A little over a week remains before the eagerly anticipated start of the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race. A veritable international armada will contest the 46th edition of the race, commencing from Cowes on Sunday 16 August.
Around 390 yachts from over 25 countries are set to take part, representing a new record even for this legendary competition (comfortably surpassing the current best of 336 starters in 2013). It is a fitting tribute to the biennial race in a year of landmark celebrations: 2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the first edition when seven intrepid yachts set sail, the winning yacht Jolie Brise finishing in just over six days; likewise it’s the 90th birthday of race organizers Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), which was founded in the days immediately following the end of the first race. The Royal Yacht Squadron’s bicentenary will also receive a nod, with the start procedures being conducted once again from its clubhouse overlooking the Solent. Both these esteemed yacht clubs enjoy a long association with Rolex, partners of the race since 2001.
Fast and fierce
Set to lead the front end of the monohull fleet in the quest for line honours are three eye-catching Maxi yachts: Jim Clark’s 100-ft imperious Comanche (USA) skippered by ocean-racing veteran Ken Read; Mike Slade’s 100-ft Leopard (GBR), line honours and race record setter in 2007 and George David’s new 88-ft Rambler (USA), which will be able to count on the tactical guile of Brad Butterworth. Each yacht has its preferred conditions but, while the weather will have a say, it is likely that the three will keep each other close company. As pacesetters they will seek to finish within 48-hours and challenge the race record of 1 day, 18 hours and 39 minutes set by the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi (UAE) in 2011.
Waiting in the wings should misfortune strike the expected pacesetters are two 70-footers Camper (AUS) and Monster Project (RUS) and two Maxi 72s in the shape of Bella Mente (USA) and Momo (IVB).
Elsewhere, a clutch of impressive multihulls will contest their own chase for line honours and their own course record. In 2011, the leading multihull Maxi Banque Populaire set a time of 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes (32 hours, 48 minutes).
The Prized Target
The major prize contested is the Fastnet Trophy and Rolex timepiece, awarded to the overall monohull winner under IRC handicap. In recent years this honour has been claimed by an array of different yachts and crews, from professionally-sailed Maxis to Corinthian crewed 30-footers. The defending champions are the two-man Loison crew on the 33-ft Night and Day (FRA) – Alexis and Pascal Loison.
This opportunity creates one of the strongest elements of the race’s appeal. The vast majority of the fleet is eligible (in 2015, some 335 are competing for the prize), and the winning crew adds its name to an illustrious list of former winners. Names which include Myth of Malham, Carina, Pen Duick III, Ragamuffin, Tenacious, Rán 2 and Dorade – the latter, a two-time winner in the 1930s, is returning from the United States to race this year.
The first start will take place at 12:00 BST on Sunday 16 August. Following the departure from the Royal Yacht Squadron line at Cowes, the Rolex Fastnet course takes the fleet down the English Channel ahead of the open water passage across the Celtic Sea and the symbolic turn around the Fastnet Rock off the southern coast of Ireland; a rounding that heralds the race’s emblematic moment as the fleet embark on the long return leg and the finish in Plymouth. 603 nautical miles of tactically challenging sailing in unrelenting conditions await this intrepid fleet.
– Regatta News