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Big Boats Ready to Roll in IRC Zero of the RORC Fastnet Race

8th July 2021
IRC Zero is historically the class which produces the most IRC overall winners - including David & Peter Askew's Wizard in 2019. Sadly they won't be returning to defend their title
IRC Zero is historically the class which produces the most IRC overall winners - including David & Peter Askew's Wizard in 2019. Sadly they won't be returning to defend their title Credit: ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

IRC Zero represents the glamour end of the keelboat fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race. It’s likely that we’ll see line honours go to one of the maxis in the class, perhaps George David’s 88ft defending line honour champion Rambler 88 (USA), if she can keep the freshly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios (MON) at bay.

Traditionally IRC Zero produces the most overall winners. Over the last 10 editions, half have been won by IRC Zero competitors, including Niklas Zennstrom's two-time winner Ran 2, while David and Peter Askew's VO70 Wizard won overall IRC honours and the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2019.

Aside from the fully professional teams competing aboard the ‘no excuse to lose’ maxis, there is a growing charter market in the Volvo Ocean 65 and Volvo Open 70 boats. These canting-keeled flying machines were thought to be cutting-edge technology less than a decade ago, and initially were considered too powerful and not sufficiently reliable for the keen amateur crew looking to charter a fast ride to the Rock. However, attitudes have shifted as keen sailors have learned the ropes of racing high-powered race boats in a safe and seaworthy manner, and a number of pay-to-play crews are lining up for the adventure of their lives aboard them.

While there are enormous kudos in being first across the finish line in real-time, every racing sailor knows that the real battle is on corrected time under IRC. As winner of another prestigious RORC offshore race, the Myth of Malham - covering the first part of the course to the Eddystone Light and therefore a strong indicator of form for the Rolex Fastnet Race - things appear to be in Tala’s (GBR) favour, although owner David Collins says that on that occasion his Botin-designed 52-footer enjoyed a large dose of good fortune. “We sailed well, but making the last tide gate in a dying breeze is what gave us the result in the Myth of Malham. It is certainly no indicator for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Our aim for the race is, as ever, to sail error-free and keep the boat moving fast.”

Part of the key to Tala’s success is the consistency of personnel. “It’s a fairly settled crew now,” says Collins, whose navigator is the experienced Campbell Field. “Three will be Volvo Ocean Race veterans. We have a couple of strong trimmers and some talented amateurs.” Two families make up five of the crew.

David Collins Botin-designed 52-footer Tala was third overall in IRC and top British finisher in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comDavid Collins Botin-designed 52-footer Tala was third overall in IRC and top British finisher in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth

RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine, seen here finishing the RORC Transatlantic Race in Grenada © Arthur Daniel/RORCRORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine, seen here finishing the RORC Transatlantic Race in Grenada © Arthur Daniel/RORC

Other boats to watch in this size bracket include the ever-competitive Teasing Machine (FRA). Designed by Bernard Nivelt and Alexis Muratet and built by King Marine in Spain, Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine is a powerful 54-footer with soft chines and a cockpit that has been fully optimised for crewed offshore competition.

At the core of the Teasing Machine, campaign is project manager Laurent Pages, a Volvo Ocean Race winner in 2011/12. Above the water, the 54-footer bears strong similarities with a VO70 or VO65, with a similar deck layout and twin companionways with the pit in between. But Teasing Machine is designed to compete under IRC. The major area of optimisation is her heavy fin keel and a number of concessions to comfort onboard, including hot water, an oven, and two fridges.

From the battle-proven to the barely-touched-the-water example of Sir Richard Matthews’ new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed custom 52-footer. While this may be the boat’s first foray into the Rolex Fastnet Race, for Sir Richard it is his 24th assault on the Rock: “For us, it’s the pinnacle of our racing and at 72 years old, it is a challenge and an experience to enjoy during the race and afterwards.”

