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Conor Doyle’s Freya from Kinsale Flies the Flag for Ireland in Fastnet Race

4th August 2019
Conor Doyle’s handsome Xp 50 Freya from Kinsale (her crew including Olympic campaigner James Espey) was in the limelight as overall leader at one stage Conor Doyle’s handsome Xp 50 Freya from Kinsale (her crew including Olympic campaigner James Espey) was in the limelight as overall leader at one stage Photo: Afloat

With the leading Fastnet Race multihulls well round the Fastnet Rock this morning (fleet leader Gitana 17, the Ultime 32 aka Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, was first at the turn at 0633 BST) the bulk of the fleet are still struggling with calms and flukey headwinds in that tricky area off the southwest of England between the Lizard and Start Point writes W M Nixon

As the faster big boats have found - for not all the big boats have been fast - once you get past the Lizard, you begin to feel the benefit of an Atlantic southwest breeze, and though Gitana (as we apparently now have to call her) faced a few minutes of stoppage with her closest rival Macif in a freak calm calm patch northwest of the Isles of Scilly in the small hours, generally for the passage across the Celtic Sea they were looking at speeds at the top end of the 20-30 knot mark, and the Fastnet was ticked off more or less on schedule.

They are already well on their way to Plymouth, with Macif grabbing the lead around 0800 hrs. However, for the smaller multi-hulls and the enormous fleet of mono-hulls, only their leaders have got through the invisible barrier south of the Lizard.

But now some well-known names are beginning to come clearly to the fore past the Isle of Scilly as they strike out across the Celtic Sea on track for The Rock, with George David’s Rambler 88 looking set to take over the line honours lead from Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag from Hong Kong, a boat with a storied past – apparently at least some bits of her were once in one of legendary Australian Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffins.

However, at the moment the real story in the big mono-hull line honours battle is the excellent showing of David & Peter Askew’s Volvo Open 70 Wizard from America. She’s noted as a star performer on the west side of the Atlantic skippered by Charlie Enright, she won the Transatlantic Race in July, and now she has come as cleanly as possible through the slough of despond which is the current state of the sea areas south of Falmouth and Plymouth, and she’s right there on Rambler 88’s tail, third for line honours and currently leading IRC Overall.

Meanwhile back in the crowd which is still moving slowly while often turning to windward off the south coasts of Cornwall and Devon, with 390 boats under IRC rating and all placings up-dated by YellowBrick ever quarter of an hour, the continually-changing placings inevitably mean that many boats are going to have their Andy Warhol 15 Minutes of Fame.

One such was Conor Doyle’s handsome Xp 50 Freya from Kinsale (her crew including Olympic campaigner James Espey) which was in the limelight as overall leader at one stage of Class IRC 1A. She has currently slipped back to 11th OA in Class 1A but is in contention.

However, in Class 1 and 1A and indeed the fleet generally, the best Irish hope lies with Kenneth Rumball and Barry Hurley on the Swedish-owned Ker 40 Keronimo – they currently lie 19th overall in IRC, fifth in IRC1 and fourth in IRC1A, and while still to the southeast of the Lizard, they’re well placed and making steady progress in the spreading sou’west breeze.

Astern, however, the fleet is so tight-packed and struggling to make headway that scrolling back on the tracker is a bit like looking into a can of worms, but hopefully, by this afternoon they’ll all feeling a firmer workable breeze, and a leading wind from Land’s End to the Fastnet.

Yet it’s beginning to look like a big boat race. The sou’wester will freshen out in the Celtic Sea this afternoon to speed the leaders to the rock and back again, but then after the freshening has gone through, the expectation is of veering which may even provide some of the tailenders with a beat to the Fastnet.

Race Tracker & Leaderboard here

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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