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Would the REAL Fastnet Race Course Records Please Stand Up & Salute Like Everyone Else……

7th April 2021
Record-holder: the 1926-vintage 70ft Fife cutter Hallowe'en, syndicate-owned at the Royal Irish YC, set the first significant Fastnet Race record in 1926 – Hallowe'en's time stood for thirteen years through ten races
Record-holder: the 1926-vintage 70ft Fife cutter Hallowe'en, syndicate-owned at the Royal Irish YC, set the first significant Fastnet Race record in 1926 – Hallowe'en's time stood for thirteen years through ten races Credit: W M Nixon

Well done to the MOD 70 PowerPlay on almost managing to make the 24 hours for a Fastnet Race course finishing at Plymouth. But we'd suggest in all modesty (we're tops for it) that what they were sailing was NOT the original Fastnet Race course.

Back in the 1920s when the notion of a Fastnet race was first mooted, the conservative Cowes establishment would have nothing to do with such a crazy idea, and thus the first Fastnet Race in 1925 started eastward out of Solent from the Royal Victoria YC at Ryde, and then westward south of St Catherine's Point to sail the "traditional" course thereafter, finishing at Plymouth.

This was the course until 1949 except for 1935, when it started westward from Royal Solent YC at Yarmouth. The record for the original course was set by the new Fife 70ft Bermudan cutter Hallowe'en (now Royal Irish YC) in 1926 (the race was annual until 1931), and Hallowe'en's record stood until 1939, when it was bested by 86ft German Navy yawl Nordwind.

The 86ft Gruber-designed German navy yawl Nordwind finally toppled the 70ft Hallowe'en's Fastnet Race Course record in 1939The 86ft Gruber-designed German navy yawl Nordwind finally toppled the 70ft Hallowe'en's Fastnet Race Course record in 1939 

Nordwind – like Hallowe'en – is still on the go, as a much-loved Henry Gruber-designed classic. In 1939, she was raced by the Kriegsmarine. They looked awfully smart at the prize-giving in Plymouth in their Hugo Boss-designed uniforms with Heil Hitler salutes all round, and all this just a few days before the start of World War II.

Since then, we've had World War III being fought over the change to the Fastnet Race course for 2021, proposing a new and capacious finish port at Cherbourg. But in recent days, with France going into super-lockdown to try and eradicate the latest wave of COVID-19 with every self-respecting country worldwide now claiming its own even more potent variant, Cherbourg may still be off-limits by August.

However, if push comes to shove, instead of sheepishly returning to the traditional Plymouth finish, the more realistic will suggest that the RORC will simply choose to re-locate the finish right back into Cowes (maybe what they've wanted all along), albeit with the Isle of Wight left to port to avoid the total tidal gate east of The Needles.

The current state of play in the 2021 Fastnet Course Stakes. The red extension to Cherbourg may be in doubt if the latest COVID wave in France cannot be brought under control, so one possible solution may be to continue up-Channel, leaving the Isle of Wight close to port and finishing in the Eastern Solent at Ryde – where it all started in 1925.The current state of play in the 2021 Fastnet Course Stakes. The red extension to Cherbourg may be in doubt if the latest COVID wave in France cannot be brought under control, so one possible solution may be to continue up-Channel, leaving the Isle of Wight close to port and finishing in the Eastern Solent at Ryde – where it all started in 1925.

That would handily take the finishing fleet cleanly past Ryde, an ideal finish point. But having been dumped twice – in 1935 and 1949 – as the starting club, it would be understandable if the RVYC told them to do something rather unnatural with the finish line for the Fastnet Race 2021.

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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