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With the Rolex Fastnet Race having so many boats, so many classes and a 96-year history, it is inevitable that many past winners, be they of line honours, individual classes or of the main IRC overall prize, the Fastnet Challenge Trophy, should be among the record 400+ strong entry in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event in 2021.

In fact among the overall winners, 2017’s victor Didier Gaudoux, with his trusty JND39 Lann Ael 2, is at present the only one returning with the same boat and a similar crew. Onboard again will be family members, including his daughter Coralie and possibly son Thomas, as well as veteran Figaro ace Fred Duthil. Lann Ael 2 hasn’t changed apart from a new paint job.

Of course, the big unknown at present is the same for everyone, warns Gaudoux: “It will be a very special campaign because we don’t know when we can start to sail and we don’t know what our preparation for the campaign will be. I intend to do a few RORC races if it is possible.”

In 2020 Lann Ael 2 competed in just a few races but made the most of them, winning the IRC class in the Drheam Cup, ahead of Eric Fries' JPK 11.80 Fastwave 6 and Laurent Charmy's J/111 SL Energies, both of whom are also due on the start line off Cowes in August. That event also provided good preparation, starting from Cherbourg where this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will finish for the first time.

“It will be a new challenge tactically between the Scilly Islands and Cherbourg with the tide,” continues Gaudoux. While his boat is based in southern Brittany, his crew, and especially Duthil, know the complex waters around Cherbourg well. The city is planning for the arrival to include COVID restrictions for the many visitors from the local region. “A lot of people will be coming and the harbour is very close to the downtown so it will be a special welcome.”

2015 overall winner, Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Class40 Courrier Redman2015 overall winner, Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Class40 Courrier Redman. Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

Defending their 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race IRC Two Handed title - Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 LéoDefending their 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race IRC Two Handed title - Alexis Loison and Jean Pierre Kelbert on JPK 10.30 Léon © Paul Wyeth/RORC

While he is not competing on his JPK 10.80, the 2015 overall winner Géry Trentesaux is returning aboard Antoine Carpentier’s latest generation Mach 40.4 Class40 Courrier Redman which finished runner-up in this year’s RORC Transatlantic Race. Alexis Loisin, who became the race’s first doublehanded overall winner with his father Pascal in 2013 aboard their JPK 10.10 Night And Day, is back to defend his title in the IRC Two-Handed class onboard the JPK 10.30 Léon with Jean Pierre Kelbert, proprietor of the successful French Chantier JPK. Loisin has won IRC Two-Handed in three of the last four races and only was displaced into second in 2015 by Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley on their J/105 Jester, who that year were fourth overall under IRC and top British finishers. Rawlings and Childerley are back to try their hand again, this time with their newly acquired Sun Fast 3300 Aries.

“We look forward to the new Fastnet course - it will be a hard-fought contest all the way to the finish line,” says Childerley. The big draw is both the heightened competition in IRC Two Handed, with all of the podium finishers from the last two races returning, including the Sun Fast 3300 Fastrak XII, sailed by Henry Bomby and Hannah Diamond two years ago, and Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 10.80 Raging-bee², second and third respectively in 2019. This is bolstered by Two-Handed racing being on the Olympic roster for Paris 2024. “Doublehanded sailing continues to inspire and provide a challenge that is complemented by the Rolex Fastnet Race,” concludes Childerley.

Thomas Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise - hoping to secure a podium place again in IRC TwoThomas Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise - hoping to secure a podium place again in IRC Two © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon topped IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet RaceJacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon topped IRC One in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race - © Paul Wyeth/RORC

Many class winners are returning. Among the most successful is the La Trinité-sur-Mer old guard on boat builder Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom, one of several Sam Manuard designs his company JPS Production builds. Bretagne Telecom is one of 13 boats entered this year to have competed in the last six consecutive Rolex Fastnet Races, but she is by far the most successful. 2019 was the canting keel speedster’s most successful year, finishing second to winner Wizard, both overall and under IRC Zero. Previously she has twice won her class and podiumed on all but one occasion.

Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L'Ange De Milon, which beat Lann Ael 2 into second place in IRC One two years ago, is back. While Trentesaux is not returning to defend his IRC Two title, Francois Lognone’s MC34 Nutmeg Solidaire En Peloton and Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise, the other 2019 podium placers, will be. Nutmeg has a strong track record having won IRC Two in 2015 when she was fifth overall, while Lognone was eighth overall and third in IRC Two aboard his previous J/122 Nutmeg IV in 2011.

Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret who finished on the IRC Three podium in the last three editions, winning in 2017 aboard their JPK 10.80 Dream Pearls, will be sailing on Christian Maby’s Sun Fast 3300, Spoutnik. At the time of writing one of the most successful sailors in IRC Four, Noel Racine and his JPK 10.10 Foggy Dew was not returning to defend his title. Racine, a retired Le Havre pilot, has won his class in three of the last five races and podiumed in all. However the remaining IRC Four podium placers from 2019 are back in Emmanuel Pinteaux’s sistership Gioia and Francois Charles’s Dehler 33, Sun Hill 3.

Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom has competed in six consecutive Rolex Fastnet RacesNicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom has competed in six consecutive Rolex Fastnet Races © Pierre Bouras

Luke Berry and team on Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création won Class40 overall in the 2019 raceLuke Berry and team on Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création won Class40 overall in the 2019 race © Paul Wyeth/RORC

The non-IRC classes had a later deadline to enter than the IRC fleet but already Anglo-Frenchman Luke Berry was signed up to defend his Class40 title aboard the Mach 40.3 Lamotte - Module Création. At the time of writing, 31 Class40s were already entered, including Morgane Ursault-Poupon (daughter of Vendee Globe sailor, Solitaire du Figaro and Route du Rhum winner Philippe Poupon) on board UP Sailing, formerly Tanguy de Lamotte’s Class40 winner in both 2009 and 2011. Tales II, which won in 2015 and was second in 2013 in the hands of Gonzalo Botin, also returns but under new Italian skipper Andrea Fornaro.

While this sounds like yet another dominant French entry there are some potent campaigns from the UK. In addition to those already mentioned is the top British boat from 2019, David Collins’ Botin IRC 52 Tala (ex-Spookie), having finished third both overall and in IRC Zero. Never to be discounted is Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster which was third in IRC Two in 2013 and won her class in 2007. Other potent doublehanders include Rob Craigie and Deb Fish on board the Sun Fast 3600 Bellino, which finished third in both IRC Three and Two Handed in 2017.

Many winners from long ago are also returning. Another team to have competed in the last six races is Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam. Their track record is strong including IRC One victories in 2009 and 2011 and overall finishes of tenth and seventh in 2017 and 2011 respectively. Also likely to be strong will be Gilles Fournier and Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia, which won IRC Two and was fourth overall in 2017, while American Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer is due a top result having finished eighth overall in 2019, second in 2017 when she won IRC Zero and a second place in IRC Canting Keel in 2015.

The Goubau family from Belgium taking part in their 7th consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race on their First 47.7 MoanaThe Goubau family from Belgium taking part in their 7th consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race on their First 47.7 Moana © Paul Wyeth/RORC

A strong track record in IRC One for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 CodiamA strong track record in IRC One for Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

A number of yachts and crews are returning who did well in earlier editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, especially, for some reason, from 2005. Jonty and Vicki Layfield, who sailed their Swan 47 Sleeper to seventh overall then, will be racing their Swan 48 Sleeper X. Similarly Ed Broadway, who was third in IRM that year on his Hooligan V (and again in 2007 on Hooligan VI) is back sailing doublehanded on his Sun Fast 3300 Hooligan VIII. Beating Sleeper 16 years ago, in fourth and sixth overall were Xara, Jonathan Rolls Swan 38 and Harry J. Heijst’s S&S41 Winsome, both of which are entered again. Thunder 2, Robert Boulter’s Mills 37 IRC Zero winner that year, returns but now in the hands of Vladimir Phillips, while Guy Sallenave’s X-442 Ster Wenn 5, which was second in IRC One is this year being campaigned by his son Pierre.

No Rolex Fastnet Race is complete without the Goubau family from Belgium taking part aboard their faithful First 47.7 Moana. They have competed in the last six editions and finished third in class in 2005, 2011 and 2013. Longue Pierre, David Cooper and Paul England’s Dehler 38 is back too, having the same participation record, her best result coming in 2005 when she was ninth overall.

