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Navigating the New 2021 Fastnet Race Course – More Reaching & a New Roll of the Dice

16th September 2020
The new course from Cowes to Cherbourg via the Fastnet Rock will see new challenges for navigators and crews in next year's 695 nm Rolex Fastnet Race The new course from Cowes to Cherbourg via the Fastnet Rock will see new challenges for navigators and crews in next year's 695 nm Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo

Moving to Cherbourg for the finish of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event, the Rolex Fastnet Race next year will see navigators and crews facing a few significant new challenges writes James Boyd

Firstly the new course is 90 miles (or 15%) longer, making it 695 miles, based on the shortest route. Of this the first 500 miles (or 72%) of the course remains unchanged - setting off from the Royal Yacht Squadron line on Sunday 8 August 2021; heading southwest down the English south coast, negotiating Anvil Point, Portland Bill, Start Point and the Lizard en route, before the vital decision over which side to pass the Traffic Separation Scheme exclusion zone off Land's End. Then there are the open ocean crossings to the Fastnet Rock and back to Bishop Rock, southwest of the Scilly Isles.

The long final leg to Cherbourg adds 90 miles to the course and is more open, but concluded with the crossing of the Alderney RaceThe long final leg to Cherbourg adds 90 miles to the course and is more open, but concluded with the crossing of the Alderney Race. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian Moore

From here the course changes marginally. From Bishop Rock, it is possible to lay directly Cape de la Hague, the northwesternmost headland of the Cotentin Peninsula, before making the final slight starboard turn for the last 10 miles to the finish line within Cherbourg's harbour. The new course from Bishop Rock is 91°M, compared to 83° to the Lizard, however, the added distance to Cherbourg may affect the make-up of the race overall.

While the race requires an all-round boat, the new course remains predominantly windward-leeward, albeit more downwind. Credit: Ian MooreWhile the race requires an all-round boat, the new course remains predominantly windward-leeward, albeit more downwind. Credit: Ian Moore

More significant will be the final roll of the dice: how best to tackle one of Europe most powerful tidal gates - the Alderney Race, between Alderney and Cape de la Hague. "This is now the biggest tidal gate of the race," states Moore. "It is strongest off Cape de la Hague, through the Swinge (between Alderney and Burhou, northwest of Alderney) and off the eastern Alderney shore. The tidal effect also covers a much larger area than it does off Portland Bill. There will be winners and losers here and it will be hard to get right."

The Alderney Race’s effect will also be increased after start day’s new moon, with finishers into Cherbourg expecting during a period with a very high tidal coefficient (86-89). The good news is that the Alderney Race runs slightly faster in the fair northerly-northeasterly direction than it does when it is foul. Moore says that navigators will be keenly anticipating their arrival time at the Alderney Race. If it is when it is unfavourable then they try to gain tidal relief by leaving Alderney to port or, more dramatic still, sidestepping the Alderney Race altogether by approaching Cherbourg from the north. This latter route is made less attractive due to the location of the Casquets TSS exclusion zone that forces boats to stay south, unless they wish to round its north side, requiring them to sail 11 additional miles.

Those lucky enough to arrive at the Alderney Race in fair tide can expect a 4-6 knot boost to their speed. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian MooreThose lucky enough to arrive at the Alderney Race in fair tide can expect a 4-6 knot boost to their speed. Credit: Expedition Navigation Software & thanks to Ian Moore

UK-based Kiwi navigator Campbell Field was part of the overall winning crew on the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race on Charles Dunstone’s maxi Nokia and last year was on the top British finisher under IRC, David Collins’ modified TP52 Tala.

His assessment of the new course is similar to that of Ian Moore: “If you look at the prevailing conditions you could expect on an average year with southwesterlies, it will shift the proportions of the race – if it was predominantly upwind and tight reaching and around one third was broad reaching and running - it will flip those proportions. So there will be more open angle sailing. Also the majority of the race will now be post-Fastnet Rock rather than before it. With more downwind, it could well favour the broad reaching/downwind machines that can plane.”

As to the new long final leg between Bishop Rock to the finish, Field observes that while the old course used to be mostly a coastal race, the route to Cherbourg is much more open. “That’s good because there will be weather changes over that period.”

As to the Alderney Race, Field adds: “It is just another obstacle to negotiate, no different to the other tidal gates, but it is something that’ll have to be analysed coming back from the Fastnet. It will be time dependent and if your timing is stacking up to be an hour before or after the tidal gate, that could have a major impact on your race whereas if you get there in the middle of the flow, your strategy is pretty much dictated to you: Get in it and crack on or avoid it! It just adds another interesting navigational dynamic, a new dimension, to the race. I enjoy doing races like the Fastnet because you have constant stimulation...”

 Cherbourg will host the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race for the first time next August. Online entries open in January 2021. © Marc Lerouge Cherbourg will host the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race for the first time next August. Online entries open in January 2021. © Marc Lerouge

The new finish in Cherbourg is due to the joint co-operation of the City of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the Communauté d’agglomération du Cotentin, the Conseil départemental de la Manche and Région Normandie with the RORC. While French boats have dominated recent editions of Rolex Fastnet Race, good knowledge especially of the Alderney Race (or Raz Blanchard as it is known locally) is certain to benefit local residents. One is the 2013 winner, Alexis Loisin, who warns: “Raz Blanchard - there is a lot of current there and maybe the gate there will be open or closed, so you will certainly be able to win or lose the race in the last hours. Your timing must be good – so it is good to have Rolex as a sponsor!”

As Afloat reported previously, Carrickfergus navigator Ian Moore gave an overview of the new course on youtube here

Published in Fastnet
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Fastnet Yacht 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 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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