It’s one of sailing’s most famous events – a race taking place every two years, and seeing the best sailors in the world come together to test themselves in some of the trickiest conditions around.
Yep, it’s time for the Rolex Fastnet Race. This 608-mile challenge has been a bucket list event for sailors around the globe since it began back in 1925 – and this time, it’ll look a little different.
On Saturday, the largest ever fleet of IMOCAs in the Fastnet's history – the boats that will contest the next Ocean Race in 2021 – will compete for bragging rights.
What is the Fastnet Race?
Simply put, it’s the largest ocean race in the world, featuring a mind-boggling array of boats. This 608-mile race from Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, to Fastnet Rock, sitting on the southern tip of Ireland, and back into a finish off Plymouth. The Fastnet has been raced since 1925 and has its place on the calendar of sailing’s most prestigious events.
Why is the Fastnet Race so famous?
It’s one of yachting’s classic races, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) in the UK, and since 1925 has played a big role in the growth of offshore racing as a sport. If you like history, this is a race steeped in it, including a tragic edition in 1979 where 15 yachtsmen lost their lives after a stronger than expected storm decimated the fleet. The race hasn’t gotten any easier over the years and in 2019, the Fastnet remains a real test of sailing skills – with both inshore and offshore know-how needed to win.
Talk me through the route...
The course has numerous challenges – and veterans often refer to these as mini races within one bigger race. For instance, the start will see the fleet leave the Solent to head west in tidal ranges of 4-6 meters, with strong tidal flows either helping or hindering the fleet. Add in the challenge of racing against over 400 other boats, as well as hundreds of spectators, and the race track becomes extremely complex – even getting out of the starting blocks cleanly can take massive levels of skill and calm – and races have been won and lost within the first 20 miles. As the fleet reaches Lizard Point – the southernmost point of the UK – they will then face shallow waters, Traffic Separation Schemes before popping out into the Celtic Sea, where things get really gnarly. Then, a quick dash to Fastnet Rock – trying to take the prize of being ‘first around the rock’ – before turning back and heading for home, via the TSS and some enormous tides. Throw in a 100-mile sprint back around Lizard Point to the finish in Plymouth, where the winds drop and become fickle, testing the competitors right up to the line.
What’s the connection between the Fastnet Race and The Ocean Race?
There is no official relationship between the two races – but a lot of respect. The Fastnet has often been used as a true test of form before The Ocean Race, and Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (VO70) still holds the monohull record from 2011, where they completed the course in 42 hours 39 minutes. This year will be particularly interesting, as it sees a massive fleet of upwards of 20 IMOCA 60s go head to head – the third largest IMOCA fleet in history – including many teams and sailors who are working to make the start line of the 2021-22 edition of The Ocean Race.
Who should I look out for?
There are plenty of Ocean Race legends taking part in the Race (too many to mention) and all scattered across different boats, but keep your eye out for some familiar faces. Three VO65s and three VO70s will take to the start line – and David Witt’s Scallywag 100-footer will race in the maxi class. In the IMOCA 60 class, Boris Herrmann, who is already registered to take part in the next edition, will compete against the likes of Paul Meilhat and Sam Davies.
Meanwhile, Offshore Team Germany, featuring Annie Lush and Conrad Colman is racing with an Ocean Race crew configuration onboard – so will give us the first indication of what life could be like in 2021.
Where can I track the fleet?
Make sure you visit the Rolex Fastnet Race website at https://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/ for all the latest news and rankings.