first home to Plymouth often turns into an engaging, heavyweight bout.

Among the monohull contenders this year, in one corner is the Hong Kong newcomer, Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag, skippered by Australian David Witt with a crew featuring many of the sailors from their Volvo Ocean Race campaign.

In the other is George David’s familiar Juan K-designed Rambler 88, a boat that has been tweaked to within an inch of its life by its fastidious crew including many former Team New Zealand America’s Cup heroes.

For Scallywag, the Rolex Fastnet Race will be one of the pinnacles amid a major trophy-hunting season that kicks off in the Caribbean at Antigua Sailing Week and follows with the Antigua Bermuda Race, and then the historic Transatlantic Race 2019 from Newport, RI to Cowes via the Lizard. Post-Fastnet, Scallywag heads for the Med.

Part of Scallywag has enjoyed previous success in the Rolex Fastnet Race – her foredeck and some of her frames come from Charles St Clair Brown and Bill Buckley’s Maximus, line honours winner in 2005.

However, she was launched brand new for the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart as Ragamuffin 100 for Australian sailing legend Syd Fischer, who contributed to her design with Witt and naval architect Andy Dovell.

According to Witt, Scallywag — with a beam of 5.8m — falls between the slender multiple Hobart winner Wild Oats XI (5.1m beam) and the powerful Comanche (8m beam), the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race line honours victor.

“We are the lightest 100 footer with the most sail area,” says Witt. The boat has a keel that cants to plus or minus 45 degrees, twin daggerboards and starts the season with a new boom.

Seng Huang Lee will be on board for the Rolex Fastnet Race. “His main goal with this boat is to win as many Rolex events as he can this year with the main emphasis being the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart,” explains Witt, who personally has sailed the Fastnet many times including on the Grand Mistral/Maxi One Designs, Nicorette and on Knut Frostad’s VO70 Innovation Kvaerner.

Witt says he finds the Fastnet Race more challenging tactically than the annual race to Hobart: “It is around a rock, so it gives the chance to sail the boat in a different range of conditions. The Hobart race has been mostly straight downwind in recent editions.”

As to how they will get on against Rambler 88, the last time the two boats met in the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart, it was close: the longer Scallywag (then Ragamuffin 100) gained the upper hand at the finish line to win by just over four minutes.

“I’d hope we’re faster, but you never know,” says Witt. “We have only raced Rambler 88 once before and we got the better of them. But it’ll depend on far we have both come with our development.”

“GeorgeGeorge David’s Juan K-designed Rambler 88

One of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s most faithful combinations, George David and Rambler 88, returns for a fifth time in the hope of achieving a result they deserve finally.

As David states: “Too often we have been bridesmaid, which could be what brings us back along with the great traditions and scenery of this classic race.”

And this is despite David coming close to losing his life when in 2011 his Rambler 100 lost its keel and capsized after rounding the Fastnet Rock, leaving him in the water drifting away from the boat.

In that race David says they were on track to break the record, which ultimately went to the Ian Walker-skippered VO70, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, with a time of 1d 18h 39m 00s — the present monohull race record — while Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard set the Maxi record of 1d 20h 09m 47s.

Recent races’ conditions haven’t favoured big boats on handicap. In 2003 Charles Dunstone came close to claiming ‘the double’ (ie line and handicap honours) with his Reichel Pugh 76 Nokia but was beaten across the line by Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo 1. The last boat to score the double was Ludde Ingvall and his Maxi Nicorette in 1995.

Even rarer are the ‘triples’ — line and handicap honours plus the race record. Wild Oats XI managed it twice (2005 and 2012) in the Rolex Sydney Hobart and George David and Rambler have also enjoyed it in other races, notably the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2007 (with a record that still stands), the 2016 Volvo Round Ireland Race and in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600.

“This has to be the goal for us in this year’s Rolex Fastnet although – as always – the weather needs to co-operate,” states David. “Big breeze should give us the edge against Scallywag and conversely lighter breeze won’t.”

