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Fastnet Race: Passion & Power In IRC Three & Four

26th July 2019
Marc Alperovitch’s JPK 10.80 Timeline Marc Alperovitch’s JPK 10.80 Timeline Photo: Rick Tomlinson

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.”

Published in Fastnet
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RORC Fastnet Race

This race is both a blue riband international yachting fixture and a biennial offshore pilgrimage that attracts crews from all walks of life:- from aspiring sailors to professional crews; all ages and all professions. Some are racing for charity, others for a personal challenge.

For the world's top professional sailors, it is a 'must-do' race. For some, it will be their first-ever race, and for others, something they have competed in for over 50 years! The race attracts the most diverse fleet of yachts, from beautiful classic yachts to some of the fastest racing machines on the planet – and everything in between.

The testing course passes eight famous landmarks along the route: The Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, the Lizard, Land’s End, the Fastnet Rock, Bishop’s Rock off the Scillies and Plymouth breakwater (now Cherbourg for 2021 and 2023). After the start in Cowes, the fleet heads westward down The Solent, before exiting into the English Channel at Hurst Castle. The finish for 2021 is in Cherbourg via the Fastnet Rock, off the southern tip of Ireland.

  • The leg across the Celtic Sea to (and from) the Fastnet Rock is known to be unpredictable and challenging. The competitors are exposed to fast-moving Atlantic weather systems and the fleet often encounter tough conditions
  • Flawless decision-making, determination and total commitment are the essential requirements. Crews have to manage and anticipate the changing tidal and meteorological conditions imposed by the complex course
  • The symbol of the race is the Fastnet Rock, located off the southern coast of Ireland. Also known as the Teardrop of Ireland, the Rock marks an evocative turning point in the challenging race
  • Once sailors reach the Fastnet Rock, they are well over halfway to the finish in Cherbourg.

Fastnet Race - FAQs

The 49th edition of the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race will start from the Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes, UK on Sunday 8th August 2021.

The next two editions of the race in 2021 and 2023 will finish in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin at the head of the Normandy peninsula, France

Over 300. A record fleet is once again anticipated for the world's largest offshore yacht race.

The international fleet attracts both enthusiastic amateur, the seasoned offshore racer, as well as out-and-out professionals from all corners of the world.

Boats of all shapes, sizes and age take part in this historic race, from 9m-34m (30-110ft) – and everything in between.

The Fastnet Race multihull course record is: 1 day 4 hours 2 minutes and 26 seconds (2019, Ultim Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier)

The Fastnet Race monohull course record is: 1 day, 18 hours, 39 minutes (2011, Volvo 70, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing).

David and Peter Askew's American VO70 Wizard won the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, claiming the Fastnet Challenge Cup for 1st in IRC Overall.

Rolex SA has been a longstanding sponsor of the race since 2001.

The first race was in 1925 with 7 boats. The Royal Ocean Racing Club was set up as a result.

The winner of the first Fastnet Race was the former pilot cutter Jolie Brise, a boat that is still sailing today.

Cork sailor Henry P F Donegan (1870-1940), who gave his total support for the Fastnet Race from its inception in 1925 and competed in the inaugural race in his 43ft cutter Gull from Cork.

Ireland has won the Fastnet Race twice. In 1987 the Dubois 40 Irish Independent won the Fastnet Race overall for the first time and then in 2007 – all of twenty years after Irish Independent’s win – Ireland secured the overall win again this time thanks to Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain from the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland in Kilrush.

©Afloat 2020

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Fastnet Race 2021 Date

The 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race will start on Sunday 8th August 2021.

At A Glance – Fastnet Race

  • The world's largest offshore yacht race
  • The biennial race is 605 nautical miles - Cowes, Fastnet Rock, Plymouth
  • A fleet of over 400 yachts regularly will take part
  • The international fleet is made up of over 26 countries
  • Multihull course record: 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes (2011, Banque Populaire V)
  • Monohull course record: 1 day, 18 hours, 39 minutes (2011, Volvo 70, Abu Dhabi)
  • Largest IRC Rated boat is the 100ft (30.48m) Scallywag 100 (HKG)
  • Some of the Smallest boats in the fleet are 30 footers
  • Rolex SA has been a longstanding sponsor of the race since 2001
  • The first race was in 1925 with 7 boats. The Royal Ocean Racing Club was set up as a result

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