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Unseasonable gales in August have little meaning for those who experienced a terrible night that month in 1979, on the third day of that year’s Fastnet Race, as the skipper and crew of Flicka recall.

The morning after the hurricane hit, it was the lead story around the world. For a small group of Schull Harbour Sailing Club members, it was just a lucky escape.

In Schull that afternoon, fellow sailors and newsmen armed with cameras and seasick pills were going to watch the Fastnet Race frontrunners round the rock.

Michael Murphy — our skipper — and wife Derval, together with Mick Barnett, Steve Cone and the Collins girls were keen to go.

Frank Boland had offered them the use of his 36ft heavy displacement motor cruiser Flicka, and suggested that the two older members of his family, Mary and John, would come along. They headed for sea with a picnic, a bottle of grog for the crew — and a warning to be careful from harbour master Jimmy Reilly.

As Flicka nosed into the bay, the other boats were returning. Past Long Island, the swell deepened and the boat bounced to the Fastnet Rock. A feast was consumed on board, and as the cruiser hung around, head to wind off the lighthouse, dusk descended, with the onset of heavy rain and an ever increasing wind. In hindsight it was fortunate there was no marine radio on board, as to the east the horror of the night was beginning.

Many years later, while attending a book launch for The Lightkeeper, author Gerald Butler confirmed that he was on duty on the Fastnet that night and was trying to contact Flicka on the VHF, and eventually when he lost sight of her navigation lights he called Baltimore lifeboat, which immediately launched, but was then diverted to the Irish yacht, Ken Rohan’s Regardless which was in serious danger, having lost her steering off the Staggs.

In hindsight it was fortunate there was no marine radio on board, as to the east the horror of the night was beginning

The mystery of the boat described in his book was all the more intriguing when he discovered that the owner, Frank Boland, was one of the Commissioners of Irish Lights who had overall responsibility for the operation of the Fastnet.

Having turned for home, the full force of the storm hit — together with the realisation of the vessel’s unsuitability for the weather, with the following sea in danger of swamping the boat.

The sing-song provided a little comfort, while all eyes peered through the darkness as the nearer to Schull they motored, the more serious the situation became.

In the harbour, the wind was beyond gale force and appeared cyclonic in direction, hitting the hull from all angles. The raindrops were like thimbles flying upwards into a night that was as black as a witch’s hat. Shapes whirled in the water and lights faded in and out as the screen wipers thwacked.

Through prisms of water, Steve Cone on the bow pointed out the lights of a yacht battling its way up Long Island Sound, which subsequently turned out to be Ted Crosbie, who hugged the island shore for shelter all night. Steve’s face, lit by the bow navigation lights that matched his green oilskins, made him look like the Incredible Hulk.

With Schull pier underwater and a chaotic scene developing for the yachts lining the pier wall, it was decided to try for Flicka’s moorings. Here, Mary Boland played her ace card, managing to locate the mooring buoys. Mick Barnett and Steve managed to hook it at the first attempt, but were unable to hold on when struck by a particularly powerful gust, losing the only boathook on board. A quick search located a hooked-on boarding ladder with which Steve, lying over the bow, managed to secure the mooring, while Mick Barnett held onto his legs for dear life.

Shapes whirled in the water and lights faded in and out as the screen wipers thwacked

For Flicka’s crew, the danger was increasing. Disembarkation was to be a nightmare. Spouse was separated from spouse, sibling from sibling; if the worst happened, no family would endure a double tragedy.

Boarding the rubber dinghy was like riding a panicking porpoise and every yard travelled shipped a gallon of water. Three seemingly endless journeys landed everyone back to the pier, where the rafted yachts were splintering together while one leg of Peter Jay’s catamaran lay like a beached whale on the head of the pier.

The last to abandon Flicka was Michael Murphy, with Mick Barnett helming the dinghy. On shore, everyone tried to track them in the impenetrable darkness. Lamps were waved back and forth and names called … no sign. The only noise above the wind was the sound of children crying on the rafted yachts.

A horror began to insinuate itself into the minds of the watchers. As their senses verged on the possibility of loss, familiar voices suddenly boomed from the darkness. The little outboard engine had finally given up the ghost and the dinghy had been driven into the shingle beach in the Acres. The short walk, the hugs and laughter brought blessed relief.

