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Fastnet Race 2021: World’s Biggest Offshore Yacht Race Heads for Ireland's Famous Rock

5th August 2021
American George David’s Rambler 88 has won monohull line honours in the last two editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be on the start line in Cowes again this year for the 695nm race to the Fastnet Rock and on to Cherbourg
American George David’s Rambler 88 has won monohull line honours in the last two editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be on the start line in Cowes again this year for the 695nm race to the Fastnet Rock and on to Cherbourg Credit: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

While the UK's Cowes Week is taking centre stage on the Solent at present, final preparations are being made for Sunday’s start (8th August) of the world’s biggest offshore yacht race, the Rolex Fastnet Race.

This year, for the first time since the race was first held in 1925, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event will finish in Cherbourg, France rather than Plymouth. However, this 49th edition of the race will start as usual from Cowes, where the first warning signal for the multihull classes will be given at 1100, followed at 15-minute intervals by the IMOCAs/Class40s and then the five IRC classes starting with IRC Four and finishing with IRC Zero at 1230.

At the latest tally 355 boats are entered ranging in size from the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev, to the lowest rated in the IRC fleet, Pierre Legoupil’s 11m Illingworth/Primose-designed Maica classic, Le Loup Rouge Of Cmn, to the shortest, Tim Whittle 9.33m long T3 Trifoiler L'Albatros, racing in the MOCRA fleet.

The vast majority are competing in the IRC fleet. This spans some of the top international grand prix racers down to mum and dads in family crews and sailing schools.

Among the most decorated is George David’s Rambler 88, which won back-to-back monohull line honours in the last two editions. International Grand Prix racers are low in numbers compared to previous years due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. “It hasn’t been easy getting it together - it is a big commitment by these owners,” admits Rambler 88’s tactician Brad Butterworth. Her 19 crew have all made it into the UK, while the boat arrived on a ship from the USA in June.

This week the silver maxi has been out. “We just want to make sure we can still sail it in anger after a year of not sailing,” Butterworth says. Rambler 88’s last race was the Middle Sea Race in 2019. According to Butterworth the only change they have made since then is adding a light air downwind sail.

Over 350 boats are entered in the Fastnet Race, including the largest - the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev © SkopriosOver 350 boats are entered in the Fastnet Race, including the largest - the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios belonging to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev © Skoprios

Several classic yachts will grace the Fastnet Race fleet, including the 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner © StormvogelSeveral classic yachts will grace the Fastnet Race fleet, including the 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner © Stormvogel

Among the historically significant in the fleet is Eric Tabarly’s Whitbread Round the World Race maxi and 1976 OSTAR winner Pen Duick VI, skippered by his daughter Marie. Then there are two of the most successful 1960s maxis, the Swedish Wallenberg family's S&S 63 Rafanut and Cornelius Brunzeel's 73ft van de Stadt ketch Stormvogel, the 1961 Fastnet Race line honours winner.

Several overall winners of the top IRC prize, the Fastnet Challenge Cup are returning. Cherbourg hero Alexis Loison, together with his father Pascal, in 2013 famously became the race's only ever doublehanded crew to win the Fastnet Race overall. He is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title, once again on board the JPK 10.30 Léon, but this time with Guillaume Pirouelle. Other hot British contenders for the IRC Two-Handed class include 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries.

2015 overall winner Géry Trentesaux is racing but this time on Antoine Carpentier’s Class 40 Courrier Redman.

A record number of yachts will be competing Two-Handed in IRC, including 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comA record number of yachts will be competing Two-Handed in IRC, including 2015 winners Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley racing the Sun Fast 3300 Aries © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Cherbourg hero Alexis Loison is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title on the JPK 10.30 Léon, with Guillaume Pirouelle © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comCherbourg hero Alexis Loison is back to defend his 2019 IRC Three and IRC Two-Handed title on the JPK 10.30 Léon, with Guillaume Pirouelle © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Didier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 and has his secret weapon, Figaro sailor Fred Duthil back on board. In 2019 Duthil sailed on board Jacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon, an evolution of the JPK 10.10, when she won IRC One.

