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IRC Three Fastnet Race Victory for Loison as Two-Handed Goes to the Wire

13th August 2021
Victory in IRC Two-Handed & IRC Three for Alexis Loison's JPK 1030 Léon, racing with Guillaume Pirouelle
Victory in IRC Two-Handed & IRC Three for Alexis Loison's JPK 1030 Léon, racing with Guillaume Pirouelle Credit: Paul Wyeth

One of the most intense battles, both on the water and under IRC corrected time, in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race played out in IRC Three. Here the scratch boat was unquestionably the JPK 1030 Léon, skippered by the defending IRC Three and Two-Handed champion and former overall winner of the Fastnet Race, Alexis Loison, racing yet again doublehanded, but this time with Guillaume Pirouelle.

Interesting was the diversity of crew make-ups: Fully crewed, doublehanded or mixed doublehanded, it seemed to make no difference to the competitiveness of the top boats. While the lead double handers in IRC Four were occasionally in the mix, it was mainly the doublehanded crews in IRC Three that held the top places in the IRC Two-Handed ranking.

After surviving Sunday’s brisk start, the battle for the front of IRC Three, as the boats tackled the stiff beat down the Channel, as usual was down to picking the shifts and playing the tide. Sadly some British Sun Fast 3300s teams had not made it through - Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley (hoping to repeat their IRC Two-Handed victory from 2015) opted out of the race as James Harayda and Dee Caffari on Gentoo retired with a ripped mainsail. Another, Swell, sailed by double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Henry Bomby, was also having a hard time having been OCS, although they had managed to recover well from their premature start, overhauling Léon by the Needles.

But then as Bomby recounted, they “got Portland Bill wrong - we were playing for a left shift, so our main rivals got four or five miles ahead of us in the first six hours. So we had to play catch up from there.”

At 0600 on the first morning, the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier skippered by Henry Foster, had nosed into the lead, hugging the shore at Start Point with Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-bee², Philippe Girardin’s J/120 Hey Jude and Raging-bee² neck and neck for the lead to the south. The British army remained out in front as they sniggled around the Lizard coastline and continued on in the lead – just - as they diving south of the Land's End TYSS and up its west side.

At the Fastnet Rock on the early hours of Wednesday morning, it remained tight on the water, but the lower-rated Léon led over Raging-bee² and Hey Jude by 45 minutes with Fujitsu British Soldier 13 minutes further back. At this stage, Swell was 1 hours 19 minutes behind under corrected time.

Half way into the return journey to Bishop Rock Fujitsu British Soldier and Hey Jude stayed west as Raging-bee² had nosed ahead of Léon to the east. By being further east still, Swell gained by being able to lay the east side of the TSS west of the Scilly Isles, as the boats ahead lost out, having to gybe to avoid it.

But the major hurdle ahead was the ridge that engulfed the fleet late on Wednesday into the early hours of Thursday, that parked the fleet. Here the Fujitsu British Soldier crew made the decision to head west of the TSS. This worked out badly for them and they remained more firmly stuck than the boats to the east. Hey Jude and Swell came out best in this reshuffle along with doublehanders Olivier Burgaud and Sylvain Pontu on their JPK 1080 Aileau just to their south.

JPK 1030 Léon arrives in the early hours of Friday morning at the Cherbourg finish lineJPK 1030 Léon arrives in the early hours of Friday morning at the Cherbourg finish line Photo: Paul Wyeth

The long reach back east down the Channel was when the Brits on Swell finally edged into the lead on the water and then, unimaginably, ahead of Loison under IRC corrected time. Here the frontrunners were all laying the south side of the Casquets TSS until Léon edged south and Swell began to cover her vigorously, however this tactic left Aileau free to sail a path closer to the TSS and the rhumb line and take the lead on the water. Swell did well to stay in front of Léon, but on the approach to Cherbourg the local sailing demi-Gods on their lowered rated JPK 10.30, gybed closer to Cap de la Hague and were able to close enough on Swell to beat them by 36 minutes under corrected time at the line.

“I am very happy to win again and very pleased with our performance,” commented Loison, a professional Figaro sailor. “We pushed very hard on board and that is good for Guillaume and me. We trained well together for all of this year with the Figaro, so to win our class in the Rolex Fastnet Race is a great thing to have happened.”

Throughout the race, Léon found herself in much closer competition than when Loison and JPK boss Jean-Pierre Kelbert were the runaway IRC Three and Two-Handed winners in 2019. “Maybe because the weather was different, and I think because all of the Two-Handed crews have worked a lot to produce a better performance,” muses Loison over why it was closer this year. “We have seen a lot of well prepared boats, especially in IRC Two-Handed, like Shirley and Henry. They were very strong and made a good come back at the end. After the Scillies, Swell sailed very fast and we could not do anything, but have a little cry! However near the end, Swell went further south and had less wind than us and we could come back.

“Another Two-Handed team Aileau took a very good option near the end, so we had to worry about them too. The Rolex Fastnet is always a difficult race, there is a lot of options and a lot of boats, so it is impossible to control all of the boats. We chose our tactics looking at Swell, and didn’t consider Aileau. The Raz Blanchard [Alderney Race] produces a new complexity to the race, but it is a good finish.”

Léon’s 27-year-old co-skipper Guillaume Pirouelle, a past winner of the Tour de France à la Voîle, is being groomed by Loison to take over the Région Normandie Figaro campaign from him in 2022.

“It is a pleasure to race with Alexis and a great opportunity to learn from his knowledge,” said Pirouelle. “We have had a great season in the Figaro, so to finish first in the Rolex Fastnet Race is so good. I am very happy.”

Second place in IRC Two-Handed and IRC Three for double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Henry Bomby on their Sunfast 3300 Swell Photo: Paul WyethSecond place in IRC Two-Handed and IRC Three for double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Henry Bomby on their Sunfast 3300 Swell Photo: Paul Wyeth

Robertson and Bomby had to make do with second place both in IRC Three and Two-Handed. While strong contenders in this fleet, after their disappointing first six hours, even at the Scillies on their return journey, a podium position, and certainly a second place, seemed impossible. “If you had asked us at the Scillies I would have said it was a long shot,” said an exhausted looking Bomby. “Then as we started making progress I started to believe it was possible.”


Robertson, better known for inshore racing, seemed exhausted to the point of dropping as Swell docked in Cherbourg’s Port Chantereyne.“It was so intense- it feels like we’ve raced around the planet!” admitted the two-time Olympic champion turned TV presenter. “It feels like I’ve been away a lot longer than five days. There were some really hard days and some really amazing days when we’ve grinned from ear to ear. To be right in the thick of it, battling for first place, was amazing.

“Henry is an amazing talent. He always believed that somewhere along the line we would be able to get back into them.”

Among the contenders for IRC Three honours, Léon had some strong rivalry from another successful Cherbourg boat, Raging-bee². Ultimately Louis-Marie Dussère’s JPK 10.80 lost ground in the Channel and finished third on corrected time 44 minutes, behind Swell.

“We were very pleased to be the first to the Fastnet Rock as we knew from the beginning of the race that Alexis Loison would win!” declared Dussère. “But for this race we had a good fight with him, always close and that was new for us and the first time we have crossed the finish line ahead of him. For me the new course is better because on the old course, when you passed the Scillies, the race was almost over. Now when you arrive at the Scillies it is not finished at all! At Alderney, Aileau was one mile behind us. We went south for more tide and Aileau went north and after that that she was five miles ahead. But at the finish Aileau lost the wind and we passed them.”

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.

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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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