Further back, Vendée Globe skipper Conrad Humphreys has teamed up with another solo offshore racer and former Team Philips crewman Alex Bennett on board the latter’s Swan 46, Ginny B. Humphreys won the 1991 Fastnet Race overall with a young Matt Humphries aboard the David Thomas-designed half tonner Min-O-Din. Returning from the 2001 race are Cracklin’ Rosie, ninth overall and third in IRC Zero in the hands of original owner Roy Dickson and now being campaigned by former RORC Commodore Steven Anderson and RORC Treasurer Derek Shakespeare. Present Commodore James Neville is entered aboard his HH42 Ino XXX having finished sixth overall and third in IRC One in 2017, and RORC Vice Commodore Eric de Turkheim is back with his lighter and faster NMYD 54 Teasing Machine which finished seventh in IRC Zero and eleventh overall in 2019

Given this vast experience due on the start line, we can look forward to one of the most competitive Rolex Fastnet Races on record.

Back to round 'The Rock' once again - RORC Commodore, James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEXBack to round 'The Rock' once again - RORC Commodore, James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX © Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

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If anyone in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's suite of race offices was bothered by the thought that the 2021 change of course in the club's core event, the biennial Fastnet Race, was going to have a detrimental effect on entries, they didn't show it. And there was no need to worry, for within an hour of the list's electronic opening, it was already banging up against the 400-boat ceiling.

For of course as the club has rightly discerned, the USP about the whole business is the epic quality in the experience of rounding the Fastnet Rock itself. Certainly, the start in the Solent is quite something as a crowd control exercise. But it seems the one-boat-at-a-time nature of the finish means that participants are easily swayed by the appeal of more extensive shore facilities offered at the new finish at Cherbourg, rather than the traditional but limited waterfront at Plymouth.

Be that as it may, as the starting sequence gets going – pandemic permitting - on the morning of Sunday, August 8th, there'll be at least 400 boats shaping up with varying degrees of nervousness for their place in the choreography as the ebb begins to run west, and among them will be at least ten Irish boats.

Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right.At least they'll know what it looks like…..Rockabill's crew at the Fastnet Rock on their way to winning the 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, Paul O'Higgins o right

Admittedly this is only one in every forty, or 2.5% if you prefer, but it reflects the number of our active offshore racers relative to the northwest Europe fleet which is the main cohort in the race, with a notably strong French element.

To put it in perspective, it seems that if all the entries in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 were laid end to end, then they'd stretch for five kilometres. We are irresistibly reminded of the comment by Dorothy Parker of The New Yorker, to the effect that if all the girls who attend the Harvard May Ball were laid end to end, then it wouldn't surprise her for a minute. But then that's the sort of coarse thought which occasionally emerges in association with offshore racing, for it's not a sport for those of a delicate disposition…….

So if we're going for tough-mindedness, it's no harm to note that it's the mythology around a very Irish rock which is at the heart of all this. The RORC have admitted it themselves with this photo they recently released, which we post right here with caption exactly as sent out by the RORC.

The legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitorsThe legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of the Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Co Kurt Ariggo/ROLEX

"Legendary" indeed……."lure" forsooth…..In other words, if the Fastnet Rock didn't exist, then we'd have to invent, design and build it. But fools that we are in Ireland, were letting them use it for free, and we think it's just grand, even at a time when our magnificent West Coast is being monetised through its marketing as the Wild Atlantic Way.

But of course, they know they have us on a hook, for the Irish participation in the first Fastnet Race in 1925 was with Harry Donegan of Cork with his cutter Gull, and by any metric Harry Donegan was one of the greatest sportsmen – in the traditional sense of the term – that Ireland has ever produced. And if anyone had even hinted to him that a modest fee should be levied for the use of the Fastnet Rock as a globally significant offshore racing mark, he'd have given them very short shrift.

The Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometresThe Fastnet fleet of 2019 heads west out of the Solent. If all the entries for 2021's race were laid end-to-end, they'd stretch for five kilometres. Photo Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

Instead, he would have been much more interested in our lineup for 2021, 96 years after he was so very much involved in starting it all.