24th Fastnet Race for Richard Matthews competing in his new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed 52-footer © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island Race24th Fastnet Race for Richard Matthews competing in his new Oystercatcher XXXV (GBR), a Carkeek-designed 52-footer © Paul Wyeth/Round the Island Race

Nicolas Groleau's Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom finished second in IRC Zero and overall in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Pierre BourasNicolas Groleau's Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom finished second in IRC Zero and overall in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race © Pierre Bouras

If offshore racing is a game that rewards experience and sea miles, the group of sailors on Bretagne Telecom from La Trinité-Sur-Mer will again be ones to watch for the overall prize. Second overall on IRC in 2019, boat builder and owner of this canting-keel Mach 45 Nicolas Groleau has campaigned Bretagne Telecom (FRA) in the past six editions of the race. She has twice won her class and stood on the podium on all but one occasion, so an overall race victory is surely only a matter of time and persistence for Groleau and his committed band of Breton hotshots.

What will 25-year-old architecture student Katrina Westphal be able to achieve as skipper of the carbon fibre Grand Prix racer, the Carkeek 47 Störtebeker (GER)? Boris Herrmann’s runaway success in the Vendée Globe turned the IMOCA 60 sailor into a household name in Germany, and the ‘Boris effect’ is generating a resurgence in offshore interest across the country. Not that Westphal is a newcomer to the Rolex Fastnet, as this will be her third time in the race and second time as a skipper. Thanks to the crew training initiative of her yacht club, the Hamburger Verein Seefahrt, this ambitious sailor and her equally youthful crew hold the reins of a high-performance race yacht that could really make waves in the overall standings.

Promoting youth participation - the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team on the Ker 46 Van Uden © Van UdenPromoting youth participation - the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team on the Ker 46 Van Uden 

Another entry with a strong focus on promoting youth participation is the Dutch Ker 46 Van Uden (NED), with Volvo Ocean Race veteran Gerd Jan Poortman looking to turn his crew of 18 to 25-year-olds into world-class offshore sailors. “Our team, the Youth Rotterdam Offshore Sailing Team, has been training every week and done a fair bit of overnight offshore training but like my kids in the Optimist, we are getting a little tired of training and we want to race! We’ve been preparing for the Rolex Fastnet Race for two years and if the weather is right for us, we will go for the win.

“We are a small boat in IRC Zero - so often it’s a big boat race or a small boat race. When it is a small boat race we are up to the challenge; we have trained hard, have good equipment and talented sailors. Our crew has very little racing experience, but we think we have done more training than the average team over the last two years so we hope that makes the difference.”

The De Graaf family are one of the most faithful Rolex Fastnet Race teams and return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED). Olivier De Graaf comments: “Since the start of Baraka Sailing Team 17 years ago, I have sailed with my father and with my two brothers as well as with friends we know from the world of sailing. This will be our sixth Fastnet together as a team and our second time with this boat. Finishing in Cherbourg is adding a new complexity to the course, which will make the final run into the finish even more important, especially after three days of racing already.”

COVID restrictions have prevented their multinational team from meeting up for training out of the Hamble in the Solent, so they have been meeting up for online boat handling sessions via Microsoft Teams. Olivier admits he has yet to see whether these dry manoeuvres will prove effective in the salt-water reality of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Sixth Rolex Fastnet Race together as a team for the De Graaf family who return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED) © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comSixth Rolex Fastnet Race together as a team for the De Graaf family who return this year in their Ker 43, Baraka GP (NED) © Paul Wyeth

Seven VO70s and four VO65s are entered in IRC Zero, including The Polish National Foundation's - I Love Poland © Robert HajdukSeven VO70s and four VO65s are entered in IRC Zero, including The Polish National Foundation's - I Love Poland © Robert Hajduk

Published in Fastnet, Offshore

Fastnet Race Live Tracker 2021

Track the progress of the 2021 Fastnet Yacht Race fleet on the live tracker above 

The 49th edition of the 700-mile race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club starts on Sunday, August 8th from Cowes.

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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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