Photography by Kurt Arrigo & Carlo Borlenghi
Entries for this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race sold out in record time in January, with all 340 places of the 47th edition being taken in just four minutes and 24 seconds. Adding to this the non-IRC entries, including a significant number of international Class40s and eight VO 65s for the Volvo Ocean Race.
In total, close to 400 competing boats are expected to meet in Cowes on 6 August for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial clash between the IRC and non-IRC fleets, the largest in the race’s 92-year history. Having changed little since the inception of the competition, the Fastnet is one of the oldest offshore races in the world.
The boats start from the Isle of Wight and head west along the South Coast of England and out into the open water of the Atlantic Ocean until they round the famous Fastnet Rock, positioned four miles off south-west Ireland, heading back via the Scilly Isles and ending their racing in the waters off Plymouth.
The reason for such strong success? “It is within easy [reach] for the largest fleets of offshore-capable yachts anywhere in the world,” said RORC Racing Manager Nick Elliott.
The 2017 fleet is as diverse as it has ever been, say the organisers, with “yachts of every conceivable type represented”. These include the fastest offshore race boats in the world, the 30-metre Ultime trimarans, joined by Volvo Ocean Race one-designs, IMOCA 60s used in the singlehanded Vendée Globe circumnavigation races, and 34 Class40s making up the largest non-IRC class.
Those on the lookout for world-famous maxi yachts among the IRC fleet will not be disappointed. S/Y Nikata, the Judel Vrolijk 115 Super Maxi will be pitted against Australia’s DSS-equipped 30-metre S/Y CQS from Ludde Ingvall. George David’s S/Y Rambler 88, which just missed out on line honours in 2015, will again be looking to take pole position.
As equipment and yachts have become better over the decades, the Rolex Fastnet Race has become more accessible to amateurs – groups of friends and families – looking to challenge their skills offshore, categorised as the Corinthian entries, which account for the bulk of the IRC fleet.
“The Rolex Fastnet Race has that ‘challenge appeal’ which people are looking for more and more at the moment. It’s something people can tick off their ‘list’. Also, there are lots and lots of boats available for charter and spaces available for individuals who want to do it. Generally, instead of people going racing every weekend, these days they’ll cherry pick; they’ll choose to only do bigger, more special event,” added Elliot.
For some, it’s irresistible to return at every opportunity. Loyal veteran Tony Harwood will be taking part for the sixth time this year, and it will be his fourth race on board 38-footer S/Y Volante, a Camper & Nicholson from 1961. When asked why he takes part, Harwood is somewhat stoical.
“It’s like, ‘Why climb Everest?’ Because it’s there, I suppose,” explains Harwood. “We are heavy old crew in a heavy old boat, but we do about 5,000 channel miles a year. I like competitive sailing, even though the starts frighten the life out of me.”
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