Rolex Fastnet Race – IRC One Preview

50th Edition – Saturday 22nd July 2023 – Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the Fastnet Rock

COWES, UK, 4 JULY 2023: Watch out IRC One competitors, because this year you have to contend with Tom Kneen and his crew on Sunrise III (GBR). Kneen’s team pulled a strategic masterstroke in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, the JPK 1180 beating the rest of IRC 2 by more than 120 miles after successfully bridging the transition between two breezes. Sunrise went on to become outright winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race, and with the move to IRC One for 2023 must surely rank as one of the favourites in this class. Recently back racing in Europe after a trip downunder for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Sunrise won IRC One in the recent Morgan Cup, and is looking as strong as ever.

Long-time Sunrise crew member Dave Swete says the Sydney Hobart revealed a chink in their armour, and they have acted accordingly: “We had a bad experience leaving Sydney when we were VMG running and we were ‘just another boat’. We weren’t that special. So we’ve put a 6.5 metre spinnaker pole on the boat, which is pretty long for the size of the boat, and we’ve had some smaller, flatter spinnakers made. We haven’t left ourselves much time for testing or figuring out our modes, but my feeling is it’s a no-brainer.

“The new Fastnet course is more like a big windward-leeward track,” Swete continues, “so we think the spinnaker pole could work out to be pretty useful. We’ve paid a bit of a price on the rating, but with the right conditions it will be worth it. By my calculations we only need to fly the spinnaker for an hour and a half and it will have paid for itself because it looks to be about 10 per cent quicker.” No resting on their laurels for this team.

For Sunrise and their friends on JPK 1180 sistership, Dawn Treader the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race was a tale of contrasting fortunes. One was the outright winner, the other didn’t get out of the Solent after losing her rig soon after that impossibly windy start. So it’s understandable that Dawn Treader owner Ed Bell’s first goal for this year is “to get out of the Solent”! Winner of the Gotland Runt in the Baltic Sea in 2022, Bell’s team continue to prove their offshore potential this season, notably with their IRC One victory in the De Guingand Bowl Race.

Another one of the five JPK 1180s looking to get in on the action is GP Bullhound from Sweden. Skipper Per Roman said: “There is lots to look forward to in this race: lining up for the start, rounding the Rock, finishing in France. There are some key navigational decisions for us to consider and hopefully some good surfing conditions. Above all it’s the great level of the competition that we’ll be facing.” The crew were second at the J/80 World Championship last summer in Newport, Rhode Island, so they’ve clearly got the inshore skills. Roman believes they can put in a good performance offshore too. “Our team is a brilliant mix of Swedish and Spanish sailors working together, with a combination of inshore and offshore experience.”

From Bullhound to Bulldog, RORC’s Treasurer Derek Shakespeare recently skippered his J/122 to third place in IRC One in the Myth of Malham Race. This is a boat with excellent pedigree, having previously won the IRC National Championship as Black Dog when it was campaigned by Stuart Sawyer. Shakespeare’s crew look well placed to continue the boat’s good run of form, and the skipper is quietly confident. “Our preparations have gone quite well, we have been improving each race in the weekend series. That said, we are in a very competitive class with a lot of very good boats. As a team we challenge ourselves to improve all the time, and we try to learn from our mistakes. A result towards the upper end of the class would be great for us, a podium finish would be wonderful. Let’s see…”

A larger J/Boat, Gilles Fournier and daughter Corinne Migraine’s J/133, Pintia, is always one to take seriously. The winner overall of the Cervantes Trophy Race at the end of April, as well as winner of IRC One in the Myth of Malham, this Le Havre team has a right to feel confident about its chances in the Fastnet. That said, Fournier admits he will have a fight on his hands in IRC One: “If you go back to 2016 and 2017 we had an edge over the competition in our class, but that’s not the case anymore. Pintia is better than it was, but the competition has improved as well.

“We have spent some time improving Pintia in a number of areas – bigger spinnakers, reducing the weight by several hundred kilos. We took out the heating system, the windlass, replaced the batteries with lighter ones, took off the heavy vang with a lightweight pulley system. Of course we have increased the boat’s rating in the process, but the early season races proved the changes we have made have been quite good.”

Fournier is focused purely on a good performance in his class. Anything beyond that is purely dreaming, he believes. “We can forget about trying to win overall. The bigger boats are much faster, they will have professional crews. It will be a big boat race because the new boats like Ino Noir or Rán are very effective. I guess a bunch of TP52s will also be fast and effective under IRC. We will fight in our class, which also has some very good boats. Sunrise is fast and has an excellent crew, and there are many others. We would be happy to be in the top five. That would be a good result.”

Now aged 77, Fournier is on his sixth or seventh Fastnet: “I can’t remember how many exactly, but it doesn’t matter. I love sailing and I love racing. If you win it’s much better, but I will be happy just to do the race and finish it. The atmosphere, being out on the sea, it is a treat.”

The other J/133 in the fleet is Corazon, and it will be interesting to see how Lawrence Herbert and his friends and fellow family members fare against the greater experience of the Pintia crew. “We’ve owned Corazon for four years now,” said Herbert, “and now we’re finally getting it racing. The Rolex Fastnet Race is a legendary race, it’s been a desire of mine for many years. I have raced the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the RORC Caribbean 600, but being from the UK it seems like a special opportunity to do the Fastnet.”

