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Fastnet Race Figaro Winner Changes After Wicklow Team is Penalised

17th August 2021
Ad Fichou - Innovéo Bihannic was sailed by Yael Poupon and Victor Le Pape to victory in the Fastnet Race Figaro class
Ad Fichou - Innovéo Bihannic was sailed by Yael Poupon and Victor Le Pape to victory in the Fastnet Race Figaro class Credit: Carlo Borlenghi

This year the Rolex Fastnet Race featured on the Classe Figaro calendar. Unfortunately, the proximity of it to the mid-August start of La Solitaire du Figaro, the class’ premier event and the effective World Championship of solo offshore racing, meant that just five Figaros took part. Victory went to a rookie pairing.

Built by Beneteau and designed by VPLP, the 32ft Figaro 3 is an early generation foiler monohull that replaced the Figaro 2 in 2019. But to give some idea of its exceptional performance, the boat has an IRC TCC of around 1.115 - around the same as a Corby 38 or Ker 39.

Sadly the big 35 knots upwind, wind against tide conditions at the start put two Figaro 3s out of action. British favourites, the mixed duo of Cat Hunt and former Artemis Offshore Academy student Hugh Brayshaw aboard Ross Farrow’s Stormwave 2.0 retired after their D2 broke. Meanwhile, sail damage on Eric & Denis Delamare’s Hope forced them to limp into Cherbourg.

And then there were three...

In the conditions, Ireland’s Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee on RL Sailing did a better job playing the shifts and tides. As they rock-hopped around the Lizard they had pulled into the lead ahead of Figaro class rookies Yael Poupon and Victor Le Pape aboard AD Fichou - Innovéo / Bihannic. These two Figaro 3s match raced their way across the Celtic Sea with the Irish leading around their rock with a 20-minute advantage.

After being on the wind all the way down the Channel and on one tack for most of the crossing, the return journey back from the Fastnet Rock to Bishop Rock on a reach in a bit more wind finally enabled the powerful Figaro 3s to make use their boats’ foils. They kept west and rounded the west side of the Traffic Separation Scheme west of the Scilly Isles before getting parked in a ridge in the early hours of Thursday morning.

After three or so hours the two managed to find the breeze but, getting out first, RL Sailing benefitted from being able to sail a largely direct course as AD Fichou - Innovéo / Bihannic lost ground putting in gybes. The two boats ultimately played the approach to the Alderney Race differently with the Irish ducking south of Guernsey and then allowing themselves to get drawn north on the powerful Alderney Race as their rivals managed to soldier through gybing downwind to the north. RL Sailing ultimately arrived in the early hours of Thursday morning more than five hours ahead of her rivals. Sadly the race’s jury later found that RL Sailing had unintentionally entered a TSS (prohibited zones under race rules) and awarded them a 10% penalty dropping them to last place.

This handed victory to AD Fichou - Innovéo / Bihannic sailed by former French Laser champion Yael Poupon (no relation to 3x Solitaire de Figaro and Route du Rhum winner Philippe) and Victor Le Pape (son of the long term head of France’s most famous training centre for offshore racing, Pôle Finistère course au large in Port la Fôret). Aged 22 and 23 respectively they represent a new generation of Figaro sailors coming through in France. For Le Pape in particular watersports are part of his family DNA. His elder brother Martin is also a Figaro sailor and his sister is IMOCA skipper Charlie Dalin’s girlfriend. He spent 10 years windsurfing before he started sailing in anger on board J/80s and Open 5.70s then getting drawn, like a big magnet, towards the Classe Figaro, joining forces with Poupon.

Waving the Class winner flag - AD Fichou - Innovéo Bihannic celebrates winning Figaro 3 Photo: Paul WyethWaving the Class winner flag - AD Fichou - Innovéo Bihannic celebrates winning Figaro 3 Photo: Paul Wyeth

In 2021 Poupon and Le Pape are known as ‘bizuths’ in France, ie Figaro sailors in their first season, and this year have competed in the Figaro class’ Tour de Bretagne and singlehanded in the Solo Concarneau (in which Poupon raced another Figaro). Neither is racing in La Solitaire this year.

For both this was their first Rolex Fastnet Race. Of Sunday’s lively start Le Pape admitted it was alarming. He joked:

“Everyone I spoke to said ‘you are crazy to do it in a Figaro3’. After that first night, I think they were right. Next time I might take a drier boat!”

However, both were impressed by the huge fleet and its diversity from 100ft Ultime trimarans and the mighty ClubSwan 125 Skorpios down, via the IMOCA fleet including many of France’s best known sailors.

