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The Fastnet Race 2021: Much More Than Just a Race

19th April 2021
Rolex RORC photographer Paul Wyeth captures teams at the prizegiving as they express their joy after successfully completing the Rolex Fastnet Race - for many it will be their greatest personal challenge
Rolex RORC photographer Paul Wyeth captures teams at the prizegiving as they express their joy after successfully completing the Rolex Fastnet Race - for many it will be their greatest personal challenge Credit: Paul Wyeth

While this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will be highly competitive at the front of the fleet, for many among the record-sized entry of 453 yachts (at present), the objective of tackling the 695-mile course from Cowes to Cherbourg via the legendary rock off southwest Ireland is just to get round successfully. For many, personally, they are taking part to experience the challenge, a lifelong ambition, an adventure, a bonding experience with family and friends, to improve on a previous result or because, this year’s race will be historic, for the first time in its 96 years finishing in Cherbourg. There are many reasons crews will be setting off from the Solent on the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event on 8 August other than to come first.

The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier.The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier

Several yachts are entered with crews from the British Armed Forces, competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race for their own trophies – the Inter-Regimental Cup: Best Service Boat under IRC and the Culdrose Trophy for the top Service Boat to the Fastnet Rock. The most high profile service entry is the Army Sailing Association’s Fujitsu British Soldier. This team has enjoyed considerable success notably in 2018 when their X-41 won the RORC Season’s Point Championship. They have since changed to the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier which despite owning her since the end of 2019 they have yet to race it offshore due to the pandemic.

In addition to providing a sports activity for their soldiers, the ASA also views it as training, helping to improve teamwork, and operational effectiveness in their soldiers which encouraging their most promising sailors to progress up the sport.

Across the fleet many are using the event to raise awareness for charities and causes.

Most notable is this year’s youngest competitor 12-year-old Zoe d'Ornano, who will be on one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s two Challenger 72s entered. A keen dinghy sailor and an experienced crew cruising with family and friends, she will use the race to raise awareness of the work of the TSYT while fundraising to give some of the country’s most disadvantaged young people a life-changing experience at sea. Founded in 1956, the Tall Ships Youth Trust has supported over 120,000 young people, aged 12-25, the majority disadvantaged or disabled. It also helps young people redefine their horizons through adventure learning at sea.” Zoe's Just Giving page here

12-year old Zoe d'Ornano is likely to be the youngest crew member in the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be raising money for the Tall Ships Youth Trust Photo: On board Challenger 72 Photo: Lay Koon Tan12-year old Zoe d'Ornano is likely to be the youngest crew member in the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be raising money for the Tall Ships Youth Trust Photo: On board Challenger 72 Photo: Lay Koon Tan

The Dutch Childhood 1 project is entered, aboard the former Team Brunel VO65. They race to raise awareness of children's rights while fundraising for the Childhood Foundation. In 2019 Childhood 1 participated in the RORC Transatlantic Race, winning the International Maxi Association Trophy for line honours.

For those without their own boat, many take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race aboard charter boats or with a crew from a sailing or race training school. For example, Jonathan Moon from Chandlers Ford will be racing with the Sail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 Escapado, skippered by Germaine Williams. Moon chose to do this to coincide with the 40th anniversary of when his father Paul competed on the UFO 31 The Happy Return: “I still recall going to watch the start and feeling excitement and worry, after all this was my Dad - my hero - the man who taught me how to sail, heading off into a race that two years before had taken the lives of 15 sailors.”

Sail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 EscapadoSail Racing Academy on board their First 40.7 Escapado Photo: Tim Wright

Sadly his father now suffers from Lewy Body Dementia. During the race, Jonathan will be raising money for St Cross Grange, the Winchester-based care home specialising in dementia, where his father resides. Funds will go towards the purchase of a Tovertafel, an interactive games device that breaks through apathy by stimulating both physical and cognitive activity. 

Also celebrating a family anniversary is German skipper Kai Greten whose beautiful wooden hulled Gerhard Gilgenast One Tonner Oromocto turns 50 this year. Oromocto was left to him by his grandfather upon his death in 1999 and since 2010 Greten has been campaigning her hard out of Kiel. His greatest success to date was winning the Pantaenius Rund Skagen race in 2014.

British Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies has just entered her Initiatives Coeur in the 13-strong IMOCA class. Sam will be continuing her extraordinary fund raising efforts supporting the French charity Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque either through direct donations or, the cleverest part, from her three sponsors, each of whom donates 1 Euro whenever a member of the public clicks ‘like’ on the Initiative Coeurs Facebook or Instagram pages. Do it now!

