The ninth edition of the Vendée Globe will start from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday the 8th of November 2020. There are finally 37 candidates hoping to be at the start of the next Everest of the Seas race but after some intense interest and declarations, no Irish campaigns will make the start line.
Just a few years back ago, there were as many as four Irish solo sailors with campaigns intent on following in Enda O'Coineen's wake to become the first Irish sailor to complete the world-girdling course but after a rigorous application process, none are in the final line up.
In 2017, the Galway Bay sailor made history when he became the first Irish sailor to make the Vendee start in the gruelling non-stop single-handed race around the world but lost his mast and retired off the New Zealand coast.
It's all been enough to prompt Afloat's WM Nixon to ask if the Irish lost the run of themselves aiming for the Vendee Globe?
Four years later, however, there is no shortage of interest regardless of the Irish no show but hope lives on for an Irish 2024 campaign.
The 2020 edition of the race already promises to be very rich : nine new boats, a real confrontation between shipyards, half of the fleet equipped with foils, a record number of nationalities at the start, six women candidates, a great champion in disabled sports, and the return of the unmissable leading figures in off-shore racing.
This 2020-2021 vintage should be exhilarating and proves more than ever that the Vendée Globe is a real sporting and human adventure.
As announced by the President of the Race, Yves Auvinet, during the 1st skipper briefing on the 3rd of October, only 34 of them will be able to take the start on the 8th of November 2020.
Details are here
From Enda O’Coineen, in business and adventure, we can learn much. The man sails on a sea of obsession in life — guided only by the goals he sets himself.
He became the first ever Irish entry to qualify for the Vendée Globe. When he didn’t succeed in the solo circumnavigation at his first attempt, due to a broken mast, his default mode was to try again — and he sailed into the history books.
In his daily jousts with the elements at sea, the entrepreneur concludes that for every risk, there is a massive potential for reward and giving back.
But he is alarmed by rules, regulations and controls, hidden in the name of safety and security. Fundamental freedoms are being lost, he says.
The genius is in understanding the balance.
Every four years, an elite group of sailors endeavours to sail single-handed, non-stop in a circumnavigation of the planet, through the most unpredictable and perilous conditions imaginable.
They are the competitors in the Vendée Globe — one of the most arduous, challenging and dangerous events in sport. These sailors know the real adversaries are the waves and the weather, the ice and isolation.
The 2016 race had an Irish skipper competing for the first time, as Irish businessman Enda O’Coineen sailed the Kilcullen Voyager into the annals of sailing history.
But this grand solo voyage did not go to plan.
Also the subject of a documentary that screened as part of the IFI Documentary Festival last month, Enda O’Coineen’s bid to complete the Vendée Globe has been recounted in his own words in a new book.
Journey to the Edge: An Amazing Story of Risk-Taking in Business and Adventure, by Enda O’Coineen, is available from the Afloat shop at €14.99.
The World Premiere of the Irish sailing documentary 'Journey to the Edge' will be screened as part of the IFI Documentary Festival on Sunday, September 29th at 13.00 in Temple Bar, Dublin. The docu covers Irish sailor Enda O'Coineen's bid to compete in the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop race around the world.
Every four years, an elite group of sailors endeavour to sail single-handed, non-stop in a circumnavigation of the planet, through the most unpredictable and perilous conditions imaginable. They are the competitors in the Vendee Globe Race – one of the most arduous, challenging and dangerous events in sport. These sailors know the real adversaries are the waves and the weather, the ice and isolation.
The 2016 race had an Irish skipper competing for the first time, as Galway businessman Enda O’Coineen sailed the Kilcullen Voyager into the history books. But this grand solo voyage did not go according to plan as Afloat documented at the time here.
This screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Peter Kelly and O’Coineen.
Screening as part of the 2019 IFI Documentary Festival, 25th – 29th September. Full details are here.
Welsh sailor Alex Thomson, who has strong links with Cork Harbour, has announced the completion of the new racing yacht, which it hopes will lead the team to victory in the 2020-21 Vendee Globe round-the-world race.
For five formative years of his childhood, Thomson lived in the Crosshaven area and the young Alex saw his first sailing off Weavers Point but now the 45-year-old is preparing for the race of his life.
The IMOCA boat, HUGO BOSS, is the product of more than two years of painstaking design and build work undertaken by the ocean racing team, together with more than 100 naval architects, engineers and boat builders.