“It was a spectacular start but it was very hard,” said Poupon. “The waves were very strong. We put a reef in the mainsail and a reef in the jib - I have never sailed this boat in this configuration before.” He also admitted that compared to sailing in the Figaro fleet where speed differentials between the boats is usually no more than a small fraction of a knot, in the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet bigger boats were passing them sailing several knots faster. “There’s no other event where you can sail with so many boats and so many different boats - it is a new experience. And in 35 knots! Our goal was not to break anything as we knew that a few hours after it would be more calm and we wanted to have all our sails in one piece.”

Rounding the Fastnet Rock was dramatic – at 0200 and in thick fog. As le Pape explained:

“We didn’t see the rock, just the light. There was perhaps 0.1 miles of visibility and we couldn’t see anything. Yael said to me ‘okay the Fastnet is here’. And I was going ‘where? Are you sure??’ I can’t see anything! It was amazing - a crazy experience.”

For them, they were only trapped in the Scilly Isles for around three hours before setting off downwind for the south side of the Casquets TSS. However, they did well in the Alderney Race. “We arrived at Cape de la Hague at a good time because the current had turned and we just had a little bit of current with us.”

So will they return to do the Rolex Fastnet Race?

“Yes,” says le Pape. “But I don’t know in the Figaro. Maybe in a Class40. I want to come in a bigger boat!”

Disappointment for Greystones RL Sailing

The penalty for the Irish was naturally a disappointing conclusion for their doublehanded Figaro season. The experienced offshore sailing duo, who by coincidence both herald from Greystones in County Wicklow, were brought together with the common aim of competing in the elusive mixed doublehanded offshore event proposed for Paris 2024. This season they had already spent the first four months at the Figaro training centre in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and were therefore familiar with the set-up, settings and modes of their quirky foil-born yacht. They then competed in the class’ Sardinha Cup and doublehanded Tour de Bretagne à la Voile.

Wicklow’s Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee on RL SailingIreland’s Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee on RL Sailing

Of their Rolex Fastnet Race Rumball reflected: “We were a lot closer than we realised. Coming out of the Solent was tough, there was a lot of wind. We reefed the main and the jib and were the first Figaro out of the Solent.

"Our closest competition was Victor le Pape – he was right on us the whole time and we were doing a lot of the same stuff at the same time which was kind of nice. It was good to have a real battle. We were playing the currents a lot and there were one or two points when we were going out to specifically play the current and that then paid.”

Lee continued: “We came off Portland well, and then at Start Point we went in and tacked our way up to the tidal gate. We were pretty well set up for the leg up to the Fastnet. We went south of the TSS and did well to get the breeze and current. It was a beat round the Scillies and then we quickly cracked off, went to a Code Zero and then our small spinnaker. It was quite a closely hauled reach on the way back from the Fastnet – we were on a J2, we couldn’t put up the Code Zero which would have been great.

“Then we had the shutdown at the Scillies. We went south of the west of the TSS, it looked like others got stuck behind us but we managed to slip through just. We all parked up though – we were thinking about kedging, counting the lines to see if we had enough! - but we had a feeling the breeze would come in south, so focused on getting south, and it did and so, of the people parked up, we were the first to get the wind. We were parked for six hours, the same time as it took to get from the TSS to Guernsey!

“Then we were set up by Guernsey and were three-sail reaching again and caught a lot of boats on that leg under small spinnaker and Code Zero. That was ripe for the Figaro, the ideal point of sail; we were probably averaging 13/14 knots - we just hammered it.”

Lee felt their boldest move was at the Alderney Race.

“At Guernsey, the tide was going to be against - we’d done loads of routings and knew it was a big risk because the wind was a bit fickle and wasn’t filling in, but we were the only boat to go south and came up around Guernsey and hopped into the tide there and that shot us north around the headland. We got the tide the whole way up and only hit negative tide just near the finish. It was a risk - but it paid. We were doing 12 knots over the ground – faster than the wind speed for a while!”

Both Rumball and Lee are keen to continue doublehanding but, with no firm Olympic goal, this is now harder to do commercially:

"It makes it harder to get funding – with Olympics as the goal then it made it tangible – they understand, they get it. But if you say you want to go off and sail doublehanded, they ask ‘why?..’ it makes it more challenging to formulate a campaign. But I think, regardless, how doublehanded sailing has taken off, I’d find it hard to go back to fully crewed.”

Fastnet Race results for the Figaro class are here

Fastnet Race Live Tracker 2023

Track the progress of the 2023 Fastnet Yacht Race fleet on the live tracker above 

The 50th edition of the 700-mile race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club starts from Cowes, Isle of Wight, on Saturday, 22nd July. Team

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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


At A Glance – Fastnet Race

  • The world's largest offshore yacht race
  • The biennial race is 695 nautical miles - Cowes, Fastnet Rock, Cherbourg
  • 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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