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Fastnet Race 2021: 300 Yachts From 31 Countries Get Ready to Race

4th August 2021
After the Fastnet Race start, crews will head west through the Solent, before a long passage along the English Channel to Land’s End
After the Fastnet Race start, crews will head west through the Solent, before a long passage along the English Channel to Land’s End

A substantial fleet of more than 300 yachts is set to compete in the 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The entry list is evidence once again of the illustrious status and widespread appeal of the event, which starts from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in England on Sunday, 8 August.

Rolex this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its partnership with the biennial competition and its organizers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC). The offshore race is one of the cornerstones of the brand’s enduring association with the sport of sailing.

Since 1925, when seven yachts first competed and the winning entry, Jolie Brise, took nearly a week to complete the course, the Fastnet has constantly adapted to the times, developing a revered position as a standard-bearer in yachting. Over the decades the feats of intrepid competitors have built the legend, supported by the RORC’s continuing dedication to deliver the highest standards of race management and ensure it caters for an ever-increasing interest.

An inspiring and often gruelling challenge, nothing can be left to chance. Preparation needs to be total and teamwork exemplary, while all physical and mental demands must be embraced. Only with the strongest will, the keenest experience and a sharp intuition can crews overcome factors such as the prevailing winds, currents and sea state. Paul Cayard, a Rolex Testimonee and winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race, has experienced the race’s unique character on several occasions since his debut in 1993. He believes it to be one the most complete tests in offshore racing: “The Fastnet is a rite of passage for any sailor. Throughout the race you are exposed to the elements and some of the world’s most challenging and ferocious waters. The course has a raw beauty and is a stringent test of seamanship, demanding full focus, concentration and determination. On crossing the finishing line, your sense of achievement is tangible.”

As part of the process of evolution, this year’s race will finish at Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France, rather than the traditional end point, the port of Plymouth on the south coast of England. RORC race director Chris Stone explains: “Despite difficulties caused by the pandemic, we are excited by the prospect of finishing in Cherbourg. The town’s impressive facilities allow the club to accommodate a greater number of competitors. The entry list is an incredible array of boats and crews, from the fastest and most professional to the more Corinthian. The nature of the challenge, though, is unchanged, with most yachts facing two or more nights at sea and a mix of challenging conditions.”

Fastnet Race Course 2021

Like the challenge, much of the course remains the same. The start is a line set off the imperious Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS). Crews will head west through the Solent, before a long passage along the English Channel to Land’s End, passing noted landmarks such as The Needles and Portland Bill. A long and sometimes brutal leg awaits. Crossing the open waters of the Celtic Sea to the iconic Fastnet Rock, the race’s eponymous symbol off the southern coast of Ireland, is often into the teeth of an Atlantic weather system. The imposing rock and lighthouse are a welcome sight whatever the time of day. Following a typically exhilarating leg back to the Isles of Scilly, for the first time the fleet will then turn towards the French coast, where new tidal challenges come into play, particularly between Alderney and Cap de la Hague just before Cherbourg. The alteration to the finish has lengthened the course to 695 nautical miles (1,287 kilometres), some 87 nautical miles (161 kilometres) longer than recent editions.

Reaching the famous rock in the Fastnet RaceReaching the famous rock in the Fastnet Race

The fleet for the 2021 Fastnet is truly global in its composition, with yachts representing 31 countries. The largest registered entrant is Skorpios, a ClubSwan 125 measuring 42.62 metres (139.83 feet); the smallest yachts are a mere 9.33m (31ft). The fastest monohull and multihull yachts from 2019 return. Two years ago, the French trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild clinched the multihull victory just metres from the finish, while George David’s United States maxi Rambler 88 secured the monohull title. Both crews will encounter stiff competition in their quest to repeat their success.

Claiming the race’s main prize, overall victory under IRC handicap and the Fastnet Challenge Cup, marks a level of achievement hard to quantify.

The varied roll of honour is united by skill, dedication and fortitude. Winning skippers in this year’s fleet include Frenchman Didier Gaudoux, hoping to reprise his 2017 performance with Lann Ael 2.

Published in Fastnet

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 2023 Date

The 2023 50th Rolex Fastnet Race will start on Saturday, 22nd July 2023

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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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