Designed in partnership by the Alex Thomson Racing technical team - led by Design Manager Pete Hobson - and French naval architects VPLP, the revolutionary new boat was built in Hampshire, England, close to the ocean racing team's home base of Gosport.
Spearheaded by world-renowned British boat builder Jason Carrington, the build itself began back in June 2018 and has involved more than 50,000 hours of specialist construction.
HUGO BOSS - the name carried by all six of the team's previous IMOCA boats - is a purpose-built 60ft long carbon fibre yacht, weighing 7.6 tonnes and featuring state-of-the-art hydrofoils. The boat's deck and coach roof, meanwhile, feature solar panelling, an addition which the team hopes will allow it to achieve its ambition of sailing around the world without the use of fossil fuels.
The distinctive black hull is in stark contrast to accents of fluorescent pink which can be seen across the boat's coach roof, keel and rudder. Devised by Industrial Designer Karim Rashid - the man behind the brand identity of the boat - the bespoke fluro tone is a first for the IMOCA class.
Thomson and his team will now undertake a period of on-water commissioning and testing before the new HUGO BOSS is officially launched and christened in September. From there, the boat will debut in the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre race in October 2019 before Thomson undertakes his first solo race in the New York to Vendee in June 2020, the penultimate race in the IMOCA calendar before the Vendee Globe itself in November 2020.
Former Vendée Globe skipper Norbert Sedlacek on his Open 60 is sailing south of Ireland today on his way to the North-West Passage on his journey around the world.
Sedlacek's Open60AAL 'Innovation Yachts' officially crossed the starting line at 07:16:10 p.m. in ideal weather conditions and under the auspices of the World Speed Sailing Record Council to begin a record attempt on the five oceans.
Sedlacek has set a course for the Arctic Ocean, passing the Northwest Passage from east to west and then heading south to round Cape Horn for the first time.
He will then sail around Antarctica in the Southern Ocean and pass Cape Horn a second time before heading north back home to Les Sables d’Olonne.
Innovation Yachts is an Austrian-French shipyard designing and building unique customised racing and cruising yachts. The yard uses new trendsetting fully sustainable and recyclable materials to optimize quality, performance and the protection of the environment during and after construction.
The Open60AAL is the first 60’ which has been built in Les Sables d'Olonne, France. This revolutionary prototype launched in 2018 is made from volcanic rock fibre, balsa wood core and biocompatible epoxy.
The yacht represents the vanguard of a new generation of high-quality boats, very powerful, safe and, it is claimed, ecological.
If this record attempt is successful Norbert Sedlacek will be the first sailor ever who did a singlehanded, nonstop circumnavigation without assistance through all oceans including the Arctic and the Southern Ocean.
This challenge represents approximately 34,000 nautical miles and around 200 days at sea.
The 50th Solitaire Urgo-Le Figaro finished last Wednesday after a fourth and final leg won by Eric Péron, which confirmed Yoann Richomme’s overall first place. With hardly any time to get over this fourth leg, which was just as exhausting as the previous ones, a few skippers, who race in both the Figaro and IMOCA circuits looked back at this 2019 edition in which they took part. You really have to be an expert in Figaro racing to come out on top in the Solitaire, and for the IMOCA skippers returning to the Figaro circuit, it was not the easiest of tasks.
What are the similarities and differences when racing on the little boat (a Figaro) in comparison to on a big one (an IMOCA 60)? Do you really have to go through the Figaro circuit to win in major IMOCA races? Is it very hard to go back to a Figaro after racing on an IMOCA? We put these questions to Yoann Richomme (1st), Michel Desjoyeaux (12th), Yann Eliès (16th), Jérémie Beyou (20th) and Thomas Ruyant (38th)
And in an Irish context, solo sailors Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan who both finished the Figaro with mixed results and who have both expressed Vendee Globe ambitions, the question now will be: what next?
With a few months left to go to the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre and just over a year to the Vendée Globe, and with most of the new IMOCAs not yet in the water, the 50th Solitaire du Figaro offered some IMOCA skippers an opportunity to see how they measured up against Figaro racers. It was a way to measure their physical condition and their endurance levels.