The charity saves children from poor countries born with heart defects, by bringing them to France to be operated on. Every 12000 Euros raised saves one child’s life. During her Vendée Globe, Sam’s fundraising efforts saved an incredible 103 children. As she puts it: “Every time I look up and I’m having a bad day, it reminds me what I am really out there doing this for. It is pretty motivating.”

Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies will be continuing her drive to save young lives whilst racing her IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Initiatives Coeur  Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies will be continuing her drive to save young lives whilst racing her IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Initiatives Coeur  

Kai Greten will be sailing his Grandfather's beautiful wooden classic One Tonner Oromocto which is celebrating her 50th anniversary Photo: Creator: YACHT/Jozef Kubica   Kai Greten will be sailing his Grandfather's beautiful wooden classic One Tonner Oromocto which is celebrating her 50th anniversary Photo: Creator: YACHT/Jozef Kubica  

Pierre-Louis Attwell is racing Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn to spread awareness of Crohn's Disease Photo: Patrick Deroualle /Drheam CupPierre-Louis Attwell is racing Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn to spread awareness of Crohn's Disease Photo: Patrick Deroualle /Drheam Cup

From Honfleur Pierre-Louis Attwell is racing his Class40 Vogue avec un Crohn, with which he will be spreading awareness of Crohn's Disease, from which he suffers. His team includes a mix of pros and amateurs, including Maxime Bense with whom he will race this autumn’s doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. This will be Attwell’s first Rolex Fastnet Race: “We can't wait to be at the start of this legendary sailing race, to face the best sailors in the world and to live a unique experience.”

One of the largest yachts to be promoting a cause is Romain Pilliard’s Use it Again!, familiar to UK sailing fans as the former B&Q, the trimaran on which Dame Ellen MacArthur sailed singlehanded non-stop around the world in record time in 2005. Pilliard has recycled the famous Irens-designed trimaran and appropriately is now using her to promote the circular economy, a cause championed globally by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “I wanted to experience the Rolex Fastnet Race and highlight my Use It Again! campaign to promote circular economy and ocean protection,” says Pilliard, who adds: “The Rolex Fastnet Race is a legendary race with high level sailors competing in it and the race course is incredible. I'm looking forward to going fast in the Celtic Sea.”

Romain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! Photo: Imbaud VerhaegenRomain Pilliard is using Dame Ellen MacArthur's ex-trimaran to promote the circular economy and ocean protection on Use it Again! Photo: Imbaud Verhaegen

Providing offshore racing miles to young sailors is the remit of the Dutch Ker 46 Van Uden Rotterdam skippered by former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Gerd-Jan Poortman, with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team. The team’s goal is to participate in The Ocean Race (ex-Volvo Ocean Race) and the sailors are therefore being given full responsibility to prepare and maintain their boat, plus its navigation, tactics, training, fitness and PR.

“I am looking forward to gaining experience in offshore sailing, taking part in my first major sailing competition with multiple days at sea, and competing against top notch sailors from different nations,” says Laurien Waller, one of her crew. “A highlight of the course will definitely be the Fastnet Rock and I think if we do a good job and work well as a team, reaching the finish line in Cherbourg will feel amazing. The most difficult part will be choosing the optimal route and maintaining team fitness and tackling fatigue.”

Far in the majority are those with family entries such as Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas, the lowest rated yacht in the fleet. She will be sailing by Declercq with his wife, two children and a family friend. He has raced previously in several Fastnets aboard Sigma 38s and Contessa 32s: “Unfortunately we had to abandon the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2019 because I broke a rib and was in too much pain to continue, so we are really looking forward to the race this year. We are looking forward to fun racing with the family in this fantastic race. For us having a small and rather slow boat, it's a longer race and the weather is more unpredictable, but the vibe around the race and the fact that we can compete against professional boats and crews is amazing.”

Gerd-Jan Poortman with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team will be gaining offshore miles experience during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rotterdam Offshore Sailing teamGerd-Jan Poortman with a crew of 18-25 year olds from the Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team will be gaining offshore miles experience during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rotterdam Offshore Sailing team

Many boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Sportography.TVMany boats will compete with family members as part of the crew and these include Christophe Declercq’s Contessa 32 Lecas - the lowest rated boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Sportography.TV

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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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