Pelletier is also returning to defend his title. “It hasn’t been easy to prepare due to the COVID, but during May we sailed at weekends and then we did La Trinite-Cherbourg, Cowes-Dinard and the Channel Race. We hope we are prepared and the crew too, but we are used to sailing together, so we have to cross our fingers.” Pelletier sees Lann Ael 2 as his main IRC One competition this time, but also Michael O'Donnell’s well sailed J/121 Darkwood, which beat him to second in the Channel Race.

Pelletier has done around 11-12 Fastnet Races, his first being in 1973 when they finished sixth. Right now he is ready to go and L’Ange De Milon is already in Cherbourg where they will leave on Saturday in order to reach the Solent on the morning of the start. “It is a pity there’s no possibility of drinking a beer in Cowes,” he says sadly.

Some of the most famous boats are to be found racing outside of the IRC fleet, in the largely French Grand Prix classes. These include the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans such as Yves le Blevec’s Actual (ex MACIF), Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (co-skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winning skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier), and Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3.

Didier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Carlo Borlenghi/RolexDidier Gaudoux returns with his 2017 overall winner, the JND39 Lann Ael 2 © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Jacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon is back to defend her IRC One title © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comJacques Pelletier’s L’Ange De Milon is back to defend her IRC One title © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Three of the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans are entered including 2019 winners the Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier skippered Maxi Edmond de Rothschild © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.comThree of the fastest offshore boats in the world, the 32 x 23m Ultime trimarans are entered including 2019 winners the Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier skippered Maxi Edmond de Rothschild © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

Fresh from last winter’s Vendée Globe are 13 IMOCAs. These 60 footers, many of which are fitted with foils that make them ‘fly’, include the 2020-21 Vendée Globe winner Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ, as well as the boat that was first home (losing to Bestaven following a time correction), Charlie Dalin’s Apivia. The IMOCA fleet also includes two of Britain’s top offshore sailors, Alex Thomson board HUGO BOSS and Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur.

The line-up in the Class40s is giant with 37 boats. It is also highly international with eight nations represented from afar afield as Japan and the USA. This includes several of the very latest 'scow' designs such as Courrier Redman, winner of the recent Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race.

Across the whole fleet, and perhaps surprisingly due to the pandemic, 24 nations are still represented, although more this year comes from the UK (149) and France (111). Nonetheless, boats have still come from afar afield as Japan, Hong Kong and Mexico among others.

For most at this stage the hard work has been done, boats are qualified and now it is down to fine tuning.

British top offshore sailor, Alex Thomson aboard HUGO BOSS is one of 13 IMOCA 60s in the Fastnet Race © Alex Thomson RacingBritish top offshore sailor, Alex Thomson aboard HUGO BOSS is one of 13 IMOCA 60s in the Fastnet Race © Alex Thomson Racing

Team Edenred is one of 37 Class40s in the 2021 Fastnet Race © Jean-Marie LiotTeam Edenred is one of 37 Class40s in the 2021 Fastnet Race © Jean-Marie Liot

Racing in IRC Four is the Poole-based JPK 10.10 Joy which has been entered for a second time by the Butters family, skippered by Peter and including father Dave and younger brother Jack. Their crew also includes other Parkstone Yacht Club members, Ian Milliard and Rob McGregor, younger brother of well known RORC racer Jim (and uncle of Olympic sailors/match racers Lucy and Kate).

They have been campaigning their JPK 10.10 for five years and have become friends with other owners like Jangada’s Richard Palmer, who have helped them a great deal with setting up their boat.

Already this year the Butters have competed in another major event, the 3 Peaks Yacht Race, from Barmouth to Fort Williams. This will be their second: “With the Fastnet Race finishing in Cherbourg for the first time it seemed interesting, although sadly we don’t get to enjoy going ashore in France with the on-going restrictions,” says Peter. “The Fastnet is always difficult to do well in just because there is such a range of boats and there are so many good boats as well. There is a reason that it is the premier competition it is…”

Preliminary weather forecasts show that competitors will be in for a brisk ride from start time and through the first night with 23-28 knot south-westerly headwinds. On Monday conditions are set to ease to 13-18 knots, however the weather pattern is very unsettled with the wind generally in the south to south-west quadrant which will provide fast reaching to and from the Fastnet Rock on the southern tip of Ireland.

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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