The overall winner of the 2019 Solitaire, Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Groupe - Groupe Télégramme) could not hide his pleasure and praised the class and his new Figaro 3: “I really enjoyed myself with this new boat, thanks to which the class is going to become very important. In terms of the standard, nothing compares to the Figaro... It teaches you all about commitment and is a great school to learn more and make progress. Moving up to an IMOCA is quite logical in my opinion and I still hope to be there at the start of the Vendée Globe next year." The winner of the last Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in Class40 will now continue to train on an IMOCA with Damien Seguin alongside whom he will take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race in a month from now before competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre in the autumn.
For Thomas Ruyant (Advens - La Fondation de la Mer): “The Figaro is the Olympics of ocean racing. Performing well on a Figaro is proof of your talent and that talent can be applied on an IMOCA..., but for me it is not compulsory to go via a Figaro. Many of the big names like Jean-Pierre Dick, Bernard Stamm and Alex Thomson to mention just a few, did not need to compete in the Figaro circuit to get where they are today. Just doing the Figaro is not enough either. You need to have done other stuff such as the Mini or Class40, as these are just as important if you want to prepare for a move to IMOCA racing.”
Figaro racing to perform well on an IMOCA
Twice winner of the event (2009 and 2014), Jérémie Beyou (Charal) says openly and loudly: “You really have to be up for it. You don’t compete at such a high level if you are not motivated. The Solitaire is a reference in terms of preparation. Personally, it takes me two or three years to find the pace again and sail like a true Figaro racer. I won the Solitaire on two occasions, but it took me four years to get my second win. The 2019 race is no different. It really was an exercise for experts. You just have to look at the list of the first ten places. To win you have to be 100% a Figaro racer.” After a fortnight’s holiday, the skipper of Charal will be back out there training double-handed with Christopher Pratt, with whom he will line up at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre.
For Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird), three times winner of the event (1992, 1998, 2007), who was very pleased with his 12th place this year, “It doesn’t make any sense racing an IMOCA, if you haven’t raced a Figaro, as the biggest group of top class racers competes. Gaining experience of Figaro racing is something you simply have to do if you want to perform well in the Vendée Globe. Having said that, you have to understand there is a difference when you move to an IMOCA, as she is a much bigger boat, which is heavier and more powerful, so preparing is a highly technical affair.” Yann Eliès (StMichel) shares this opinion, declaring, “Going through the Figaro circuit is practically compulsory if you want to win in the IMOCA circuit. The Figaro is a condensed version of what you experience on an IMOCA, especially with the new boat. Racing in the Figaro class complements IMOCA racing, as you don’t get to spend enough time out on the water on an IMOCA and the Figaro enables you to maintain your level and continue to make progress. This year’s race was complicated for me. I thought I would end up much higher in the overall rankings. I wasn’t fresh enough for the race, and every leg was difficult. I may return next year, but for the moment, I’m busy looking for a partner for The Ocean Race, which really attracts me, and for the 2024 Vendée Globe."
Returning means accepting the danger
“Sometimes it can be good to start to question yourself and put yourself in danger in the Figaro circuit,” explains Yann Eliès, “ as the exercise is very tricky and the standard very high. This year only one of us handed in the perfect exam paper…" He was thinking of Yoann Richomme, who paid homage to all the IMOCA skippers, who return to the Figaro circuit. “I imagine it must be very hard for Yann, Jérémie, Armel and Mich’ to return to the Figaro circuit, where everyone can come a cropper very easily. You need to be strong psychologically to know how to deal with that.”
In November 2020 in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, Germany’s most successful modern-day offshore sailor Boris Herrmann will start the legendary Vendée Globe, the famous solo non-stop race around the world. Since 1989's very first ever edition of sailing's pinnacle solo race no German sailor has made it to the start line, far less the finish line, some 22,500 miles and 75 or 80 days later in Les Sables d’Olonne. But the 38-year-old from Hamburg has his sights set further than just the solo race which promises to the be one of the most competitive editions yet. Just one year later Herrmann is looking to be on the start line of The Ocean Race with a young German-flagged international team, set to take on this pinnacle fully crewed race round the world that was previously known as the Volvo Ocean Race and before that the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Since 1989's very first ever edition of sailing's pinnacle solo race no German sailor has made it to the start line
Herrmann has just registered with the organisers of The Ocean Race, formally signalling his intention to take on the multi-stage race on the highly optimized, cutting edge 60 foot, 18 metre foiling IMOCA Open 60 yacht “Malizia” on which he will compete among a capacity 30 strong field for the Vendée Globe.
