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Fastnet Race Set to Welcome Vendée Globe Heroes

10th June 2021
Jérémie Beyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal
Jérémie Beyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal return to the Rolex Fastnet Race as the defending champions in the IMOCA class Credit: Gauthier Lebec/Charal

Almost six months after they competed in the world’s most brutal race — the singlehanded non-stop lap of the planet that is the Vendée Globe — many of the IMOCA fleet will be returning to the race course for the first time in August’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

Aside from the added attraction of the race now ending up in home waters, with the finish moving for the first time to Cherbourg, for the IMOCA teams the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event is also a qualifier for November’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

Running from Le Havre to Martinique (via Fernando di Noronha off Brazil), this event is double-handed and the world’s most advanced offshore monohulls will also sail in this configuration for the Rolex Fastnet Race.

The line-up is impressive. It includes Charlie Dalin on Apivia who was first home into Les Sables d’Olonne in late January, until Maître CoQ, skippered by Yannick Bestaven, subsequently became the race’s winner after he was awarded time compensation for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier.

From the US, The Ocean Race team 11th Hour Racing has not one but two IMOCAs entered. This includes the 2016 vintage former HUGO BOSS, being campaigned by the mixed Anglo-Swiss crew of Volvo Ocean Race veteran Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux.

Charlie Dalin, second in the last Vendée Globe aboard Apivia, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race | Credit: Maxime Horlaville/Disobey/ApiviaCharlie Dalin, second in the last Vendée Globe aboard Apivia, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race | Credit: Maxime Horlaville/Disobey/Apivia

But all eyes could be on the campaign’s latest steed, to be sailed by American Charlie Enright and top French offshore sailor Pascal Bidégorry. Whether she will make it is in the balance: the launch of this new Guillaume Verdier design, built by CKD Technologies and project managed by Francois Gabart’s company MerConcept, is scheduled for the end of July, leaving precious little work-up time before the 8 August start.

Significantly this will be the first new flying IMOCA launched with The Ocean Race in mind, rather than the Vendée Globe. However, Enright, who two years ago was outright winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race as sailing master on the Askew brothers’ VO70 Wizard, explains they are hedged.

“In some ways we are optimised for both crewed and shorthanded racing, and in other ways we have definitely compromised to be able to wear both hats in this fleet. It is the first IMOCA built with The Ocean Race as its primary objective,” he said.

What this means in terms of the specifics of the new hardware, we will have to wait and see. Theoretically with the potential to trim the foils more regularly, they could be more optimised and less draggy than the present generation foils.

For sure it will require more interior and cockpit space to accommodate four crew plus a media crewman and it will be interesting to see the degree to which the cockpit is enclosed. There is also a tricky engineering balance to be reached in that the extra crew equals extra weight and righting moment and they can potentially drive the boat harder, but at the expense of extra structural weight, which in turn is bad for light airs foiling.

The first new flying IMOCA launched with the Ocean Race in mind — one of two boats entered by 11th Hour Racing | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour RacingThe first new flying IMOCA launched with the Ocean Race in mind — one of two boats entered by 11th Hour Racing | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing

In with a strong chance of line honours is Britain’s Alex Thomson and HUGO BOSS. After leading the Vendée Globe fleet into the South Atlantic, HUGO BOSS in that race suffered structural damage to her bow and Thomson was subsequently forced to retire into Cape Town with “irreparable rudder damage”.

HUGO BOSS is back in the water with two new rudders and Thomson and his team in Gosport, UK are keen to prove the potential of their radical craft, the first IMOCA with a fully enclosed cockpit.

For Thomson, the Rolex Fastnet Race has played a major part in his sailing career: “I love the Rolex Fastnet Race. I got my sailing instructor [qualification] in 1994 and in 1995 I joined Britannia Sailing, who were the first people to do amateur ‘pay to play’ racing, and did my first Fastnet within a few months of joining them. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was when I found out that offshore was what I loved to do.”

After winning the 1998-99 Clipper Round the World Race, it was in the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race that Thomson first raced under the colours of HUGO BOSS. With their subsequent support he has gone on to become Britain’s most successful Vendée Globe skipper, podiuming on two occasions.