This is the assessment too of Rambler 88’s eminent tactician Brad Butterworth: “Scallywag is a pretty fast boat – it has got a lot of sail area and a lot of stability. If it is a predominantly light to moderate air race it will be difficult to keep up with those guys, but if the breeze gets up and it gets sporty, we’ll have a chance. In 18 knots or more, we start to perform much the same as them.”

Rambler 88 goes into its fourth season highly refined, benefitting from several keel modifications and an ever-evolving sail wardrobe. “It has got better and better. Now it is going to its maximum,” states Butterworth. New for this season is a slightly lighter mast and a deeper keel.

And while this might seem to be a match race, a possible re-enactment of Rambler 88’s battle with Comanche in 2015, there are still other prospects. If conditions are brisk, how far behind them would a foiling IMOCA 60 like Jérémie Beyou’s Charal be?

For more details visit the Rolex Fastnet Race website HERE.

Published in Fastnet

One of the largest fleets of IMOCA 60s ever gathered is due to set off on the Rolex Fastnet Race on Saturday, 3rd August. 29 of the boats, best known for their use in the Vendée Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race, will assemble on the Cowes start line of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event to take part in the biennial voyage to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock - 26 competing in the IMOCA class, another three in the main IRC fleet.

This line-up is the third biggest in IMOCA history, after the 2016-17 and 2008-09 Vendée Globes, and is due to the Rolex Fastnet Race being a qualifier for the next Vendée Globe.

"However," adds Antoine Mermod, President of IMOCA, "the race means a lot and is important to French sailors because it is so historic. It also has a very nice course."

The IMOCA class is also now under the microscope internationally after its selection as one of the two classes for the next Ocean Race (ex-Volvo Ocean Race).

Newer IMOCA 60s incorporate the latest foiling technology. This has transformed their performance, reducing displacement and drag thanks to their foils partly, or at times fully, elevating them from the water. Since the last Vendée Globe in 2016-17 when this technology featured on a few top boats, second-generation foils are being fitted to the latest launches.

"At the best angle and boat speed the foils give a 15% jump in performance - it's huge," explains Mermod. "You sail at 13 knots and then when you start foiling the speed jumps to 18. You never do 15 knots!"

Eight new foilers are set to be on the start line of next year's Vendée Globe. Two are currently entered in the Rolex Fastnet Race - Jérémie Beyou's Charal, launched last year, and Sebastien Simon's Arkea-Paprec, a brand new design from Juan Kouyoumdjian, launching this June. Simon, the winner of last year's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, will be sailing with 2004-05 Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou, who also won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2015 aboard PRB. (PRB is also competing, but with new skipper Kevin Escoffier, who sailed Dongfeng Racing Team to victory in the last Volvo Ocean Race, alongside Jérémie Beyou).

Among the older foil-assisted boats are Bureau Vallée 2, formerly the 2016 Vendée Globe winner Banque Populaire, now skippered by Louis Burton. German skipper Boris Herrmann returns with Malizia (ex-Edmond de Rothschild), which he sailed to third place in the last Rolex Fastnet Race. Italian ex-Mini sailor Giancarlo Pedote has acquired the former St Michel Virbac previously campaigned by Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès.

Sam DaviesSam Davies will compete with past winner Paul Meilhat on Initiatives Coeur © Vincent Curutchet / Initiatives Coeur

Britain's Sam Davies is back on Initiatives Coeur (originally Michel Desjoyeaux's 2008-9 Vendée Globe winner Foncia), having taken over this campaign from Tanguy de Lamotte, with whom she claimed fourth place in the last Rolex Fastnet Race. This time Davies is sailing with Paul Meilhat, winner of last year's Route du Rhum and the last Rolex Fastnet Race.

With the next Vendée Globe now 18 months away, many skippers have acquired boats that are new to them and are using this season to get acquainted.