Rolex Fastnet Race Irish Entries 2021

375 Andante IRC 0.95 Keith Miller Keith Miller Yamaha 36 10.95 Kilmore Quay IRC
3492 Big Deal IRC 0.93 Conor Dillon Conor Dillon Dehler 34 10.14   2H IRC
3852 Blue Oyster IRC 0.932 Noel Coleman Noel Coleman Oyster 37 11.26 Royal Cork Yacht Club, Crosshaven IRC
1627 Cinnamon Girl IRC 1.023 Cian McCarthy Sam Hunt Sun Fast 3300 9.99 Kinsale Co Cork Ireland 2H IRC
1397 Desert Star Irish Offshore Sailing IRC 0.963 Irish Offshore Sailing Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC
2129 Nieulargo IRC 1.023 Denis Murphy Denis Murphy Grand Soleil 40 12.12 Crosshaven, Royal Cork Yacht Club IRC
1610 Raw IRC 1.115 Conor Fogerty Conor Fogerty Figaro 3 10.85   IRC
1755 Richochet IRC   Kenneth Rumball Kenneth Rumball Sunfast 10 Dun Laoghaire 2H IRC
10800 Rockabill VI IRC 1.05 Paul O'Higgins Paul O'Higgins JPK 1080 10.8 Dun Laoghaire/riyc IRC
1455 Sherkin 2 IRC 0.959 Ronan O'Siochru Ronan O'Siochru Sun Fast 37 11.4 Dun Laoghaire IRC


Both of the top boats from 2020's truncated season – the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Cork and Paul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI from Dun Laoghaire – are in, the Rockabill entry being of particular interest. Until now, Paul O'Higgins and his team have found so much good racing in their three-and-a-half seasons within Irish waters that they've resisted the temptation of the Fastnet. But after the hobbled racing of 2020, the mood of the moment is to get as much sailing sport as possible when it becomes available again, and the JPK 10.80 continues as an excellent user-friendly Fastnet proposition.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire has been a golden boy of Fastnet racing since winning the Roger Justice Trophy for sailing schools in 2015's race, and his training operation offers such an attractive proposition that he has two boats entered, the Sun Fast 37s Desert Star and Sherkin 2.

Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in PlymouthRonan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing receiving the Roger Justice Trophy and some much-needed refreshment from RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire at the 2015 Fastnet Race prize-giving in Plymouth

Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire won the Roger Justice with the J/109 Jedi in 2017, but this time round he's down to do the two-handed division with a new Sunfast, while another Sunfast, Cian McCarthy's 3300 from Kinsale, is likewise two-handed with the owner and Sam Hunt making up the partnership. 

The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.The Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl of Kinsale finishing the 2020 Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. She'll be raced two-handed in the Fastnet Race 2021 by owner Cian McCarthy of KYC and clubmate Sam Hunt.

Conor Dillon from Foynes is going yet again two-handed with the Dehler 34 The Big Deal but where his father Derek and he sailed together many times in the past, the signs are that a generational shift is under way, while 2017s "Sailor of the Year" Conor Fogerty of Howth has entered his Figaro 3 Raw as being fully-crewed.

Virtually all of these Irish entries will have varying degrees of Fastnet Race pre-experience on board, which is something that won't go amiss, as many boats now simply get themselves to the Solent, and after a day or two go straight into the potential mayhem of the Fastnet start. In times past, the traditional RORC Channel Race a week beforehand, with Cowes Week in between, played a significant induction role in many Irish Fastnet campaigns. But now it's a case of straight in at the deep end, and good luck to them all.

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Like tickets to Glastonbury, registration opened on the dot of 1000 UTC today for this summer’s Rolex Fastnet Race and speedily sold out. Within an hour an unprecedented 400 boats had entered the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event, which this year will follow a route finishing for the first time in France. Bow to bow this line-up represents almost 5km of yacht, confirming the Rolex Fastnet Race’s position as by far the world’s largest and most popular offshore yacht race.

“It seems that everyone is looking forward positively to a future of sailing without COVID-19 hanging over their heads as once again we have a ‘sell-out’ Rolex Fastnet Race,” said RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen. “Also the message must have got through that we have more places available with our move of the finish to Cherbourg, because we had the usual early rush for places, but it seemed more orderly than in the past, with more than 400 boats registering in less than an hour. Add to this the non-IRC fleets like the IMOCA and Class40, plus the usual mixture of multihulls makes the tally around 500 boats whose crews want to experience the challenge of the Rolex Fastnet Race. It is very exciting for our sport.”

The legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Photo: Kurt Arrigo/ROLEXThe legendary Fastnet Rock is the lure of Rolex Fastnet Race for all competitors Photo: Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX

The first entry, which managed to sign up in a finger-flying sub-two second time after registration opened was Eva Herman’s J/122 Juliett Romeo from the Netherlands. The first British entry followed after 26 seconds in Katherine Cope’s Sun Fast 3200 Purple Mist. The first French entry was 30 seconds into the process in Christian Maby’s Sun Fast 3300 3 Spoutnik with, just a split second later, Conor Dillon’s Dehler 34 Big Deal, the first entry from Ireland and Tomasz Nagas’ Fast Forward first from the USA.

Within three minutes more than 200 entries had signed on before the system became overloaded. Once it had sorted itself out, the tally was up to 370 within thirty minutes.

Today’s registration was for the Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC fleet, in which boats compete for the prestigious Fastnet Challenge Cup for the race’s overall winner under corrected time. It does not include professional French classes such as the IMOCAs and Class40s, plus the multihull fleet which is once again expected to include several Ultime maxi trimarans. With at least 100 more boats expected from classes such as these, the total number of boats due to set sail from the Solent on Sunday, 8 August looks set to exceed 500.

At the time of writing yachts were entered from 25 nations, the majority coming from the UK with large turn-outs also from France and the Netherlands, both with entry numbers substantially increased compared to 2019. Entries from further afield included four from Russia, two from Japan and Australia, from one both China and New Zealand.

The route of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the Fastnet Rock - 695nm © RORCThe route of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the Fastnet Rock - 695nm © RORC

“I’m delighted by the strong interest that we’ve had from teams around the world,” said RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone. “With the race finishing in Cherbourg we were anticipating strong interest from French sailors and have received a record number of French IRC entries, which will be boosted by the non-IRC classes that are strong in France.”

French boats have won three of the last four Rolex Fastnet Races outright and the skippers from these will all return: Alexis Loisin (2013) aboard the JPK 10.30 Léon, Gery Trentesaux (2015) aboard Antoine Carpentier’s Class40 Courrier Redman and Didier Gaudoux (2017) aboard his JND39 Lann Ael 2.

The average size of entry at present stands at 12.48m, lengths spanning Australian Peter Harburg’s 30.46m Black Jack (which won Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours in 2009 as Alfa Romeo II and was first monohull home in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race as Esimit Europa II), to the smallest - David O’Shea’s Hustler SJ30 Freedom at 9m.

As usual, the fleet ranges from the ultra-modern to classics. Among the former is George David’s Rambler 88, monohull line honours winner in the last two races and current holder of the monohull record to the Fastnet Rock. Among the latter is one the top maxis of the 1960s – the 78ft yawl Stormvogel, originally owned by Kees Bruynzeel that won Fastnet line honours in 1961 and subsequently repeating this in most of the top ocean races across the planet. From a decade later is Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick VI, the maxi yacht which France’s most famous sailor raced with a crew of 12 in the first Whitbread Round the World Race and who then, incredibly, sailed solo across the north Atlantic to victory in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race.

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Registration for the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race begins at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12th January 2021.

The RORC Race Team are concerned there will be a repeat of the 2019 rush to enter when the race became oversubscribed in less than five minutes.

A new era will begin for the world’s largest offshore yacht race this year. On 8 August 2021, the Rolex Fastnet Race will set sail from Cowes bound for the Fastnet Rock as usual, but then, once the boats have rounded Bishop Rock, they will, for the first time in the race’s 96 year history, point their bows towards Cherbourg, the new finish for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event.

In order to secure a place when registration opens at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12 January, RORC recommends registering boats in advance on RORC's SailGate race entry management system.

The 2021 race sails a new course with a finish in Cherbourg.

More here

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With less than one month to go until entry opens for the 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the RORC Race Team are concerned there will be a repeat of the 2019 rush to enter when the race became oversubscribed in less than five minutes.

In order to secure a place when registration opens at 1000 UTC on Tuesday 12 January, RORC recommends registering boats in advance on RORC's SailGate race entry management system.

The 2021 race sails a new course with a finish in Cherbourg.