Herbert has brought together a crew of friends and family. “My father Robin is the owner of the boat. I am the skipper and my brother Will is on board too. I have got together a crew of people I sailed dinghies with through my childhood, and other sailors I have met in the professional sailing world. We are a young team, and everyone contributes a huge amount to the programme. We’ll be very happy if we can get a top 10 result in IRC One.”

Along with Pintia, a number of other French teams are very likely to be challenging for the top places. L’Ange de Milon was second in IRC One in the Myth of Malham, which bodes well for owner Jacques Pelletier who has been competing regularly in the race for half a century. “The first time I sailed in the Fastnet was in 1973, with a small boat. We completed the course in six days and six hours,” he recalls. He’s expecting a much faster time in 2023.

One of the greatest competitors in the Rolex Fastnet Race is Géry Trentesaux. Having first taken part in 1977, this will be the Frenchman’s 17th edition. Even when he finds a winning formula, Trentesaux seems to want to sail a different type of boat every two years. In 2015 he claimed the Fastnet Challenge Cup with his JPK 10.80 Courrier du Leon, but since then has come back with a TS42 catamaran Guyader Gastronomie in 2017, his own JPK 1180 Courrier Recommandé for 2019 when he won IRC Two, and in 2021 aboard the Class 40 Courrier Redman. For 2023 he is sailing a Jason Ker-designed Sydney 43 GTS, Long Courrier, which he believes has the potential to be quick in the right conditions.

Another top French competitor with a proven track record is Didier Gaudoux, who won in 2017 on Lann Ael 2. This year he has replaced his JND39 with Lann Ael 3, an MN35 designed by Sam Manuard and Bernard Nivelt. It’s a powerful, semi-scow, dreadnought-bowed, twin-ruddered boat which should prove very potent in high-speed reaching or downwind conditions.

Michael O’Donnell’s J/121, Darkwood was second in the De Guingand Bowl Race, and looking well prepared for a race that the determined skipper really wants to complete. “The Rolex Fastnet Race is very much unfinished business for Darkwood having had to retire in 2019 with rudder damage, and suffering a collision shortly after the start in 2021,” said O’Donnell. “The competition in IRC One is more intense than ever, with a number of British boats raising their game, in part due to inclusion of some RORC offshore races in the Performance 40 calendar.

“Darkwood has competed in each of the RORC’s Channel-based races this season, and while relatively consistent we are not quite where we need to be yet. This is our fifth season with the boat and I’m surprised how much we are still learning about it, and what is required to get us up the results table. It’s definitely getting more challenging!”

Led by owner François Goubau and his wife Michele Gelhausen, the Belgian Beneteau First 47.7 Moana is a family affair, and a very competitive family too. Helmsman son Mathieu took part in his first Fastnet Race in 1997, aged 16, and they are regularly joined on board by his siblings Laurent and Alexis. The Goubau family and crew have notched up more than 100 Fastnets between them.

The last Rolex Fastnet Race didn’t go so well, admits tactician Luc Geirnaert: “The 2021 start was our weather until two jibs and tuff luff exploded while leaving Hurst Castle in the Solent,” he says ruefully. Whatever the outcome of 2021, this team would always be back. “It is in our blood, in our veins,” says Geirnaert. “It is something you just have to do. The start is always fascinating, to see all the boats. It is a challenge – during the race, the preparation and there is always an ambition to finish on the podium. The race itself – there’s the Fastnet Rock rounding, the challenge. It is always different and unpredictable.”

A fleet of 15 Beneteau First 40s can expect a close race within the race. Among their number is Skylander, skippered by Chris Brooks, winning skipper of the Clipper Race 2019-2022, which completed its 40,000 nautical mile circumnavigation last summer.

There are three Challenger 72s being entered into IRC One by the Tall Ships Youth Trust who will be competing in their eighth consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race. On Challenger 4 the team of 12 will all be within the 16-25 age bracket, led by skipper Sue Geary who skippered in 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race. On Challenger 2, the youngest crew in the race, 12-year-old Tom Marsh and 14-year-old Zoe d’Ornano (who raised over £10,000 for the charity in the 2021 race), will join a mostly adult crew who are fundraising to enable young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate.

Jacques Caraës has lived several lifetimes with all his adventures at sea but this year will be sailing the oldest boat in the race, a 1903 gaff yawl Fife Moonbeam, whose crew will be crew a mix of classic yacht stalwarts and Breton offshore racers. Caraës, a Whitbread Round the World Race competitor and Jules Verne Trophy record holder, last competed in the Fastnet Race on Bernard Stamm’s IMOCA 60 Cheminées Poujoulat in the 2000s.

While IRC One is packed with seriously competitive boats looking to make their mark at the top of the leaderboard, for many the race is still pure adventure. One such sailor is Belgian participant Franklin Wagemans who is campaigning Aquavit, a Beneteau First 45, with some close friends. “For a first participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race our aim is to finish the race. We are looking forward to sharing magical moments on the water and we hope for a reasonable result with a crew of six people.

“The race is an opportunity for us to experience a collective adventure, to compete with other sailing enthusiasts and to savour the excitement of the competition. Beyond the finish line, we hope to create lasting memories, forge lasting bonds and celebrate our shared passion for the sea.”

The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race starts from Cowes, Isle of Wight on Saturday 22nd July. For further information, please go to the Rolex Fastnet Race website:

Race Entry List HERE

Andy Rice/RORC

Jeanneau JY60
M.O.S.S Australia
NAV at Home
JPK August 2023