“I have known The Volvo Ocean Race and before that the Whitbread Race since I was very young, and it has always held a massive appeal to me. Now it has been transformed to become ‘The Ocean Race’ and it is to be sailed in the same class of IMOCA high performance ocean racing yachts. As such it with a German-flagged team racing over nine months or so with stopovers in key cities around the world we see it holding a great commercial appeal to companies like our German automotive partner BMW as well,” says Herrmann, who has played a key role on the Executive Committee of the IMOCA class for the past two years helping drive the transition to the Open60 boats which will now be utilized in both pinnacle round the world events, the Vendée Globe and the Ocean Race in the future.
“It’s fantastic to have Herrmann and his team with us”
Executive Director of The Ocean Race Richard Mason is delighted to have Herrmann and Team Malizia sign up to the race. “It is fantastic to welcome Boris Herrmann and Team Malizia as they take the first steps towards competing in the 2021-22 edition of The Ocean Race. By joining our registered teams, Team Malizia has access to the supportive resources of The Ocean Race as they prepare their campaign. Germany has an impressive history in the Volvo Ocean Race with illbruck Challenge winning the 2001-02 edition. In looking to take on the Vendée Globe and the The Ocean Race in successive editions, Boris really is extending that legacy. And it is great that he and the team are such passionate advocates for ocean health and sustainability which are a big focus area for The Ocean Race as we shape the event for the future.”
Yacht Club de Monaco Secures Vendée Globe
During the four-year preparation for the Vendée Globe Herrmann is supported by the Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM). His sailing friend Pierre Casiraghi, eldest son of Princess Caroline of Monaco, is the YCM Vice President and founded the team. Compared to other top campaigns their budget is relatively modest, but they already hold second place in the Globe Series the IMOCA world ranking. The long-term support from the YCM is guaranteed but Team Malizia are looking for a strong partner from the business world who will participate in all the upcoming team’s challenges from now on. With numerous stopovers The Ocean Race offers companies with a global operation access to unique hospitality opportunities and a widescale visibility for their brands in the most important markets.
Boris Herrmann not only promotes sustainability with the Malizia Ocean Challenge but is also the representative of the IMOCA class on the subject. He assists on the coordination with The Ocean Race, as all their yachts are to be equipped with an identical deep-sea laboratory, as the “Malizia” has been carrying on board since last summer.
The miraculous years of 2016 and 2017 provided a magic time in Irish sailing writes W M Nixon. Annalise won her Olympic Silver Medal. Shane McCarthy won the GP14 Worlds. And the most glamorous Round Ireland Race ever staged saw George David’s Rambler 88 and the three MOD 70 trimarans set course records every which way.
Then in the Autumn Enda O’Coineen went off in the Vendee Globe. And our interest in the big race didn’t stop there, as Stewart Hosford through Alex Thomson, and Marcus Hutchinson with his involvement in several boats, gave us an interest in campaigns at every level in this stratospheric peak of sailing ambition.
Came 2017, and Conor Fogerty won his class in the OSTAR, while Tom Dolan continued to make a more significant impact in France with the Mini Transat. Michael Boyd won the RORC Championship overall with the First 44.7 Lisa. And at junior level, there were new stars emerging with reassuring regularity and frequency in several classes at home and internationally.
It was good. In fact, it felt too good to be true. People were dreaming dreams. Even the most grounded people started to dream dreams. And the dream, in this case, was the Vendee Globe 2020. Tens of thousands of miles of everything our planet’s oceans can throw at extreme IMOCA 60s requiring superhuman feats of endurance.
The more demanding the Vendee Globe challenge, the greater the number of Irish sailors who spoke of their interest in being there on the starting line next time round, on 8th November 2020. At various stages proven sailors as diverse as Conor Fogerty, Sean McCarter, Nin O’Leary, Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan have been testing the sometimes distinctly tepid waters of potential Irish and international sponsorship support for the 2020 race.
Of course, we have to recognise that the difference between an expression of interest and the announcement of a full-blown campaign is a very wide gulf, and if everything is going the right way, there is much that can happen in the year or so that is arguably still available.
Yet here we are now, with eight and perhaps even nine totally new IMOCA 60 boats well under construction in Europe with the 2020 race less than 19 months away, and not one of any of the entries - new or second-hand - seems to be Irish. This despite the fact that there are now so many IMOCA 60s of varying vintages around that the Rolex Fastnet Race of 3rd August 2019 has an entry of 29 of these remarkable machines. And the fact that one of them, Mike Golding’s boat the former Gamesa, has Joan Mulloy in the personnel lineup certainly provides a line of possibility.
But the Fastnet Race, while challenging, is more of a display case for the highly-specialised offwind-oriented IMOCA 60s than a proper contest. For the Fastnet has a very manageable timespan as opposed to the resources-devouring full-on Vendee Globe campaign, which requires major expenditure decisions from sponsors. And in today’s uncertain economic and political times, many big business decisions are being put on hold.
However, part of the big-time sponsorship process involves long hours of detailed presentations in powerful board-rooms, in an atmosphere about as remote as possible from the realities of racing the Great Southern Ocean. Such serious negotiations could be going on in total privacy even as we speak. In fact, as recent Irish experience has shown, premature announcements of quests for sponsorship can be seriously counter-productive. And “serious” is scarcely the word for it – after all, for a top end new boat, we’re talking of a basic budget of €2.5 to €3 million, effectively for three years although there’s value added in that, post race, the boats are now eligible to be modified for participation in 2021’s Ocean Race.
So speculation on permutations of fate continues to be rife. But for now, we’ll stick to the known knowns. For we do of course have Stewart Hosford of Cork and his team beavering away in a building unit near Southampton on the new Hugo Boss for Alex Thomson. And in Lorient in Brittany, the many talents of Marcus Hutchinson of Kinsale and formerly Howth are being deployed on another IMOCA 60, this time for the formidably-focused and proven talent of Thomas Ruyant of Dunkerque.
But Hosford and Hutchinson have been in the inside track for quite a while. As for other names, Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan are having mixed fortunes in the Sardinha Cup, the opening salvo of the Figaro Solo season, which will bring the fleet to Kinsale in early June as a stopover in La Solitaire URGO Figaro 2019 itself, the Golden Jubilee.
Aboard with Dolan for the Sardinha is Damian Foxall, who is head and shoulders above all other Irish sailors in the success of his career which emerged from the French professional sailing structure. Yet Foxall turns 50 next year, and while the 73-year-old Jean-Luc van den Heede proved with his victory in the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee in January that age is not necessarily a matter of chronology, Foxall is showing involvement in other areas such as the environment which may become his dominant interest.
But for now, with the clock ticking remorselessly towards 8th November 2020, the likelihood of an Irish skipper in charge of a truly competitive IMOCA 60 seems increasingly remote. Yet as the underlying sense of excitement builds up, there are always new talents emerging over the horizon to whom the Vendee Globe and other major events call. So what would we say to some young, ambitious and talented Irish sailor who is thinking of moving into this unforgiving yet sometimes highly rewarding big-time offshore scene?
Basically, you’ve to face up to the French reality. France holds a unique position in world sailing, with a distinctive strength and status in the sport which often enables it to dictate the international agenda. And when world maritime attention focuses – as it does with increasing frequency – on a selection of major French events, they somehow manage to seem accessible, yet in their ultimate manifestations are clearly the sailing of superstars.
For the most ambitious young Irish sailors, this French hegemony presents a dilemma, and it’s not for everyone. Rather than being sucked into it, you can, of course, avoid the French power-pull, and instead take the standard Irish international performance sailing route, which is based around World Sailing’s global programme, with the glitter of the Olympics inevitably at its core. Theoretically, you are supported along the way, but resources often seem scarce, and the close public attention can be stressful in itself
On the other hand, you can strike out with any outstanding ability in the less structured Anglo-Saxon word of major events, in which wealthy individual owners are always on the lookout for special talent – three notable successes in this category are skipper/helmsmen Harold Cudmore and Gordon Maguire, and navigator Ian Moore, of whom it has been said that having him on a Transatlantic race is as good as narrowing the ocean by at least 150 miles.
This line of approach may then overlap into high profile happenings like The Ocean Race - formerly the Volvo – while in a different direction, the growth of very private superyacht regattas means that an Irish sailing star who has shown he or she can make the glossy giants sail well is going to be very much in demand, but discretion is expected. Nevertheless, we did manage to find out that in one example, Nin O’Leary was called in to get the best performance out of the 212ft Ron Holland-designed sloop Perseus (that really is 212 feet, and she really does have only one mast), and he did the business to leave an owner very happy indeed.