Having sold their 2016-17 Vendée Globe winning IMOCA 60 to Louis Burton, Banque Populaire is back in the class having acquired the former MACIF/SMA, originally Francois Gabart's 2012-13 Vendée Globe winner. For their latest programme they have recruited 29-year-old Clarisse Crémer, following her second place in the 2017 Mini-Transat La Boulangère's Series class. On board for the Fastnet race with Crémer will be the team's principal skipper, 2016-17 Vendée Globe winner Armel le Cleac'h, as he awaits the launch of his new replacement Ultime maxi-trimaran.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Rolex Fastnet Race's mighty IMOCA line-up are the seven female skippers, three British. In addition to Sam Davies is former Mini sailor Pip Hare, who has acquired Superbigou, the boat on which Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm won the 2002-3 Around Alone and subsequent 2006-7 Velux 5 Oceans solo round the world races.

Miranda Merron makes a welcome return to the IMOCA 60 after a long tenure in the Class40 with her latest Campagne de France - the former Temenos/Great American IV. Of the Rolex Fastnet Race she says: "I have been around the Fastnet Rock countless times in the RORC's races or otherwise, but it is still the same mythical place with the amazing lighthouse. It is always a pleasure to round it." She is racing with her partner and IMOCA coach, French offshore sailing legend Halvard Mabire.

Other female skippers competing are Ireland's Joan Mulloy, on Mike Golding's former Gamesa, France's Alexia Barrier on 4myplanet and Franco-German skipper Isabelle Joschke on MACSF.

While it is not yet as internationally diverse as the Class40, still ten different countries are represented including two from Scandinavia: Norway's Oliver Korte on Galactic Viking (ex-Solidaire) in the IRC fleet and Finland's Ari Huusela on Ariel 2 (previously Dee Caffari's Aviva/GAES).

Eleven of the last Vendée Globe's 29 skippers (albeit only five finishers) will be racing in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. Since that race several have graduated up: Swiss skipper Alan Roura (who sailed Pip Hare's boat to 12th place) now has Marc Guillemot's Safran while French skipper Fabrice Amedeo, who came home 11th, has acquired Pieter Heerema's No Way Back, a first generation foiler from the last race, rechristened Newrest - Art & Fenêtres.

As a genre IMOCA 60s date back to the early 1980s when it evolved in singlehanded oceanic races such as the BOC Challenge and OSTAR, however their development accelerated once they were adopted for the first Vendée Globe in 1989. A piece of IMOCA history is taking part in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race in the IRC fleet, with Jean-Marie Patier's Le Cigare Rouge, the narrow lightweight yawl that was runner-up in the second Vendée Globe in the hands of Jean-Luc van den Heede, winner of the recent Golden Globe Race.

Several boats are entered from the 2000 Vendée Globe, the race in which Dame Ellen MacArthur memorably fought Michel Desjoyeaux for the lead all the way up the Atlantic. Most notable of these is Alexia Barrier's 4myplanet, which in the hands of original owner Catherine Chabaud, won the Fastnet Challenge Cup outright under handicap 20 years ago.

For more information go to the Rolex Fastnet Race minisite here

Published in Fastnet

The most impressive collection of offshore racing hardware from across the globe is set to gather off Cowes for the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race on 3 August writes James Boyd.

Following the 340 available places in the IRC fleet selling out in just four minutes and 37 seconds when entry opened on 7th January, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, organisers of this, the world's largest offshore yacht race, has provided a sneak preview of the 2019 line-up.

While the bulk of the fleet remains the IRC entries, competing for both their class titles as well as the overall Fastnet Challenge Cup, 2019 will see an unprecedented entry of 'non-IRC' boats, the majority from France. Entered at present are 25 Class40s (plus two more in the IRC fleet). There are also set to be a handful of Ultimes. At 100ft long, these maxi trimarans are the world's largest and fastest offshore race boats.

The present race record for the Rolex Fastnet Race was set in 2011 by the 130ft trimaran Banque Populaire V, skippered by Loïck Peyron, in a time of 32 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 18.5 knots. While shorter, any of the new generation Ultimes is capable of bettering this time.

The Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes an unusually large number of British female skippers taking part, among them Initiatives Coeur's Sam Davies and former Mini and Class40 sailor Pip Hare.

In sheer numbers the IRC fleet should once again be huge. At present the maximum entries has been comfortably exceeded although the exact number making it to the start will fluctuate due to circumstances, not least the requirement to comply with the RORC's race qualification requirements.

