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JPK 11.80 Sunrise Crowned 49th Rolex Fastnet Race Winner

13th August 2021
Sunrise, JPK 11.80 of Britain's Tom Kneen has been crowned overall winner of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race
Sunrise, JPK 11.80 of Britain's Tom Kneen has been crowned overall winner of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Credit: Paul Wyeth

Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise has been crowned overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race. After being confirmed as the runaway winner of the IRC Two division yesterday, no other boat still racing on the 695 nautical mile course can catch the British boat for overall honours in this, the 49th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s offshore classic. Kneen is the first British winner of the race since Charles Dunstone and his maxi Nokia Enigma in 2003.

Reunited this morning with his two-year-old son Sam, Kneen couldn’t hide the emotion of winning a race that has come to mean so much to him: “I’ve had 24 hours to reflect on the race after we finished yesterday, and it really is all about the people, the amazing team that sailed with me, and my incredible partner Francesca who has done so much to make this happen.”

For someone who only took up offshore racing just seven years ago, Kneen has come a long way in a short time. When he started he admits “I didn't know what IRC was. I'd never really heard of the RORC, but what I had heard of was the Rolex Fastnet Race. I was brought up in the southwest, and as a boy I used to sail dinghies at the Royal Western Yacht Club.”

By his own admission, Kneen’s first Rolex Fastnet Race in 2015 was a comedy of errors aboard his secondhand Elan 350 cruiser/racer called Sunrise. But he has proven to be a fast learner who has quickly worked out what it takes to put together a race-winning campaign.

“It doesn't really matter what level in the fleet you're at. As long as you have a good crew, and the right support, then you can win your class. And if you can win the class you can win overall, although that depends on things like tidal gates, wind conditions, things that are much more in the hands of the gods, I think.”

In the Sunrise crew was Kneen, professional Dave Swete, plus Thomas Cheney, Angus Gray-stephens, George Kennedy, Suzy Peters and Tor Tomlinson. Photo: Paul WyethIn the Sunrise crew was Kneen, professional Dave Swete, plus Thomas Cheney, Angus Gray-stephens, George Kennedy, Suzy Peters and Tor Tomlinson. Photo: Paul Wyeth

The fickleness of fate was brought home to him on seeing sistership Dawn Treader knocked out of the race not long after the start. Battling through the severe conditions of the Solent, the J/133 Pintia collided with the JPK 11.80 Dawn Treader, resulting in the latter dismasting and both boats retiring.

Two identical boats - one that barely made it past the start line, the other going on to win the race. The poignancy was not lost on Kneen: “We had a sad moment for an hour or so after that happened. We’ve been racing Dawn Treader hard all season. They’ve had the boat for a lot less time than us, but really got it together. We were looking forward to match racing them all around the Fastnet course and we reckoned that if we could beat them we’d be in with a good chance of winning our division.”

Sunrise struggled in the early stages of the race, always out of phase with the tide as they beat towards Land’s End. But a counterintuitive and brave decision to sail around the eastern side of the traffic separation scheme at Land’s End was the team’s first big break. From then on, one good decision compounded on the next.

This put them in a unique position to stay just in front of an area of high pressure that swallowed up the chasing pack just a few miles behind Sunrise. “I was looking at the tracker last night and it’s quite amazing to look back at that stage of the race. It was a critical moment where we really pushed hard and it was probably the difference between finishing at 10 o'clock in the morning on Thursday or finishing the same time the following day.”

By staying ahead of the high pressure system, Sunrise had done a horizon job on the rest of IRC Two. It was a breakaway move that ultimately proved sufficient to overhaul RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX and claim the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall winner under IRC corrected time.

Sunrise sets sail on the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Kurt Arrtigo/RORCSunrise sets sail on the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Kurt Arrtigo/RORC

Loyal Plymothian that he is, Kneen admits to being pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome he received coming into Cherbourg. “It's not lost on me the irony that the first year the race finish moves to a French town it’s won by a Plymouth boat, by someone who voted against moving the finish to Cherbourg.”

Kneen paid tribute to the RORC and everyone in Cowes and Cherbourg who had helped make the Rolex Fastnet Race happen in such challenging circumstances. “I think anyone who has managed to arrange an event in this pandemic deserves a medal. The level of complexity of making anything happen is just at a completely different level now in the pandemic. The fact that the RORC made a brave decision to move the finish, and then managed to deliver another astonishing race - it just demonstrates the amazing people at the RORC have got in it.

“I wasn’t particularly positive about the change of finish because I'm loyal to Plymouth, and we really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Cherbourg. But the welcome at the finish was amazing, the village is something else, the whole experience was incredible. If I have one regret it’s that in this special moment, Francesca wasn’t able to be with me on this race because she was back at home looking after our two year old. She is the one who has made it possible for me to do this race.

“When you make crazy plans to do things like this and it becomes a bit of an obsession, and you never really believe you're going to do it. I think all of us in offshore sailing ask ourselves why we commit to this ridiculous sport where you get mostly cold and wet, and 90 per cent of the time you wish you weren’t there.

“But then you get glimmers of complete elation, adrenaline and an experience that is just unmatchable. There's no greater sense of achievement. When you get everything in the right place, with the right people, in the right conditions. We had four, five or six hours of that, between the Scillies and the Lizard, when we had 25 knots of breeze and the boat - our so called ‘caravan’ - was flying along at 20 plus knots. In moments like that, all the rest of it you forget very quickly, when you’re beating in 30 knots of wind and vomiting over the back and wondering why you’re there. It’s the moments of elation that live with you, and it’s what keeps us coming back.”

Volvo Ocean Race veteran Dave Swete was the only pro sailor on the Sunrise crew. Apart from Swete and Kneen in their late 30s, the rest of the crew are all in their 20s, some of whom have come up through the RORC’s Griffin youth racing programme aimed at fostering young offshore talent. Suzy Peters and Tom Cheney were co-navigators on the race. They were joined by Quentin Bes-Green, Angus Gray-Stephens, George Kennedy and Victoria Tomlinson.

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 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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