With its new course and giant fleet, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Rolex Fastnet Race this year provided an even greater test of racing and seamanship skill for its competitors.
At 695 miles, the new course to Cherbourg was 90 miles longer than before, but as usual, required competitors to negotiate a complex mix of coastal, oceanic and tidal sailing.
More extreme than usual were the conditions. For the start there was a near gale and a vicious wind-against-tide sea state to exit the Solent, but these slowly abated and later there were periods of flat calm and fog.
The move of the finish from Plymouth to Cherbourg was due to the increased facilities, including a huge marina and berthing in the heart of the city, as well as taking the world’s largest offshore race to a country where public interest and enthusiasm for this form of yachting is unparalleled.
It came about thanks to the co-operation of the City of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the Communauté d’agglomération du Cotentin, the Conseil départemental de la Manche and Région Normandie.
For competitors, the new finish port threw up a fascinating final challenge: The Alderney Race (Raz Blanchard). This resulted in wide-ranging tactics with boats approaching the top of Cherbourg’s Cotentin Peninsula from both the extreme north and south, and all points between, according to the tidal state.
While the pre-race entry list at one point exceeded 450, given Brexit, the pandemic and its travel restrictions, and, closer to the start, a severe forecast, it was impressive that come start day on Sunday 8 August, still 337 yachts set off.