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Fastnet Race Start Will Be a Blustery One at Cowes (Skipper's Briefing Vid Here!)

8th August 2021
The international flotilla has been slowly leaving Cherbourg and other ports on the continent ready to arrive off Cowes prior to the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race
The international flotilla has been slowly leaving Cherbourg and other ports on the continent ready to arrive off Cowes prior to the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race

The Solent has been in a blustery mood with an overcast sky, rain and perpetual gusty winds in anticipation of today's start of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

The forecast for the start of the 49th edition of the world’s largest offshore race remains for winds of 20-25 knots with gusts into the 30s, although the rain is set to subside.

There are up to 11 Irish yachts of Irish interest as WM Nixon notes here

Given the conditions, the Fastnet Race’s organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, have decided to rearrange the order of tomorrow’s start times. They will now be:

  • Multihulls (MOCRA, Open) 1110 (BST)
  • IMOCA, Class40 1125
  • IRC Zero 1140
  • IRC 1 and Figaro 3 1155
  • IRC 4 1210
  • IRC 3 1225
  • IRC 2 1240

Previously IRC Zero, home of the largest monohulls entered in the Fastnet Race, was to have started last. Usually, this allows the small boats to enjoy seeing them stride past. However, in the big conditions forecast, the RORC are steering a more prudent course. “The wind angle now makes it fully upwind at the start so we’ve made this change principally to make it safer for the big boats to get through Hurst Narrows,” explained Chris Stone, Race Director of the Fastnet Race.

Meanwhile today in Cherbourg, the exceptional race village has opened and the final check-ins have taken place, including French sailing hero Loick Peyron racing on board Yann Marilley’s Outremer 5X Racing catamaran No Limit. Meanwhile, the international flotilla has been slowly leaving Cherbourg and other ports on the continent ready to arrive off Cowes prior to start time. Some of the faster boats are going to the wire with this – the Bouwe Bekking-skippered VO65 Sailing Poland was due to leave Cherbourg at 0300 while Italian Giovanni Soldini’s modified MOD70 Maserati was departing at 0500.

Back in Cowes, Soldini’s competition at the front end of the MOCRA fleet has been out practising. American Jason Carroll’s Argo has been based in Cowes since setting a new record from Bermuda to Plymouth this summer. Her crew is an international all-star cast including French America’s Cup winner Thierry Fouchier, American Tornado Olympic silver medallist Charlie Ogletree among others, including Britain’s most high capped maxi-multihull veteran Brian Thompson.

Thompson says this is his eighth or ninth Fastnet Race, but he has rounded the Fastnet Rock countless additional times in other races and during record attempts.

Argo, their nimble, but sturdy trimaran, is more than capable of dealing with tomorrow’s big conditions. Although, even the highly experienced Thompson admits that they may do their utmost to avoid the severe wind against tide conditions.

“It is going to be a boisterous start for sure; more windy than the last few years,” says Thompson. “We will have 20+ knots most of the way to the Fastnet and over 30 for the first few hours when the tide is increasing the wind. The first six hours could be the toughest sea state-wise. We’ll have to settle in and see how we do. Maybe we are going for the best shifts or the flatter water, we are not sure. We’ll certainly be well reefed down.”

As to their prospects overall in the race, Thompson is bullish. “The forecast is quite good for us. Coming back from the Fastnet Race I think we can get on a fast angle down to the Scillies and then downwind VMG with the genniker to the finish. It is looking like about 15 knots downwind and then dropping at the end, but we will have to see. We have a chance this time, because I don’t think the back of the fleet will be coming in with wind.” Argo’s main competition will be Soldini’s Maserati whom they have to beat into Cherbourg by around 30 minutes when they arrive early on Tuesday morning.

Jason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo © Sharon Green/Ultimate SailingJason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo Photo: Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Several of the French grand prix classes are racing outside of the main IRC fleet in this year’s Fastnet Race, including the Ultimes, IMOCAs and Class40s. Five Figaro 3s are also racing in their own class, including Britain’s aspirant Figaro sailor Cat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw, doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Stormwave 2.0. A former student of the now-defunct Artemis Offshore Academy, Brayshaw has competed in the Solitaire du Figaro three times before joining Musto full time. Both he and Hunt have individually raced the Fastnet Race twice before.

For a 32 footer, the foil-assisted Figaro 3 has huge performance (Stormwave 2.0 has an IRC rating similar to a Grand Prix 40 footer) and as they are one designs, their racing will be hot, even though the top boats aren’t competing due to the proximity of the unofficial world championship of solo offshore racing, the Solitaire du Figaro, to the Fastnet Race. Ireland is represented in this class by Kenny Rumall and Pamela Lee.

“There are four other Figaro 3s and we want to beat all of them,” says Brayshaw.

Like the MOD70, the Figaro 3 is designed for transoceanic racing and withstanding gale force conditions, even wind-against-tide. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see 35 or even 40 knots on the top of waves tomorrow,” continues Brayshaw of tomorrow’s conditions. “We’ll have a small jib up and at least one reef in the main. Fortunately, these boats are hardcore and we can smash through the waves without too much damage. We would all like a bit more comfortable conditions to start with, but we are going to get hammered. We’ll just get cracking into that and see where we’re at each headland. Hopefully, it won’t be too upwind on the way back.”

Brayshaw reckons it will be the last stage where the race will be won or lost. Key will be staying as fresh as possible going into this and having a plan in case the wind is light and the powerful current is foul. “We need to make sure we are close to land when the tide turns. I have done a few races around that point with those who know it well and there are gaps between the rocks you can take. But if it is too light we will get the anchor out.”

Cat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw will compete doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Figaro 3 Stormwave 2.0 © James TomlinsonCat Hunt and Hugh Brayshaw will compete doublehanded on Ross Farrow’s Figaro 3 Stormwave 2.0 © James Tomlinson

A boat which should perform better in the big conditions of the first 24 hours will be the classic but heavily suped-up Nicholson 55 Eager belonging to leading yacht broker Chris Cecil-Wright. The boat knows the way to the Fastnet Rock for it competed many times in the race as the yacht of the Lloyds of London Yacht Club. This included the 1979 race (her crew in this race reconvened in 2019 to remember the race on its 40th anniversary). Since then Lutine has changed hands and in Rob Grey’s ownership was completely rebuilt. This included fitting a new carbon fibre rig that is 12ft taller, narrowing the shroud base, fitting a smaller cockpit and a new interior. Most recently since agreeing to do the Fastnet Race, Cecil-Wright has added new North sails and a bowsprit. “The Nic 55 was notoriously sluggish downwind. Now we are covered on every angle, which should be exciting.”

This will be Cecil-Wright’s first Fastnet Race and in addition to family members are several hotshots including Richard Powell and Ben Vines.

Despite the forecast, Cecil-Wright is looking forward to the race: “If it wasn’t blowing, it wouldn’t be an adventure. I like adventures and everyone on board is the same. A drift there and back wouldn’t be the same, but I may live to regret saying that! I am apprehensive. When we did the Myth of Malham we had two go down with seasickness and it reminded us how debilitating that is. The big thing on everyone’s mind is to avoid that.”

Once into Cherbourg, the Eager crew is keen to come ashore. “We have a table booked at the Café de Paris! But who knows what time, but we’ll be there!”

Chris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 EagerChris Cecil-Wright's Nicholson 55 Eager Photo Paul Wyeth

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

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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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