More here

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It says everything about the iconic nature of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Fastnet Race that a General Meeting about the route for the race, which should be a private matter among the admittedly many members of the RORC, has already become a matter of public discussion despite the announcement of the forthcoming AGM and EGM on December 7th being issued via email as recently as 00.00.45 on Saturday, November 14th.

The timing thereby avoided publication on a gloom-laden and fateful Friday 13th by just 45 seconds. But inevitably there has already been much turmoil and dissent among traditionalists who felt that the time-honoured Plymouth finish was an integral and essential part of the Fastnet experience. When the proposed Cherbourg finish was announced a year ago, the RORC officers, committee and executive pointed out that they felt that facilities at Plymouth no longer met the requirements of a very varied fleet approaching 400 boats, some of them very large.

But traditionalists pointed out that expecting Plymouth to be able to cope with such a demand for an event which occurred only once every two years was like expecting a household to be permanently prepared for Christmas lunch, and that a bit of crowding was inevitable.

Plymouth after the Fastnet RaceIt may not be Monte Carlo, let alone Cherbourg, but packing them in at Plymouth after the Fastnet Race has always been an integral part of the Fastnet experience.

Nevertheless, it seemed that Cherbourg's offer of the sun, moon and the stars in terms of facilities had won the day. But apparently, a significant group of the grassroots members of the RORC think differently, and they've been quietly gathering their forces and under Club Rule 16.1, they've secured this EGM with the proposal, for decision by a simple majority of full members, that something as significant and central as the Fastnet Race course to the RORC's existence and ethos should be decided only by the agreement of the full membership, albeit through virtual voting under the current pandemic circumstances.

Interesting times. For a year, it has looked as though our own revered Fastnet Rock was going to be all that was left of the original Fastnet Race course. Between 1925 and 1947, it started eastward out of the Solent from the Royal Victoria YC at Ryde, the only exception being 1935 when it started westward from the Royal Solent YC at Yarmouth. But then in 1949 under the persuasion of John Illingworth, the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes took over starting duties for a westward-going start sequence which has now become one of global sailing's great wonders as they exit the Needles Channel in a vast panoply of sail with the full ebb roaring along under them.

The Fastnet fleet beating westward through the Needles Channel. One of global sailing's great wonders – the Fastnet fleet beating westward through the Needles Channel.

It is so much a part of sailing consciousness that modern sailors have assumed that's the way it has always been, but it hasn't. However, the rounding of the Fastnet Rock and the finish at the lighthouse on Plymouth Breakwater have always been an integral part of it all, particularly as the formation of a new organisation, the Ocean Racing Club which was to become the RORC in 1931, was successfully proposed at the post-race dinner in Plymouth’s Royal Western Yacht Club attended by all the crews of the seven yachts that had finished, including Harry Donegan’s Gull from Cork which had placed third. But in November 2019, the RORC's Flag Officers, Committee and Executive presented the change to Cherbourg as a fait accompli.

Quite so. It's now perfectly possible that this fait accompli will be overturned by force majeure on December 7th. Plus ca change. Mais c'est la vie. And now that the populist provocateur extraordinaire Dominic Cummings is at a loose end, this might be just the job for him. Sacre bleu…

Fastnet Race course as it has been 1949-2019 (gold line), with the planned new finish to Cherbourg (red).Fastnet Race course as it has been 1949-2019 (gold line), with the planned new finish to Cherbourg (red)

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In one year’s time, a new era will begin for the world’s largest offshore yacht race. On 8 August 2021, the Rolex Fastnet Race will set sail from Cowes bound for the Fastnet Rock as usual, but then, once the boats have rounded Bishop Rock, they will, for the first time in the race’s 96 year history, point their bows towards Cherbourg, the new finish for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event.

Announced last November, the change in finish venue to Cherbourg comes thanks to the joint co-operation of the City of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the Communauté d’agglomération du Cotentin, the Conseil départemental de la Manche and Région Normandie with the event’s organiser, the RORC. The Rolex Fastnet Race’s giant fleet will face no berthing shortage when they reach Cherbourg where they will be moored in Port Chantereyne and the Bassin du Commerce.