The wind dropped off gradually about 4am and as the early dawn rose, both sailors and fisherman met in the metallic light to witness the havoc, only then to learn the fate of those who had encountered the demon in the night.

Patrick O’Reilly has also shared his memories of that fateful night in August 1979:

I was a 10-year-old with my late father, Barry O’Reilly — ex-Dragon sailor and ex-Tritsch-Trasch of Howth — as well as Dr Maurice O’Keeffe, Arabella O’Keeffe and Morgan Sheehy, all of Kinsale, when we left Schull Harbour on August 13th, 1979. We were on Flor O’Dowd’s beautiful 35ft ketch, with Maurice O’Keeffe at the helm.

All day, the sea state at the Fastnet was oily and sloppy. Sitting around at the Fastnet for the day caused almost all of us sea sickness which, as I remember, was fully cured by Campbell’s tomato soup and white sliced pan from O’Dowd’s bakery in Kinsale.

We saw both Ted Turner’s Tenacious and Bob Bell’s Condor round the Fastnet. My 10-year-old self definitely got a triumphal wave from Turner, the ‘mouth of the south’.

I remember well the change in weather around dusk. We surfed the following sea to the mouth of Schull Harbour. We must have got in to the harbour earlier than Flicka as we did not have the same screaming wind that they had and got ashore without incident.

That night we stayed in the East End Hotel. The hotel had the VHF wired to a tannoy, which broascast the drama of Ted Crosbie (was he sailing a Sadlier?) in Long Island Sound and indeed that of others. It was both real and surreal at the same time...

Published in Fastnet

August 3rd's Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes is shaping up to have more Irish interest than the landmark turning point with eight Irish-flagged boats in the 26-nation race and Irish sailors also registered as competing on boats across the record fleet.

As Afloat reported earlier, this is a significant year, not only for the record 400-boat fleet taking part in the world's biggest offshore race but it marks the 40th anniversary of the 1979 race.

As well as Conor Fogerty's foiling Figaro 3 Raw, from Howth and Keith Miller's Andante, a Yamaha 36 from Wexford, boats with Irish flags include the much campaigned Dehler 34 Big Deal by father and Son duo Derek and Conor Dillon from Foynes Yacht Club.

Big Deal Dehler 0729Derek and Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal from Foynes Yacht Club Photo: Afloat

Ronan O'Siochru's Dun Laoghaire Marina-based Irish Offshore Sailing School will have two entries Desert Star and Sherkin, both Sunfast 37s.

Ronan O Siuchru 3608Ronan O Siuchru from Irish Offshore Sailing Photo: Afloat

Irish Offshore Sailing 2724Irish Offshore Sailing School will have two Sunfast 37s racing. Photo: Afloat

Cian McCarthy's Eos from Kinsale, James Crockatt's Irish-flagged A35 Jump 'n' Shout and Brendan Coghlan's Dun Laoghaire-based Sunfast 3600 YoYo.

Yoyo Brendan Coghlan 2237Brendan Coghlan's Sunfast 3600 YoYo Photo: Afloat

As Afloat previously reported, a special service at Holy Trinity, Cowes will be held the night before the race.

Irish Sailors in the Fastnet Race

Irish sailors are also competing on the following boats (from the crew lists so far): Venomous, Mardy Gras, Polished Manx II, Catzero, Simples, Lucky, Rho, Galahad of Cowes, Finnish Line, Lutine, Juno, Andante, Sunset, Eos, Rock Lobster, Yoyo, Jengu, Alcibiades III, Rum N Cork II and Jackhammer.

Jackkhammer J125 2464The Welsh ISORA competitor Jackhammer will have Irish crew onboard for the Fastnet Race Photo: Afloat

Published in Fastnet
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County Wexford suckler and tillage farmer Keith Miller is as at home on the water as he is in the fields. Hailing from the Kilmore Quay Boat Club and with 30 years' service with the Rosslare Harbour Lifeboat, this will be Keith's first time doing the Rolex Fastnet Race although he has competed in the last two editions of the Round Ireland Race. He had only just bought the boat in 2015 when he started planning the first race in 2016, competing with his two daughters.

