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Fastnet Race 2019: Race to the Rock Shows Fair Wind Doesn’t Always Mean Fair Play

3rd August 2019
The 100ft Ultime 32 Maxi Edmond de Rothschild seems to have emerged unscathed from a close encounter with the Shingles Bank in the early stages of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019, despite all those vulnerable appendages The 100ft Ultime 32 Maxi Edmond de Rothschild seems to have emerged unscathed from a close encounter with the Shingles Bank in the early stages of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019, despite all those vulnerable appendages

For most sailors a fair wind from well aft of the beam is welcome. But if you happen to be a 100ft trimaran which three hours ago was registering 38 knots on a beam reach, the fact that the wind is now drawing from astern is bad news writes W M Nixon.

It was no surprise when the four Ultime 32s from France led the Fastnet Race fleet out of the Solent early this afternoon in a south to southeast breeze. They’d been first away with their start at 1230 to keep them clear of everyone else, and even in the Solent they’d been pushing towards 20 knots. Out in the Channel with a fine commanding southerly breeze on the beam, the fastest were showing bursts of 38 knots, including Maxi Edmond de Rothschild which seems to have recovered from the indignity of briefly kissing the Shingles Bank – not something to be encouraged when you come complete with all sorts of fancy appendages such as foils of various kinds.

But having hurtled away towards the western horizon, as they closed in towards the coast of Devon the wind may have stayed with them, but it backed into the east. Thus instead of making good progress on the direct line, they’d to resort to tacking to lee to maintain best VMG, yet for smaller slower boats which were hitting hull speed while dead running, the easterly breeze was just grand.

If the Ultime 32s can get themselves clear to the west of the Lizard Point this evening, they should begin to enjoy a worthwhile south to southwest wind which is forecast to settle in over the area between Land’s End and the Fastnet across the mouth of the Celtic Sea, and that will bring them to their rounding of The Rock tomorrow morning as predicted here, but the weather system is unstable, and the low pressure area settling over Ireland is distinctly anaemic.

Meanwhile, in the enormous and now spread out fleet, overall it seems that the ever-reliable products of the JPK workshops in Lorient continue to do the business – at the most recent check-in, former Fastnet winner and general sailing superstar Gery Trentesaux of France was vying for the overall lead on IRC with the JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommande against the JPK 10.80 Dream Pearls, with another JPK 10.80 also in the hunt. However, with a fleet this size at such an early stage of the race, the position changes by the minute.

Of the boats of Irish interest, the Swan 36 Finola with Graham Curran on board was 18th overall – only a matter of minutes behind the leader – while the Swedish Ker 40 Keronimo with Kenneth Rumball and Barry Hurley on the strength was waiting to pounce at 21st overall.

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Published in Fastnet
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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The Rolex Fastnet Race - This biennial offshore pilgrimage 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 is in Plymouth, Devon 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 Plymouth. The lighthouse first shone its light on New Year’s Day in 1854
  • Fastnet Rock originally had six keepers (now unmanned), with four on the rock at a time with the other two on leave. Each man did four weeks on, two weeks off

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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