In the fight for monohull line honours, leading the charge should be the Hong Kong entry, Scallywag 100, skippered by David Witt (from the team that competed in the last Volvo Ocean Race). But she will face stiff competition from the highly refined Rambler 88 of American George David, the Fastnet Race's 2017 monohull line honours winner, and Ludde Ingvall's CQS.

Among the fleet are many past winners. This includes the reigning Rolex Fastnet Race champion, Didier Gaudoux, who returns with his faithful JND 39 Lann Ael 2. Conversely, returning with yet another new boat is 2015 winner and race veteran Géry Trentesaux, back this time on the bigger version of his victorious Courrier Du Leon, the JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommande. Given that French boats have won the last three editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race outright, it is no surprise that after the UK, French boats are second largest entry this year - with 58 in the IRC fleet, plus an additional 35 or so in the non-IRC classes.

At present class splits are a long way off being decided, but it is these classes themselves, and not the overall prize, that provide the most serious competition within the Rolex Fastnet Race. However already identifiable are groups of similar boats, due to have exceptional competition on the biennial 605 mile race from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock.

Before France's domination of the race, the race was twice won (in 2009 and 2011) by Niklas Zennström's Rán II. Mini Maxis and Maxi 72s are well represented again this year with Rán II back as Peter Harrison's Sorcha. She will be up against Bryon Ehrhart's Lucky (formerly the Rolex Maxi 72 World Champion Bella Mente) and Sir Peter Ogden's elongated former Maxi 72 Jethou.

Ex-Volvo Ocean Race boats are well represented in six VO70s, including David and Peter Askew's Wizard, winner of this year's RORC Caribbean 600 and Johannes Schwarz' Green Dragon and E1, while there are two VO65s including Team Brunel. Former Brunel Synergy skipper from the 1996-97 round the world race, Hans Bouscholte, is sailing Boudragon, previously Laurie Smith's Silk Cut - one of five VO60s taking part.

Perhaps the most intense battle in the IRC fleet will be between the seven Cookson 50s, including the fastest - American Ron O'Hanley's Privateer. One example, Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain, claimed the Rolex Fastnet Race outright in 2007. Also to be watched in this size range are the TP52s - Outsider, Tala and Rockall V plus Frenchman Eric de Turckheim's Nivelt-Muratet 54 Teasing Machine, winner of the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race. The previous Teasing Machine, de Turckheim's Commodores' Cup-winning A13 is also competing now as Mark Emerson's Phosphorus II.

In the 40ft range there are five FAST40+ type boats - the Ker 40s, Keronimo and Ed Broadway's Hooligan, plus James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX, Ed Fishwick's GP42 Redshift and Stewart Whitehead's more contemporary Carkeek 40 Mk2, Rebellion.

The late Paul Heys would be proud of the giant J/Boats entry. These range from the J/133s, Yves Grosjean's Jivaro and Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine's Pintia, down to the four J/105s and the fifteen J/109s, spanning the RAF Sailing Association's Red Arrow (with an IRC TCC of 1.025), to Peter Rowe's Ju Kyu (on 1.003), via J/112s, J/120s and a large gaggle of J/122s.

Beneteau is also well represented with thirteen First 40s set to be on the start line and an additional eight First 40.7s. However, all eyes will be on the latest hardware from St Gilles Croix de Vie - the Figaro 3s, complete with their IMOCA 60-style foil packages. Three examples are entered including the Will Harris-skippered Hive Energy and from Ireland, Conor Fogerty's Raw.

Similarly, following their victories in the 2013 and 2015 races, there will be a strong JPK turn-out, including nine 10.10s (similar to the Pascal and Alexis Loisin's 2013 victor Night & Day) and five 10.80s (like Trentesaux's Courrier Du Leon).

The smallest boat race in this year's event will be between the trio of Contessa 32s, including Assent, campaigned by Simon Rogers of the Lymington-based Rogers clan that spawned the classic range.

A more complete pantheon of offshore race boats, you would be hard pressed to find anywhere, ever.

Published in Fastnet
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