On the Fastnet: "The preparations alone are quite a challenge", says Keith. "After that, we feel the biggest challenges will be how to make best use of the tides at the headlands along the English south coast. The race has such a legendary history, it is a challenge every sailor dreams of and not for the faint-hearted."

Keith's crew is drawn from other local sailors from Ireland including a fellow lifeboat crewman and station mechanic, a secondary school teacher, a retired teacher, an engineer and his daughter Beth, who at 15 was the youngest Round Ireland Race competitor in 2018.

Published in Fastnet
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The atmosphere in Cowes in the days leading up to the start of the Fastnet Race inevitably provides a heightening sense of anticipation and tension writes W M Nixon. And for 2019’s race on Saturday, August 3rd, there is an added intensity of emotion, as it marks the 40th Anniversary of the storm-struck race of 1979 which resulted in a total of 19 deaths.

In solemn acknowledgement of this, and in memory of those lost – some of whose former shipmates will be sailing in this year’s race – a special 40th Anniversary Service will be held the evening before the race in the “Sailors’ Church” in Cowes, Holy Trinity Parish Church, which overlooks the Royal Yacht Squadron starting line from which the Fastnet fleet traditionally starts its race westward.

squadron castle holy trinity2The Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes with Holy Trinity Church beyond

To be held on Friday, August 2nd at 1800 hrs, the service will be in the church which has the Memorial to those lost in August 1979, while there’s another Memorial Stone on Cape Clear Island, the nearest land to the Fastnet Rock itself.

There will be other memorial ceremonies in Baltimore and West Cork. But it’s highly appropriate that the sequence of remembering and honouring those lost should begin where this fateful event, which they had so keenly anticipated as a great sea adventure, finally got underway in the time-honoured flurry of excitement forty long years ago.

fastnet memorial3The 1979 Fastnet memorial in Holy Trinity. David Sheahan and Gerald Winks – lost from the Half Tonner Grimalkin – were both originally from Ireland
Fastnet cape clear memorial4The Cape Clear Memorial stone is an eloquent reminder that the nearby Fastnet Rock is very much of West Cork

Published in RORC
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Howth Yacht Club’s Laura Dillon is among six women profiled by the Royal Ocean Racing Club ahead of their participation in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

While crew lists for August’s race are not yet finalised, at present just over 10% of those competing in the biennial voyage will be women — more than double the rate of races in the 1990s.

The RORC cites role models such as Tracy Edwards, Ellen MacArthur and Dee Caffari as a reason for this increase in female participation — but notes that opportunities for women at all levels to go sailing are increasing “too slowly”.

For 40-year-old Laura Dillon, it was a high competitive drive from a young age that saw her progress from dinghies to 1720 Sportsboats to Beneteau Firsts in both the Round Ireland and Fastnet races.

This year she swaps the helm of Harry J Heijst’s S&S 41, Winsome, for a place on the four-strong crew of Conor Fogerty’s Figaro Beneteau 3, Raw — one of only three of the new offshore class in the race.

She observes that women’s participation in the Fastnet as enjoyed a considerable step up in the last generation — but says there is a direct parallel with women’s positions in the business world, and believes it will take another generation yet before their numbers increase substantially.

The Rolex Fastnet Race website has much more on this story HERE.

Published in Howth YC

While the main kudos in the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from class wins or ultimately the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall IRC winner, who will simply be first home to Plymouth often turns into an engaging, heavyweight bout.

Among the monohull contenders this year, in one corner is the Hong Kong newcomer, Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag, skippered by Australian David Witt with a crew featuring many of the sailors from their Volvo Ocean Race campaign.

In the other is George David’s familiar Juan K-designed Rambler 88, a boat that has been tweaked to within an inch of its life by its fastidious crew including many former Team New Zealand America’s Cup heroes.

For Scallywag, the Rolex Fastnet Race will be one of the pinnacles amid a major trophy-hunting season that kicks off in the Caribbean at Antigua Sailing Week and follows with the Antigua Bermuda Race, and then the historic Transatlantic Race 2019 from Newport, RI to Cowes via the Lizard. Post-Fastnet, Scallywag heads for the Med.

Part of Scallywag has enjoyed previous success in the Rolex Fastnet Race – her foredeck and some of her frames come from Charles St Clair Brown and Bill Buckley’s Maximus, line honours winner in 2005.

However, she was launched brand new for the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart as Ragamuffin 100 for Australian sailing legend Syd Fischer, who contributed to her design with Witt and naval architect Andy Dovell.

According to Witt, Scallywag — with a beam of 5.8m — falls between the slender multiple Hobart winner Wild Oats XI (5.1m beam) and the powerful Comanche (8m beam), the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race line honours victor.

“We are the lightest 100 footer with the most sail area,” says Witt. The boat has a keel that cants to plus or minus 45 degrees, twin daggerboards and starts the season with a new boom.

Seng Huang Lee will be on board for the Rolex Fastnet Race. “His main goal with this boat is to win as many Rolex events as he can this year with the main emphasis being the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart,” explains Witt, who personally has sailed the Fastnet many times including on the Grand Mistral/Maxi One Designs, Nicorette and on Knut Frostad’s VO70 Innovation Kvaerner.

Witt says he finds the Fastnet Race more challenging tactically than the annual race to Hobart: “It is around a rock, so it gives the chance to sail the boat in a different range of conditions. The Hobart race has been mostly straight downwind in recent editions.”

As to how they will get on against Rambler 88, the last time the two boats met in the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart, it was close: the longer Scallywag (then Ragamuffin 100) gained the upper hand at the finish line to win by just over four minutes.

“I’d hope we’re faster, but you never know,” says Witt. “We have only raced Rambler 88 once before and we got the better of them. But it’ll depend on far we have both come with our development.”

“GeorgeGeorge David’s Juan K-designed Rambler 88

One of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s most faithful combinations, George David and Rambler 88, returns for a fifth time in the hope of achieving a result they deserve finally.

As David states: “Too often we have been bridesmaid, which could be what brings us back along with the great traditions and scenery of this classic race.”

And this is despite David coming close to losing his life when in 2011 his Rambler 100 lost its keel and capsized after rounding the Fastnet Rock, leaving him in the water drifting away from the boat.

In that race David says they were on track to break the record, which ultimately went to the Ian Walker-skippered VO70, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, with a time of 1d 18h 39m 00s — the present monohull race record — while Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard set the Maxi record of 1d 20h 09m 47s.

Recent races’ conditions haven’t favoured big boats on handicap. In 2003 Charles Dunstone came close to claiming ‘the double’ (ie line and handicap honours) with his Reichel Pugh 76 Nokia but was beaten across the line by Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo 1. The last boat to score the double was Ludde Ingvall and his Maxi Nicorette in 1995.

Even rarer are the ‘triples’ — line and handicap honours plus the race record. Wild Oats XI managed it twice (2005 and 2012) in the Rolex Sydney Hobart and George David and Rambler have also enjoyed it in other races, notably the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2007 (with a record that still stands), the 2016 Volvo Round Ireland Race and in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600.

“This has to be the goal for us in this year’s Rolex Fastnet although – as always – the weather needs to co-operate,” states David. “Big breeze should give us the edge against Scallywag and conversely lighter breeze won’t.”

This is the assessment too of Rambler 88’s eminent tactician Brad Butterworth: “Scallywag is a pretty fast boat – it has got a lot of sail area and a lot of stability. If it is a predominantly light to moderate air race it will be difficult to keep up with those guys, but if the breeze gets up and it gets sporty, we’ll have a chance. In 18 knots or more, we start to perform much the same as them.”

Rambler 88 goes into its fourth season highly refined, benefitting from several keel modifications and an ever-evolving sail wardrobe. “It has got better and better. Now it is going to its maximum,” states Butterworth. New for this season is a slightly lighter mast and a deeper keel.

And while this might seem to be a match race, a possible re-enactment of Rambler 88’s battle with Comanche in 2015, there are still other prospects. If conditions are brisk, how far behind them would a foiling IMOCA 60 like Jérémie Beyou’s Charal be?

For more details visit the Rolex Fastnet Race website HERE.

Published in Fastnet

One of the largest fleets of IMOCA 60s ever gathered is due to set off on the Rolex Fastnet Race on Saturday, 3rd August. 29 of the boats, best known for their use in the Vendée Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race, will assemble on the Cowes start line of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event to take part in the biennial voyage to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock - 26 competing in the IMOCA class, another three in the main IRC fleet.

This line-up is the third biggest in IMOCA history, after the 2016-17 and 2008-09 Vendée Globes, and is due to the Rolex Fastnet Race being a qualifier for the next Vendée Globe.

"However," adds Antoine Mermod, President of IMOCA, "the race means a lot and is important to French sailors because it is so historic. It also has a very nice course."

The IMOCA class is also now under the microscope internationally after its selection as one of the two classes for the next Ocean Race (ex-Volvo Ocean Race).

Newer IMOCA 60s incorporate the latest foiling technology. This has transformed their performance, reducing displacement and drag thanks to their foils partly, or at times fully, elevating them from the water. Since the last Vendée Globe in 2016-17 when this technology featured on a few top boats, second-generation foils are being fitted to the latest launches.

"At the best angle and boat speed the foils give a 15% jump in performance - it's huge," explains Mermod. "You sail at 13 knots and then when you start foiling the speed jumps to 18. You never do 15 knots!"

Eight new foilers are set to be on the start line of next year's Vendée Globe. Two are currently entered in the Rolex Fastnet Race - Jérémie Beyou's Charal, launched last year, and Sebastien Simon's Arkea-Paprec, a brand new design from Juan Kouyoumdjian, launching this June. Simon, the winner of last year's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, will be sailing with 2004-05 Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou, who also won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2015 aboard PRB. (PRB is also competing, but with new skipper Kevin Escoffier, who sailed Dongfeng Racing Team to victory in the last Volvo Ocean Race, alongside Jérémie Beyou).

Among the older foil-assisted boats are Bureau Vallée 2, formerly the 2016 Vendée Globe winner Banque Populaire, now skippered by Louis Burton. German skipper Boris Herrmann returns with Malizia (ex-Edmond de Rothschild), which he sailed to third place in the last Rolex Fastnet Race. Italian ex-Mini sailor Giancarlo Pedote has acquired the former St Michel Virbac previously campaigned by Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès.

Sam DaviesSam Davies will compete with past winner Paul Meilhat on Initiatives Coeur © Vincent Curutchet / Initiatives Coeur

Britain's Sam Davies is back on Initiatives Coeur (originally Michel Desjoyeaux's 2008-9 Vendée Globe winner Foncia), having taken over this campaign from Tanguy de Lamotte, with whom she claimed fourth place in the last Rolex Fastnet Race. This time Davies is sailing with Paul Meilhat, winner of last year's Route du Rhum and the last Rolex Fastnet Race.

With the next Vendée Globe now 18 months away, many skippers have acquired boats that are new to them and are using this season to get acquainted.

Having sold their 2016-17 Vendée Globe winning IMOCA 60 to Louis Burton, Banque Populaire is back in the class having acquired the former MACIF/SMA, originally Francois Gabart's 2012-13 Vendée Globe winner. For their latest programme they have recruited 29-year-old Clarisse Crémer, following her second place in the 2017 Mini-Transat La Boulangère's Series class. On board for the Fastnet race with Crémer will be the team's principal skipper, 2016-17 Vendée Globe winner Armel le Cleac'h, as he awaits the launch of his new replacement Ultime maxi-trimaran.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Rolex Fastnet Race's mighty IMOCA line-up are the seven female skippers, three British. In addition to Sam Davies is former Mini sailor Pip Hare, who has acquired Superbigou, the boat on which Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm won the 2002-3 Around Alone and subsequent 2006-7 Velux 5 Oceans solo round the world races.

Miranda Merron makes a welcome return to the IMOCA 60 after a long tenure in the Class40 with her latest Campagne de France - the former Temenos/Great American IV. Of the Rolex Fastnet Race she says: "I have been around the Fastnet Rock countless times in the RORC's races or otherwise, but it is still the same mythical place with the amazing lighthouse. It is always a pleasure to round it." She is racing with her partner and IMOCA coach, French offshore sailing legend Halvard Mabire.

Other female skippers competing are Ireland's Joan Mulloy, on Mike Golding's former Gamesa, France's Alexia Barrier on 4myplanet and Franco-German skipper Isabelle Joschke on MACSF.

While it is not yet as internationally diverse as the Class40, still ten different countries are represented including two from Scandinavia: Norway's Oliver Korte on Galactic Viking (ex-Solidaire) in the IRC fleet and Finland's Ari Huusela on Ariel 2 (previously Dee Caffari's Aviva/GAES).

Eleven of the last Vendée Globe's 29 skippers (albeit only five finishers) will be racing in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. Since that race several have graduated up: Swiss skipper Alan Roura (who sailed Pip Hare's boat to 12th place) now has Marc Guillemot's Safran while French skipper Fabrice Amedeo, who came home 11th, has acquired Pieter Heerema's No Way Back, a first generation foiler from the last race, rechristened Newrest - Art & Fenêtres.

As a genre IMOCA 60s date back to the early 1980s when it evolved in singlehanded oceanic races such as the BOC Challenge and OSTAR, however their development accelerated once they were adopted for the first Vendée Globe in 1989. A piece of IMOCA history is taking part in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race in the IRC fleet, with Jean-Marie Patier's Le Cigare Rouge, the narrow lightweight yawl that was runner-up in the second Vendée Globe in the hands of Jean-Luc van den Heede, winner of the recent Golden Globe Race.

Several boats are entered from the 2000 Vendée Globe, the race in which Dame Ellen MacArthur memorably fought Michel Desjoyeaux for the lead all the way up the Atlantic. Most notable of these is Alexia Barrier's 4myplanet, which in the hands of original owner Catherine Chabaud, won the Fastnet Challenge Cup outright under handicap 20 years ago.

For more information go to the Rolex Fastnet Race minisite here

Published in Vendee Globe

The most impressive collection of offshore racing hardware from across the globe is set to gather off Cowes for the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race on 3 August writes James Boyd.

Following the 340 available places in the IRC fleet selling out in just four minutes and 37 seconds when entry opened on 7th January, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, organisers of this, the world's largest offshore yacht race, has provided a sneak preview of the 2019 line-up.

While the bulk of the fleet remains the IRC entries, competing for both their class titles as well as the overall Fastnet Challenge Cup, 2019 will see an unprecedented entry of 'non-IRC' boats, the majority from France. Entered at present are 25 Class40s (plus two more in the IRC fleet). There are also set to be a handful of Ultimes. At 100ft long, these maxi trimarans are the world's largest and fastest offshore race boats.

The present race record for the Rolex Fastnet Race was set in 2011 by the 130ft trimaran Banque Populaire V, skippered by Loïck Peyron, in a time of 32 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 18.5 knots. While shorter, any of the new generation Ultimes is capable of bettering this time.

The Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes an unusually large number of British female skippers taking part, among them Initiatives Coeur's Sam Davies and former Mini and Class40 sailor Pip Hare.

In sheer numbers the IRC fleet should once again be huge. At present the maximum entries has been comfortably exceeded although the exact number making it to the start will fluctuate due to circumstances, not least the requirement to comply with the RORC's race qualification requirements.

In the fight for monohull line honours, leading the charge should be the Hong Kong entry, Scallywag 100, skippered by David Witt (from the team that competed in the last Volvo Ocean Race). But she will face stiff competition from the highly refined Rambler 88 of American George David, the Fastnet Race's 2017 monohull line honours winner, and Ludde Ingvall's CQS.

Among the fleet are many past winners. This includes the reigning Rolex Fastnet Race champion, Didier Gaudoux, who returns with his faithful JND 39 Lann Ael 2. Conversely, returning with yet another new boat is 2015 winner and race veteran Géry Trentesaux, back this time on the bigger version of his victorious Courrier Du Leon, the JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommande. Given that French boats have won the last three editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race outright, it is no surprise that after the UK, French boats are second largest entry this year - with 58 in the IRC fleet, plus an additional 35 or so in the non-IRC classes.

At present class splits are a long way off being decided, but it is these classes themselves, and not the overall prize, that provide the most serious competition within the Rolex Fastnet Race. However already identifiable are groups of similar boats, due to have exceptional competition on the biennial 605 mile race from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock.

