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Fastnet Race: Developing Weather Pattern Continues to Favour Larger Boats as Pata Negra Gets Back on Top

9th August 2021
Leading the charge among the monohulls is of Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev’s mighty ClubSwan 125 Skorpios.
Leading the charge among the monohulls is of Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev’s mighty ClubSwan 125 Skorpios Credit: Carlo Borlenghi

Fastnet Race Day 2 2000 - While offshore racers may learn to take things as they come, in the Fastnet Race it’s rather less than a barrel of laughs to slug to windward from Land’s End out to the Rock, and then find that off the coast of West Cork, the wind is backing and you’ll have it forward of the beam - maybe well forward of the beam - once again as you make your way back towards the Isle of Scilly. Yet this is one of the more likely meteorological scenarios facing the medium and smaller boats as they head into the second night, knowing that somewhere way up ahead, the biggies such as the 140ft Skorpios, the mighty Rambler 88, sundry superannuated Volvo 70s and an entire slew of Imoca 60s, have had themselves a relatively straightforward long-and-short beat out to The Rock, and are looking at the prospect of fair wind sailing back into the English Channel, where an entirely new and probably favourable weather prospect presents itself for the intriguing 2021-style finish leg from the Isles of Scilly to Cherbourg.

The bulk of the fleet are still between Start Point and Land’s End, plodding westward as best they can into unreliable headwinds, knowing that beyond Land's End the World’s Most Irritating Traffic Separation Scheme presents itself to provide the quandary of whether to throw away hard-gained weathering in order to gain freedom, or else continue slugging on until you can leave this enormous imaginary island to starboard. It may be imaginary, but it looms so large that some demented navigators have taken to visualising it as a vast Dutch polder, complete with cow-filled farms and windmills, comely rosy-cheeked maidens, laughing children and much honest rural toil…….

Yet while this is what it’s like for the ordinary sailors, the surrealistic reality is that in the western approaches to Cherbourg, the giant multi-hull Maxi Edmund de Rothschild is sweeping in towards the finish at 20 knots, and will probably have crossed the line by the time this is posted.

So with so many known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we can only throw ourselves back on the figures. The former Volvo 70 I Love Poland is closing in on the West Cork coast in impressive style, and leads all of IRC. This will cause dancing in the streets of Cascais in Portugal, where the old war horse is usually based so that Polish offshore wannabes can avail of decidedly rigorous training all year round, and it is certainly paying off. ILP also leads IRC Zero. Meanwhile, in the foothills of Snowdonia they can allow themselves a pirouette or two in Pwllheli, as Andrew Hall’s newly-acquired Lombard 45 Pata Negra - having had her fingers burnt by going too far into Lyme Bay yesterday - had sailed a blinder since to get herself back into the IRC1 lead, and is currently rounding the north end of the TSS island and making 7 knots in a local wind mutation to have herself on course for the Rock.

IRC3 is our next main area of interest, and here the hyper-talented Alexis Loison continues to lead with Leon just to the west of the Lizard, but Cork’s own Nieulargo is still very much on touch and is currently 5th in this largest class of all. However, in IRC 4 the Sunfast Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire had been finding the going tough against more modern boats, but after slipping in the class rankings the Irish Offshore Sailing crew have clawed themselves back up to fourth, which is some going for a now-mature boat which has been round the block more than a few times.

In the Figaro 3 two-handed division, it has resolved itself as a two boat race, and at the time of writing its the turn of RL Sailing (Kenneth Rumball & Pamela Lee) to lead, while in general fleet terms they’ve got themselves close ahead of Leon just west of the Lizard, which is impressive company to be keeping. But both boats still have to cope with the Land’s End TSS quandary, while away to the northwest, the brilliantly-sailed Imoca 60 Apivia (Charlie Dalin) has been the second mono-hull after Skorpios to get round The Rock, Rambler 88 will soon be doing the same very welcome turn, while away to the southeast somewhere towards Lundy, the Imoca 60 Hugo Boss is demonstrating yet again in the Fastnet Race that whatever philosophy motivates the HB design team, windward ability is not an important part of it.

Tracker below

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.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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


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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