Well used to hosting large sailing and other sports events, the historic naval port at the top of the Cotentin Peninsula, will provide shoreside spectacle and razzamatazz on an unprecedented scale for Rolex Fastnet Race finishers. Most unexpected for competitors from outside of France will be the degree of interest taken in yacht racing by the local community. Thanks to events such as the Vendée Globe and the Route du Rhum professional sailing is a top tier sport in France and its top players, many of whom will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race, are household names. In addition to its long history and its massive fleet, one of the attractions of the race, that draws competitors from across the globe, is the opportunity for not just the general offshore racing community, but also Corinthian family, friends and sailing school entries to be on the same start line as legends of our sport.

Among the stars will again be Charles Caudrelier and Franck Cammas on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. The massive 32m long 23m wide flying trimaran is one of the world’s fastest offshore race boats and famously in the last race overtook Francois Gabart’s MACIF on the last gybe to win by less than a minute.

“It was a similar difference between Dongfeng Race Team and MAPFRE in the race before,” recalls Caudrelier, who went on to skipper the Chinese VO65 to victory in the subsequent Volvo Ocean Race. “I love the race because I think the south coast of England and the north coast of Brittany are most complicated to manage which makes them the best places for racing. I really enjoy the passage between Cowes and the Lizard playing the sea breeze and the current. The Rolex Fastnet Race is a mix between a coastal race and an offshore in the Irish Sea - it is very interesting.”

Rolex Fastnet Race - the last three editions have seen record breaking fleetsRolex Fastnet Race - the last three editions have seen record-breaking fleets Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Caudrelier is naturally pleased that the next edition will end in Cherbourg. He has raced in and out of there many times, most recently in the Drheam Cup which Maxi Edmond de Rothschild won. “It is a good place for racing - very tricky with a lot of current. Each time I’ve visited it was a nice place with great parties and people – I have a lot of good memories.”

It remains unconfirmed if 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race overall winner David and Peter Askew’s VO70 Wizard will return to defend their title, however, their sailing master, Volvo Ocean Race skipper Charlie Enright will be back, this time as skipper of 11th Hour Racing Team aboard his new generation IMOCA 60, that will be competing in The Ocean Race in 2022-23.

Enright is a fan of the Rolex Fastnet Race: “It is certainly one of the more complex races as from a course perspective it has so many different features and you never know what it is going to throw at you. Also, you can count on the competition year in year out - that makes it hard to win, so when you do it does feel good.”

Currently based in Concarneau, Enright appreciates what a difference the Cherbourg finish will make. “In France, they like their boating and the finish should be more spectacular I imagine.”

With the finish in Cherbourg, more French entries are anticipated but the majority are still likely to be from the UK. Last year David Collins was the top British finisher under IRC, his Botin IRC 52 Tala’s time correcting out to third overall behind Wizard and Nicolas Groleau’s Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom. Having come so close in 2019 and after not racing this season, Collins says the Rolex Fastnet Race will be Tala’s main event in 2021, in what will be a UK-only season.

CEO of the RORC, Eddie Warden Owen adds: “The coronavirus pandemic has left us already looking towards 2021 and a racing season - the highlight of which will be the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race.

“The last three editions have seen record-breaking fleets attracting enthusiastic amateurs, seasoned offshore racers as well as out-and-out professionals from all corners of the world, all captivated by the challenge of racing to the Fastnet Rock, battling the strong currents and headlands off the south coast of England, followed by the open ocean in the Celtic Sea, while enduring the changeable weather en route.

“For the 2021 and 2023 races the finish will be in Cherbourg and we are excited at working with our colleagues in France where offshore racing is a national sport and where competitors can expect a wonderful welcome and warm hospitality.”

Published in Fastnet
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Just over a year out from the August 2021 start of the race proper, potential competitors, armchair sailors and gamer enthusiasts from all over the world will have the opportunity to try their hand at competing on the new course for the Rolex Fastnet Race, in the online game created by Virtual Regatta.

The first part of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier offshore event remains the same - leaving Cowes, heading west down the English Channel, passing Land's End and crossing the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland, before returning to the Channel, leaving Bishop Rock to port. But, for its next edition, the finish has moved to Cherbourg at the top of the Cotentin Peninsula, some 70 miles due south of Cowes. This change to the world's most popular offshore race increases its distance to 695nm.