Before France's domination of the race, the race was twice won (in 2009 and 2011) by Niklas Zennström's Rán II. Mini Maxis and Maxi 72s are well represented again this year with Rán II back as Peter Harrison's Sorcha. She will be up against Bryon Ehrhart's Lucky (formerly the Rolex Maxi 72 World Champion Bella Mente) and Sir Peter Ogden's elongated former Maxi 72 Jethou.

Ex-Volvo Ocean Race boats are well represented in six VO70s, including David and Peter Askew's Wizard, winner of this year's RORC Caribbean 600 and Johannes Schwarz' Green Dragon and E1, while there are two VO65s including Team Brunel. Former Brunel Synergy skipper from the 1996-97 round the world race, Hans Bouscholte, is sailing Boudragon, previously Laurie Smith's Silk Cut - one of five VO60s taking part.

Perhaps the most intense battle in the IRC fleet will be between the seven Cookson 50s, including the fastest - American Ron O'Hanley's Privateer. One example, Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain, claimed the Rolex Fastnet Race outright in 2007. Also to be watched in this size range are the TP52s - Outsider, Tala and Rockall V plus Frenchman Eric de Turckheim's Nivelt-Muratet 54 Teasing Machine, winner of the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race. The previous Teasing Machine, de Turckheim's Commodores' Cup-winning A13 is also competing now as Mark Emerson's Phosphorus II.

In the 40ft range there are five FAST40+ type boats - the Ker 40s, Keronimo and Ed Broadway's Hooligan, plus James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX, Ed Fishwick's GP42 Redshift and Stewart Whitehead's more contemporary Carkeek 40 Mk2, Rebellion.

The late Paul Heys would be proud of the giant J/Boats entry. These range from the J/133s, Yves Grosjean's Jivaro and Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine's Pintia, down to the four J/105s and the fifteen J/109s, spanning the RAF Sailing Association's Red Arrow (with an IRC TCC of 1.025), to Peter Rowe's Ju Kyu (on 1.003), via J/112s, J/120s and a large gaggle of J/122s.

Beneteau is also well represented with thirteen First 40s set to be on the start line and an additional eight First 40.7s. However, all eyes will be on the latest hardware from St Gilles Croix de Vie - the Figaro 3s, complete with their IMOCA 60-style foil packages. Three examples are entered including the Will Harris-skippered Hive Energy and from Ireland, Conor Fogerty's Raw.

Similarly, following their victories in the 2013 and 2015 races, there will be a strong JPK turn-out, including nine 10.10s (similar to the Pascal and Alexis Loisin's 2013 victor Night & Day) and five 10.80s (like Trentesaux's Courrier Du Leon).

The smallest boat race in this year's event will be between the trio of Contessa 32s, including Assent, campaigned by Simon Rogers of the Lymington-based Rogers clan that spawned the classic range.

A more complete pantheon of offshore race boats, you would be hard pressed to find anywhere, ever.

Published in Fastnet
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Once again the Rolex Fastnet Race has confirmed itself to be by far the world's largest offshore yacht race. After the entry for the Royal Ocean Racing Club's flagship event was opened at 1200 UTC, the 340 available places for boats in the IRC fleet were all taken within just four minutes and 37 seconds. This was just 13 seconds outside the record time recorded in 2017.

The first entry to sign up on the RORC's Sailgate online entry system for the biennial 605-mile race from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland, was regular competitor Derek Saunders and his Farr 60 Venomous. He narrowly beat the German Hamburgischer Verein Seefahrt club's Judel Vrolijk 52 Haspa Hamburg and Tom Kneen's JPK 11.80 Sunrise who were next fastest.

After the first two minutes, 180 boats had already been entered successfully. After the first frenetic four minutes and 37 seconds when the maximum entry limit was reached, subsequent requests were filtered through to the reserve list. Ultimately after the deluge subsided 440 boats had entered in total.

Yachts from 25 countries are due to take part this year: The bulk of these are from the UK, from where 201 boats were registered, followed by the dominant French (winners of the last three editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race) with 81 and the Netherlands with 33.

