The “Wimbledon Effect” is pretty well complete with the Rolex Fastnet Race generally, and with the 2019 event, in particular, writes W M Nixon. As with Wimbledon tennis itself, the English organize a jolly good event with this classic offshore challenge, though in the case of the Fastnet Race it’s with a little help from the Irish and our very useful rock, not to mention our weather - and welcome to it.
But in the end, all the main prizes have gone abroad, in the Fastnet Race’s case either across the Channel or across the Atlantic. They certainly haven’t come to Ireland. And yet it’s only a dozen years since Ger O’Rourke of Kilrush was totally triumphant every which way in winning overall with his Cookson 50 Chieftain.
"All the main prizes have gone abroad, in the Fastnet Race’s case either across the Channel or across the Atlantic"
Our only last hope is with the Roger Justice Trophy for the best sailing school boat, and our two contenders in this – both from Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire - are at the time of writing still racing, with the Sun Fast 37 Sherkin 2, skippered by Daniel Smith, slightly ahead of his boss Ronan O Siochru sailing sister-ship Desert Star, both with around 37 miles to go to the finish at Plymouth, and both sailing at 6.3 knots.
Meanwhile, the rest of the results are more than clearcut in their message for Irish and UK sailors:
American boat first to finish? Check. It’s George David’s Rambler88.
American boat first overall on IRC? Check. It’s Peter and Dave Askew’s former Volvo 70 Wizard, skippered by Charlie Enright.
French boats dominating most of the other classes? Check. Here’s the Roll of Honour of French boats in the top three in all classes:
Class 0: 2nd Bretagne Telecom (French-designed and built Mach 45)
Class 1: 1st L’Ange de Milon (Milon 41), 2nd Lann Ael (Jnd39, overall winner in 2017, 3rd Tonnere de Glen
Class 2: lst Courrier Recommende (JPK 11.80), 2nd Nutmeg Solidaire En Peleton (MC34)
Class 3: 1st Leon (JPK 10.30), 3rd Dream Pearls (JPK 10.80)
Class 4: 1st Foggy Dew (JPK 10.10), 2nd Gioia (JPK 10.10), 3rd Sun Hill 3.
IRC Two-handed: 1st Leon (JPK 10.30), 3rd Raging-bee (JPK 10.80).
MOCRA: 1st Guyader Gastronomie
Open Multihull: 1st Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (Gitana XVII), 2nd Macif, 3rd Sodebo Ultim
IMOCA 60: 1st Charal, 2nd Prb, 3rd Banque Populaire
Class40: 1st Lamotte-Module Creation, 2nd Beijaflore, 3rd Earendi.
We can draw all sorts of conclusions from this, but if you think it must be something to do with a rigidly-controlled society, perish the thought. On the contrary, it seems to be the result of a society of hugely individualistic people who - in the case of sailing and particularly offshore racing – share a desire to create innovative boats and race them in the most skilled possible way.
The classic case in point is Jean-Pierre Kelbert, creator of the JPK range of successful offshore racers which really do perform as good and comfortable cruisers as well. In industry terms, his company is small. But with the Rolex Fastnet Race, JPK Yachts is global in its impact, and we can only hope some venture company doesn’t somehow get its mitts into it and spoil the magic with excessive expansion.
As it happens, the company’s successful boats are the saving of it. If you have a JPK yacht, you have absolutely no excuse for not winning. By buying one, you’re either going to race determinedly, or cruise far and wide with style. There’s no place for limp performance with a JPK. There’s no point in everyone trying to have a JPK.
The man himself seems to be super-human in his energy and enthusiasm, yet modest with it. He came to sailing through wind-surfing in which he was European champion in 1988 and 1999. But by the turn of the millennium, he was thinking about proper boats and found a kindred soul in designer Jacques Valeur, who designed the first JPK boat when the firm started in 2002, and continues to design a balanced range of performance boats in which the JPK 10.30 – introduced in April this year – is at one end and the JPK 45 – a lift-keel fast cruiser – is at the other.
Even today, Jean-Pierre Kelbert seems to be very personally involved in a direct hands-on way with every boat which his small but select workforce creates. But his enthusiasm doesn’t stop there, for he still relishes sailing.
Thus we watched with interest as the new JPK 10.30 Leon started in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019 racing in both the Two-Handed Division and Class 3. And as she appeared with more regularity at the front of both fleets, we wondered who might be sailing her. It was the man himself, no less, sailing with Alexis Loison.
They just went better and better, putting in a stellar performance on the fast leg from the Fastnet to the Bishop, and at the finish not only had they stayed in front to win the Two-Handed Division and Class 3, but they shot up to sixth overall just behind Gery Trentesaux in the JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommande, and otherwise surrounded by much bigger boats.
Monsieur Jean-Pierre Kelbert, we salute you. Meanwhile, here’s a vid of George David’s Rambler 88 doing great things at the other end of the size scale: