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Rolex Fastnet Race | Fast Out The Gates

by Ingrid Hale
Rolex Fatsnet Scorpios and Rambler 88

The 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race lived up to its fame as the first of seven starts got underway at 15 minute intervals in a breezy Solent. Strong southwesterly winds were blowing up the Channel and competitors were treated to  headwinds gusting into the 30s with a building wind-against-tide sea state.

Rolex Fastnet Start

A fleet of 337 boats leave the Solent, bound for the Fastnet Rock in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

A lively forecast

The 96-year-old offshore racing classic has a reputation for the severe weather that it can throw at its competitors. Still strongly remembered is the 1979 race that cost 19 lives.  A lively forecast for the race’s first 24 hours caused entries to drop as start day approached. Nonetheless a highly impressive turn-out of 337 boats from 24 nations crossed the start line. Entries came from Japan, Mexico, eight boats from the USA, but the majority are from Europe, including the largest ever turn-out from France

The Multi’s in the lead

Not surprisingly Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is leading the race with an ETA of 10 August with just 262 nautical miles to the finish. Sodebo Ultim 3 is following in second. Skorpios is currently the leading monohull with rival Rambler 88 22 nautical miles behind her.

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Feisty starts

Despite winds gusting to 35 knots, the starts got away well. Among the multihulls, it was the favourites and defending champions, Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier on the Ultim trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild that got away first. They were followed by Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 and the Yves le Blevec-skippered Actual. The two MOD70s Maserati and Argo of Giovanni Soldini and Jason Carroll respectively, lead the charge in the MOCRA fleet. Incredibly just three hours after starting, the Ultimes had already crossed the Channel and were putting in a tack to the west of Cape de la Hague, setting themselves up unusually to pass south of the Casquets TSS.

Rolex Fastnet Race maxi edmond de rothschild

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild co-skippered by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier leads the Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

 

Rolex Fastnet Race Maserati

Giovanni Soldini’s Multi70 Maserati and Jason Carroll’s MOD 70 Argo exit the Solent © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

IMOCAs on the move

An early stand-out leader in the IMOCA class was Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat aboard Apivia. Charlie Dalin arrived home first in the Vendée Globe only to see victory elude him when Yannick Bestaven on Maître CoQ was awarded time compensation for his part in a rescue. Sadly, Bestaven was about to start when his IMOCA was involved in a collision with a vessel, damaging her bow and forcing him to retire.

“It is very upwind to the Fastnet, with strong breeze to start with at the Needles,” forecast Dalin this morning, this being his first race since the Vendée Globe. “The sea will be pretty rough with wind against tide. We will have more than 30 knots at some point. It will be pretty tense. There are some routing options including a southerly route across to France, close to Guernsey

“There are some small shifts, so at some point we should be slightly freer than fully upwind, when we’ll be able to use the foils. With our big foils we fly fairly early.” The latest IMOCA foilers showed huge pace exiting the Solent in the strong winds, enabling them to stay up with substantially larger boats.

Class40s in numbers

Showing great pace exiting the Solent among the Class40s was Emmanuel Le Roch’s Edenred. By mid-afternoon the Class40s were also heading out into the Channel. Axel Trehin’s Project Rescue Ocean and Aurelien Ducroz on Crosscall were leading towards the Cotentin peninsula as another favourite, Antoine Carpentier’s Courrier Redman, on which former winner Gery Trentesaux is competing, was one of the few Class40s to have tacked north.

Rolex Fastnet IMOCA 40s

IMOCA 60 and Class40 start off the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes in the Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Maxi magic

Seeing the maxis in IRC Zero, led by Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ClubSwan 125 Skorpios and George David’s Rambler 88, powering down the Solent in the building sea state and then crashing through large waves off Hurst was a sight to behold. Despite their huge length disparity, Rambler 88, the monohull line honours winner in the last two editions, was doing well to keep up.

With the breeze looking to lighten mid-week, the smart money is on the hot boats in IRC Zero to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup. George David has his fingers crossed that Rambler 88 might score the elusive ‘triple’ – overall IRC win, monohull line honours and a new course record (likely since this is the first time the race will finish in Cherbourg).

Prior to the start David was uncertain of his prospects: “I focus on the weather as you’d expect for the first 48-60 hours. It could be a tight reach to the Rock and an open reach on the way back which would be a pretty fast race, and [on the routing] it has slowly got longer as the breeze has come around more to the west and looks like there will be a fetch, at best, up to the Rock and that will be a 60+ hour race. But it will be what it will be.

Of the competition with Skorpios, David added: “I’d like to get line honours for a third time, but that’s going to be a tough challenge with this big new boat out there. It’s a big powerful boat, quite a bit longer than we are, with a lot of stability and it will go really fast on most points of sail, I think most especially on a 90-110° reach.

“If it starts to blow really hard, into the 30s, we might have an edge because we’ve been at this with the same team and with the same boat now for six years. This boat is pretty optimised and it’s pretty well sailed and most things that might break have already broken.”

While the grand prix classes were heading south, both Skorpios and Rambler 88 were taking a more classic route tacking along the Dorset coast including a long dive into the bay east of Portland (Skorpios’ base recently). They were followed by Jens Kellinghusen’s Ker 56 Varuna.

Rolex Fatsnet Scorpios and Rambler 88

Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ClubSwan 125 Skorpios and George David’s Maxi Rambler 88 beating into the English Channel © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

The IRC battles

Also heading south out into the Channel this afternoon are most of IRC One, with RORC Commodore James Neville leading on the water aboard his HH42 INO XXX. Hanging on to his coattail was the venerable Dutch maxi Stormvogel. Under her original owner Cornelius Bruynzeel, this 1961 vintage van de Stadt-designed 73ft ketch won line honours in the Fastnet Race 50 years ago. Early leaders on corrected time in IRC One were David Cummins’ Ker 39 Rumbleflurg and Rob Bottomley’s Mat 12 Sailplane.

IRC Two was also heading south this afternoon with Tom Kneen’s youth crew on board the JPK 10.80 Sunrise leading on the water from sisterships Eric Fries’ Fastwave 6 and Richard Fromentin’s Leclerc Hennebont / Cocody. All were looking good under corrected time but with Oliver Grant’s First 40 Jazz out in front, also heading the Performance 40 ‘race within a race’.

Like the yachts ahead of them, all but a handful of boats in IRC Three were choosing a long starboard tack out into the Channel. Ireland’s Denis Murphy and Royal Cork YC Rear Admiral Annamarie Fegan on their Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo were already the stand-out performers. Their Cork entry was leading on the water and on corrected time, despite their boat being by no means the fastest in their class. Tactician on board is Nicholas O’Leary from the famous Irish sailing dynasty.

Retirements aplenty

Inevitably the big conditions has led to a number of boats retiring from the race. At 1630 UTC on Sunday this was up to 24. Perhaps the most devastating was Yannick Bestaven’s Vendée Globe winner Maître CoQ. Two of the MOCRA multihull favourites were also out – Christian Guyader, the 2019 winner on board his TS5 catamaran Guyader Mext, and Yann Marilley’s Outremer 5x racing catamaran No Limit on which famous sailor Loick Peyron was racing. No Limit retired after she dismasted.

One of the favourites of IRC Two, Gilles Fournier / Corinne Migraine’s J/133 Pintia was also forced to retire. Similarly Ed Bell’s JPK 11.80 Dawn Treader is out with a broken mast. In IRC One, one of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s most regular competitors, the Goubau family from Belgium, were also forced to pull out on their First 47.7 Moana.

Winners of the IRC Two Handed class in 2015, Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley, back this year to have another go at this title aboard the Sun Fast 3300 Aries, sadly have also become a statistic in this race. So too have another British favourite for this class, Rob Craigie and Deb Fish on board the Sun Fast 3600 Bellino.

Competitors experienced a breezy night but conditions were due to slowly abate.

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