The entry includes a strong contingent of 16 boats from the USA, many making the passage across to the UK in the Transatlantic Race 2019. This leaves Newport, RI on 25 June bound for Cowes via the Lizard and is organised by the RORC in conjunction with the New York Yacht Club, Royal Yacht Squadron and Storm Trysail Club. Entries from further afield have been received from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Turkey, Hong Kong and Korea among others.

This strong entry shows that the change of date has made little impression on the desire to do the Rolex Fastnet Race: The start date was moved to Saturday, 3 August and for the first time it will be setting off before Lendy Cowes Week (rather than on the traditional Sunday immediately after it).

For the RORC's Australian Racing Manager Chris Stone this is his first Rolex Fastnet entry day experience since taking up his position in Cowes a year ago: "It has been unbelievably busy. Before 1200 we had about 500 people who were all on stand-by, logged into their accounts, which was a good indicator about how busy it was going to be. Then we went straight to 340 and on to 440, including the waiting list."

Among the entries is at least one 100ft maxi while Stone reckons that one of the top fights in the race will potentially be between the six Cookson 50s.

It should be noted that with the Rolex Fastnet Race the RORC has led the way among the organisers of the world's classic 600 milers in inviting other grand prix racing yacht classes to compete outside of the main IRC fleet. This has led to the race featuring some of the very best offshore racing hardware from yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race to the giant 100ft long French Ultime multihulls and the IMOCA 60s of the Vendée Globe. For 2019, an especially strong line-up of Class 40s is anticipated. "We are expecting around another 50 boats - thirty Class 40s and twenty IMOCA boats," forecasts Stone.

Meanwhile, for the fleet, there remains the qualification process that will take place over the course of the 2019 season, with teams required to gain adequate miles and experience in order to meet the Rolex Fastnet Race's stringent entry requirements. Competing yachts must complete more than 300 race miles with at least 50% of their Rolex Fastnet Race crew on board.

"I never thought it would so easy to have 400 boats appear on your desk in one day! I am really impressed by the numbers. I have never experienced anything like this," concludes Stone.

Published in RORC
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Plymouth City Council and the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) have confirmed that Plymouth will host the finish of the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Plymouth has marked the end of the renowned biennial offshore yacht race since its inception in 1925, and was the subject of speculation earlier this year that it could lose out on its traditional race-hosting duties to a coastal port in France.

As regular readers will recall, Afloat.ie was one of the earliest sources of the possible Fastnet Race change of format here

Starting in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, competitors in the Fastnet Race cover a course of 608 nautical miles and round the Fastnet Rock off the southwest coast of Ireland before returning via the Isles of Scilly to finish in Plymouth.

The race has a huge worldwide following and has seen continued growth over recent years, with the limit of 300 boats having to be increased to over 340 due to high demand.

Deputy leader of the council, Pete Smith said: “I’m delighted that the Rolex Fastnet is returning to its historic home once again in 2019.

“We are working closely with the organisers of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, to enhance the experience of the thousands of sailors who arrive in Plymouth after competing in the race.”

Yachts come from all over the world to compete in the race which will start in Cowes on Saturday 3 August. The first yachts are expected to arrive in Plymouth in the early hours of Monday 5 August.

The Plymouth race village will be located at Yacht Haven at Mount Batten and will be open to the public from Tuesday 6 to Thursday 8 August, with live music, family-friendly activities and opportunities for local people to try their hand at on-water activities like sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

Cllr Smith continued: “The race is hugely significant for the city, helping to put Plymouth on the map and attracting visitors to see the finish of one of the world's most famous yacht races.

“We want to make sailing more accessible for people living here and encourage more participation in the sport. Hosting internationally renowned events like this is important to help motivate and inspire participation.”

RORC racing manager Chris Stone said: “Plymouth’s waterfront position is one of the most dramatic and beautiful in the UK and the city has amazing facilities for yachts and sailors. We are pleased to be working closely with Plymouth City Council to make the race bigger and better and provide a warm welcome for the 350-plus boats descending on the city.

“It is also a great opportunity for local people to come and experience our sport and understand how much fun it is and easily available to all.”

The Rolex Fastnet will be followed by the Britain’s Ocean City Blues n Jazz Festival from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 August, rounding off a week of celebration.

Published in Fastnet
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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