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Record Fastnet Race Challenge Taken Up By Ten Irish Boats

21st January 2021
Paul O'Higgins' champion JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI in action off the West Cork coast in Calves Week. She has raced round or past the Fastnet Rock several times in other events, but this year the star Dun Laoghaire boat will be doing the Rolex Fastnet Race itself for the first time Paul O'Higgins' champion JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI in action off the West Cork coast in Calves Week. She has raced round or past the Fastnet Rock several times in other events, but this year the star Dun Laoghaire boat will be doing the Rolex Fastnet Race itself for the first time Credit: Robert Bateman

If anyone in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's suite of race offices was bothered by the thought that the 2021 change of course in the club's core event, the biennial Fastnet Race, was going to have a detrimental effect on entries, they didn't show it. And there was no need to worry, for within an hour of the list's electronic opening, it was already banging up against the 400-boat ceiling.

For of course as the club has rightly discerned, the USP about the whole business is the epic quality in the experience of rounding the Fastnet Rock itself. Certainly, the start in the Solent is quite something as a crowd control exercise. But it seems the one-boat-at-a-time nature of the finish means that participants are easily swayed by the appeal of more extensive shore facilities offered at the new finish at Cherbourg, rather than the traditional but limited waterfront at Plymouth.

Be that as it may, as the starting sequence gets going – pandemic permitting - on the morning of Sunday, August 8th, there'll be at least 400 boats shaping up with varying degrees of nervousness for their place in the choreography as the ebb begins to run west, and among them will be at least ten Irish boats.

Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right.At least they'll know what it looks like…..Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right

Admittedly this is only one in every forty, or 2.5% if you prefer, but it reflects the number of our active offshore racers relative to the northwest Europe fleet which is the main cohort in the race, with a notably strong French element.

To put it in perspective, it seems that if all the entries in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 were laid end to end, then they'd stretch for five kilometres. We are irresistibly reminded of the comment by Dorothy Parker of The New Yorker, to the effect that if all the girls who attend the Harvard May Ball were laid end to end, then it wouldn't surprise her for a minute. But then that's the sort of coarse thought which occasionally emerges in association with offshore racing, for it's not a sport for those of a delicate disposition…….

So if we're going for tough-mindedness, it's no harm to note that it's the mythology around a very Irish rock which is at the heart of all this. The RORC have admitted it themselves with this photo they recently released, which we post right here with caption exactly as sent out by the RORC.

The legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitorsThe legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Co Kurt Ariggo/ROLEX

"Legendary" indeed……."lure" forsooth…..In other words, if the Fastnet Rock didn't exist, then we'd have to invent, design and build it. But fools that we are in Ireland, were letting them use it for free, and we think it's just grand, even at a time when our magnificent West Coast is being monetised through its marketing as the Wild Atlantic Way.

But of course, they know they have us on a hook, for the Irish participation in the first Fastnet Race in 1925 was with Harry Donegan of Cork with his cutter Gull, and by any metric Harry Donegan was one of the greatest sportsmen – in the traditional sense of the term – that Ireland has ever produced. And if anyone had even hinted to him that a modest fee should be levied for the use of the Fastnet Rock as a globally significant offshore racing mark, he'd have given them very short shrift.

The Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometresThe Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometres. Photo Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

Instead, he would have been much more interested in our lineup for 2021, 96 years after he was so very much involved in starting it all.

Rolex Fastnet Race Irish Entries 2021

375 Andante IRC 0.95 Keith Miller Keith Miller Yamaha 36 10.95 Kilmore Quay IRC
3492 Big Deal IRC 0.93 Conor Dillon Conor Dillon Dehler 34 10.14   2H IRC
3852 Blue Oyster IRC 0.932 Noel Coleman Noel Coleman Oyster 37 11.26 Royal Cork Yacht Club, Crosshaven IRC
1627 Cinnamon Girl IRC 1.023 Cian McCarthy Sam Hunt Sun Fast 3300 9.99 Kinsale Co Cork Ireland 2H IRC
1397 Desert Star Irish Offshore Sailing IRC 0.963 Irish Offshore Sailing Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC
2129 Nieulargo IRC 1.023 Denis Murphy Denis Murphy Grand Soleil 40 12.12 Crosshaven, Royal Cork Yacht Club IRC
1610 Raw IRC 1.115 Conor Fogerty Conor Fogerty Figaro 3 10.85   IRC
1755 Richochet IRC   Kenneth Rumball Kenneth Rumball Sunfast 10 Dun Laoghaire 2H IRC
10800 Rockabill VI IRC 1.05 Paul O'Higgins Paul O'Higgins JPK 1080 10.8 Dun Laoghaire/riyc IRC
1455 Sherkin 2 IRC 0.959 Ronan O'Siochru Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC


Both of the top boats from 2020's truncated season – the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Cork and Paul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI from Dun Laoghaire – are in, the Rockabill entry being of particular interest. Until now, Paul O'Higgins and his team have found so much good racing in their three-and-a-half seasons within Irish waters that they've resisted the temptation of the Fastnet. But after the hobbled racing of 2020, the mood of the moment is to get as much sailing sport as possible when it becomes available again, and the JPK 10.80 continues as an excellent user-friendly Fastnet proposition.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire has been a golden boy of Fastnet racing since winning the Roger Justice Trophy for sailing schools in 2015's race, and his training operation offers such an attractive proposition that he has two boats entered, the Sun Fast 37s Desert Star and Sherkin 2.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in PlymouthRonan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in Plymouth

Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire won the Roger Justice with the J/109 Jedi in 2017, but this time round he's down to do the two-handed division with a new Sunfast, while another Sunfast, Cian McCarthy's 3300 from Kinsale, is likewise two-handed with the owner and Sam Hunt making up the partnership. 

The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.

Conor Dillon from Foynes is going yet again two-handed with the Dehler 34 The Big Deal but where his father Derek and he sailed together many times in the past, the signs are that a generational shift is under way, while 2017s "Sailor of the Year" Conor Fogerty of Howth has entered his Figaro 3 Raw as being fully-crewed.

Virtually all of these Irish entries will have varying degrees of Fastnet Race pre-experience on board, which is something that won't go amiss, as many boats now simply get themselves to the Solent, and after a day or two go straight into the potential mayhem of the Fastnet start. In times past, the traditional RORC Channel Race a week beforehand, with Cowes Week in between, played a significant induction role in many Irish Fastnet campaigns. But now it's a case of straight in at the deep end, and good luck to them all.

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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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

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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