Of his past Rolex Fastnet Races, Thomson recalls: “My first was in 1995 on a Sigma 36 and it took us more than seven days. The most painful one was when it took us the four days on an IMOCA in 2005!”

The Rolex Fastnet race has played a major part in Alex Thomson’s career and he will compete with HUGO BOSS | Credit: Alex Thomson RacingThe Rolex Fastnet race has played a major part in Alex Thomson’s career and he will compete with HUGO BOSS | Credit: Alex Thomson Racing

Sam Davies, the British Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, says that the Rolex Fastnet Race inspired her as a teenager growing up in Portsmouth: “As a kid I remember seeing all these boats, the Admiral’s Cuppers, the maxis — the best of the best boats there in Solent to do the Fastnet Race. Hearing the stories from the 1979 race made it even more awe-inspiring. And it seemed just so far! How could people do a race that long?! That’s funny now.”

This will be Sam’s ninth Rolex Fastnet Race, a long way from her first when she was 19 with the parents of top pro sailor Gerry Mitchell on their Jeanneau Sun Legende 41.

“It was a good family-owned racing boat where the husband and wife sailed all the races together. We did all the RORC races and qualifiers — it was very competitive,” she recalled.

At the time Mitchell was en route to the 1993-94 Whitbread Round the World Race on the Dolphin & Youth Whitbread 60 and occasionally he and some of his talented friends would join them. The experience of racing with the Mitchells and the chance to meet future and existing legends of the sport all helped set Sam on track for her future career.

It is for this reason that she feels great pride returning to the Solent on board her state of the art race boat as a major wheel within the world’s most significant offshore fleet. This time she will be racing her IMOCA Initiatives Coeur with French Solitaire du Figaro winner Nicolas Lunven.

Also significant for Sam is that racing in the same part of the IMOCA fleet will be her partner Romain Attanasio. He recently secured funding for his next IMOCA campaign with Fortinet-Best Western and has acquired Boris Herrman’s IMOCA, originally the 2016 vintage Edmond de Rothschild.

“There is a group of us — me, Isa [Joscke on MACSF], SiFi and Jojo [Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux on 11th Hour Racing] and Romain — on old boats that have been optimised. I am looking forward to that race.”

Sam Davies, the British Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, was inspired by the Rolex Fastnet Race from a young age | Credit: Maxime Horlaville/polaRYSE/Initiatives-CoeurSam Davies, the British Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, was inspired by the Rolex Fastnet Race from a young age | Credit: Maxime Horlaville/polaRYSE/Initiatives-Coeur

Sam says the likely IMOCA winners will be the latest generation boats, all of which at least started the last Vendée Globe and which their skippers know better than ever.

The latest generation of foilers come into their own in 12 knots, at which point they foil when the older generation do not. However while they are optimised for the round the world course, to the extent that some are not great upwind, a course like the Rolex Fastnet Race’s could benefit older more all-round boats.

“If we get a light spot or a tricky spot, if it is downwind spinnaker sailing and we are more in the water than out, then all our group of boats will still be in with a chance. That is the good thing about the Rolex Fastnet Race because it is coastal, and tricky racing and there’s tides, it’s summer so there’s probably light winds at some point,” she said.

The latest generation IMOCAs competing currently include Hugo Boss, Apivia, Sebastien Simon’s ArkeaPaprec and Nicolas Troussel’s CORUM L’Epargne, which is currently competing in The Ocean Race Europe. Another to watch will certainly be Jérémie Beyou and Chris Pratt on board Charal, which returns as the defending champion in the IMOCA class.

“This is the first event of the season for us,” says Beyou. “It’s a good rehearsal for the Transat Jacques Vabre on a sporting level and also to prepare the team. We have to be ready for the delivery, the stand-by in Cherbourg, the choice of sails, etc — the whole pre-race routine that's important to test.

“It’s a race we won two years ago, so we hope to do as well, but there are a lot of people and it will be a bit tricky at the start exiting the Solent. There’s a lot to avoid, but it’s great fun, a great show and we’re going to enjoy it too.”

Afloat.ie Team

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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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