Following the new course, Virtual Regatta's Rolex Fastnet Race will set sail at 1200 UTC on 3 August 2020. It will provide players with the opportunity to compete against friends, family, colleagues or fellow sailing enthusiasts in a race based on real weather data aboard their own Class40. The game is free to play, but the more competitive can pay a small fee to upgrade their equipment. While the 'real' Rolex Fastnet Race is the world's most well-subscribed offshore race with more than 350 entries expected on the start line in 2021, ranging from 100ft Ultime maxi trimarans to mums and dads on their 30ft family cruisers, the Virtual Regatta fleet will dwarf this, their offshore events regularly seeing more than 30,000 entries.

Among the virtual competitors, this year will be two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner Phil Harmer. The Australian was part of Ian Walker's crew that set the present monohull Rolex Fastnet Race course record aboard the VO70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2011. Despite his vast offshore experience and having competed in at least six Rolex Fastnet Races, Harmer is new to Virtual Regatta offshore events. "When lockdown started I downloaded the app and played a few dinghy races, but I haven't done any offshores. There's nothing like a Fastnet for a baptism of fire! It will be fun to do. It will keep me busy."

Harmer will be competing from his base in Sydney where his night shift will be made easier as he will be up, in any case, tending his newborn child. He is looking forward to going to Cherbourg. "Sometimes things just need a little change to get people interested in doing it again."

Former RORC Commodore and Admiral Andrew McIrvine intend to race his new La Réponse, a Ker 39, in next year's Rolex Fastnet Race. He advises that the Virtual Regatta race will provide a good opportunity to walk the course: "This course will be a new challenge for all of us - even those who have done more than enough Fastnets! It will be good to try it out 'virtually'. A number of friends and I have been having fun doing VR races during lockdown. Planning the weather routing is remarkably realistic and educational - highly recommended for budding navigators!"

Also on the virtual Rolex Fastnet Race start line will be Sonar world champion Hannah Stodel, who has her sights set on competing in the new mixed doublehanded offshore class for the Paris 2024 Olympics. "I've done a couple of Virtual Regatta races for fun, but nothing like the Fastnet," she says. The virtual Rolex Fastnet Race will have the benefit that it will be sailed in Class40s, the class in which Stodel had been hoping to compete this season. She is looking to do the virtual race with some of her crew who sailed the real Rolex Fastnet Race previously. "They are quite excited about it and there's even talk of a watch system. Anything that gets you looking at weather data and making strategic decisions is good practice, even if it is on the computer. It'll be a learning experience."

The virtual Rolex Fastnet Race can be played on a computer at: (www.virtualregatta.com) and on a smartphone via the Virtual Regatta Offshore App available for download from the Apple Store / Google Play Store. Those wishing to play must register with Virtual Regatta.

Published in Esailing
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The Notice of Race for the 2020 SCORA Fastnet Race, sponsored by UK Sailmakers Ireland, is now available to download.

No class divisions apply in this all-in IRC race, which sets off from the Kinsale Yacht Club’s Charles Fort Line with first gun at 5.55pm on Saturday 1 August. For more see the NOR attached below.

The run to the Fastnet, as noted in Tom MacSweeney's podcast earlier today, will be the highlight of a weekend of sailing in Kinsale that also includes the Open Keelboat Regatta, sponsored by Barry Ryan Civil Engineering Ltd.

This one-design for regatta is open to Dragons and Squibs, with six races over two days outside of Kinsale Harbour and an entry fee of just €40.

See the Kinsale Yacht Club website for further details including entry forms and sailing instructions.

Published in SCORA

One big overall win has eluded Northern Ireland navigator Ian Moore - in nine attempts at the Rolex Fastnet Race Moore’s team has made the podium twice but failed to win the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship race. Ian is fascinated by the Fastnet Race and is a leading expert on offshore racing tactics and strategy. He analyses the new route, giving expert advice on the nuances of the famous offshore classic scheduled to start on August 8th, 2021.

Moore hails from Carrickfergus but has lived in Cowes, Isle of Wight for many years.

As a navigator, Ian has a highly impressive record with big event wins literally running off the page: Volvo Ocean Race, Transatlantic Race, Rolex Sydney Hobart, Newport Bermuda Race, RORC Caribbean 600, Transpac, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Rolex Giraglia, HK Vietnam Race, and Round Ireland.

The live interview (below) with Louay Habib include stories, pictures and the 2021 Rolex Fastnet course.

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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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