Equally complex in its way is the America’s Cup where – despite continuous reassurances of its relevance to everyday sailing and the benefits of the trickle-down effect of the technology it develops – the feeling is inescapable that you’re in a parallel universe rather than an integral part of the world sailing scene.
But in France, because of the corporate nature of the social structures, and the way that harbour towns, regions and national utilities are expected to promote themselves with commercial vigour, there’s a unique maritime setup in which top-end sailing is very much part of national life.
2024 Sailing Olympics
For those who would wish to make their way in it as a career, it is by no means a bed of roses. It is tough – very tough. But nevertheless it most definitely is there, it provides a recognizable path of progress, and a few Irish sailors – a very few, admittedly – have found fulfilment through the French system.
It’s not a potential career path which will lessen any time soon, for France is going to host the 2024 Olympics. And as it was a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who is generally credited with re-inventing the ancient Greek games in the beginnings of their modern form in 1896, the French can have a somewhat proprietorial attitude towards the Olympics. This will particularly manifest itself in the sailing, for boat change is always in the air with the long four-year Olympic cycle, and when possible, hosting nations do everything to promote boats from their own designers and builders for the accolade of Olympic selection.
It’s a mixed blessing, for at the moment only the venerable Laser manages to be both an Olympic class and a popular boat at grass roots level. But nevertheless we’ve already had the report in Afloat on testing for a new women’s single-hander, and while the tests may have taken place in Valencia in Spain, you couldn’t help but notice that a French boat was very much in evidence.
This approach is much more apparent in the intriguing new development with introducing offshore racing as an Olympic discipline, the proposal from the World Sailing Equipment Committee being that the new boat - which is not to be a foiler – is to be sailed by a woman and a man.
Currently, the new boat which has been grabbing the headlines is the foiling Figaro 3, whose current debut with the Sardinha Cup has been sending out very mixed messages. The boat has tremendous potential, but the excessive occurrence of rig failures this past week shows there is much work to be done before the fleet launches into the Golden Jubilee Figaro itself in just six weeks time.
Meanwhile, others have been thinking beyond this current Figaro, beyond the Fastnet, beyond the Vendee Globe, and on to the possibilities which the introduction of an offshore racing class in the Sailing Olympics at Marseille in 2024 will offer, and this month in France, Marcus Hutchinson presented a discussion document on realities and possibilities for developing Olympic two-handed mixed gender offshore teams to the Figaro Beneteau 3 Academy.
It’s high-powered stuff, and you can reach your own conclusions and queries from studying it in its raw form. But for the inevitable and instant “How much?” query, the answer is that bringing a qualified crew to the required offshore racing level for realistic participation in the 2024 Olympics, you’ll be looking at a basic budget of €800,000 a year.
And as for the suggestion that there might usefully be a de-foiled version of the Figaro 3, may that’s not such a bad idea. In its current form, the FB3 has no less than five appendages sticking out under the bull. Just ask Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall what happens when you get that particular bag of tricks in among some abandoned fishing gear…….
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.
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
Irish female solo sailor Joan Mulloy has made a fundraising bid for her La Solitaire Urgo le Figaro campaign next season. Mulloy, who became the first Irish woman to compete in the Figaro this year is seeking €350k in sponsorship that includes naming rights to the racing yacht for the title sponsor.
It is another step towards her ultimate goal of competing in the French-based Vendee Globe 2020, the single-handed non-stop round the world race widely regarded as the Everest of offshore sailing with a campaign cost of €3.5m.
The Irish rookie completed the arduous four stage 2018 Figaro course along the French coast, finishing 28th from 36 starters.
No Irish sailor has ever completed the Vendee Globe, and until 2017 no one had ever competed in the race.
Galway sailor Enda O'Coineen changed that in the last edition when he made it halfway around the world before being dismasted. He then repaired his rig and 'unofficially' completed the race by sailing the boat home and crossing the Les Sables d'Olonne finish line.
As part of Mulloy's sponsorship package is an affiliation with O'Coineen's Atlantic Youth Trust Charity. Mulloy also tells potential sponsors of the opportunities for international media coverage and a 'highly effective PR campaign'. Details were given in a 'commercial profile' in yesterday's Sunday Business Post newspaper.
Although she qualified for an important Vendee Globe qualifier last November, Mulloy did not compete in the Transatlantic Route du Rhum race citing lack of sponsorship for her withdrawal.