Rolex Fastnet Race – offshore racing's most successful class

In the 15 years since the Class40 box rule was unveiled, an unprecedented 169 examples from early racer cruisers, to fully wicked-up grand prix race boats have been built, making it the most successful 40 foot racing yacht of all time. This weekend's Rolex Fastnet Race forms part of the official 2019 Class40 Championship.

Aside from its impressive numbers, the Class40 is also highly international with owners in 20+ countries from Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA and Canada to many European countries, the most prolific being France where the class originates. International entries have also been performing well with Brits Phil Sharp and Luke Berry claiming first and third respectively in the 2018 Class40 Championship.

In this year's Rolex Fastnet Race, twenty-two Class40s are competing, ranging from state of the art boats, to the 2007-vintage Rogers design that Tanguy de Lamotte steered to Class40 victory in the 2009 and 2011 Rolex Fastnet Races. She is now being campaigned by Morgane Ursault-Poupon, daughter of one of France's most successful offshore racers, Philippe Poupon.

Newest boat in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race is Imagine, skippered by German offshore racer Jörg Reichers who has previously competed in most of the top French offshore classes including the Mini 6.50 (second in the 2017 Mini Transat), IMOCA 60 and Class40, in which he has won or placed in many events.

For this season Reichers returns to the Class40 with an Owen Clarke design launched in May, campaigning her on behalf of her builder, Cape Racing Yachts, in South Africa.

Of how the boat performs Reichers shares his early impressions: “We are really fast upwind and reaching we are a bit slower than the very latest boats and downwind we were able to keep up with them – and that's without really optimising the boat.”

This upwind performance should be useful if it is a classic 'upwind to the rock' Fastnet.

This will be Reichers' third Rolex Fastnet Race: “It is a great classic – one of the iconic races. The interesting thing about the Fastnet, and also the most annoying, is the tactical aspect: Because of all the headlands, like Portland Bill, Start Point, the Lizard etc, if you make an error or are little bit too late with those, it can decide the race. It also makes the race super-tactical and very, very interesting.”

Britain is claiming Luke Berry since both his parents are English, but in reality he has lived in France since he was 10 and now holds British and French passports. His rise through the French offshore fleets has been meteoric: second in the Mini Transat, third in last year's Class40 Championship, sixth out of 53 Class40s in the 2018 Route du Rhum, despite it being his first year with his new Class40. Lamotte – Module Création is a Sam Manuard-designed Mach 40.3, or at least “based on the 40.3's moulds but optimised” as Berry describes it. Broadly she is a sistership to Arthur le Vaillant's Leyton.

While the Class40 was once a racer-cruiser class, today it is often the stepping stone between Figaro/Mini and IMOCA 60 campaigns, Berry explains: “It has professionalised quite a bit: We work a lot on sails and tuning and performance and we sail every day – I am part of the Lorient Grand Large training squad. It also has a lot of to do with fine tuning – a couple of centimetres of sheet in and sheet out, mast and shroud tension, spinnaker sizes, gennaker shapes and sizes.”

This will be Berry's second Rolex Fastnet Race although he has been around the Fastnet Rock in many other races. On board Lamotte – Module Création will be other Classe Mini royalty, including Figaro sailor Corentin Douguet, winner of the 2005 Mini Transat and Fred Denis, victor in 2015.

While Berry and Reichers are sure to be among the frontrunners, so too will be William Mathelin-Moreaux's Beijaflore, a Marc Lombard-designed Lift 40 which Solitaire du Figaro winner Yoann Richomme sailed to victory in last year's Route du Rhum. Also to watch will one of the longest serving members of the Class40, Catherine Pourre. Her yacht Eärendil – another Mach 40.3 – is currently second in the 2019 Class40 Championship.

Shining a light for British shorthanded sailing are stalwart RORC campaigners Ian Hoddle, Nigel Colley, Charles Emmett and Matt Smith, the consortium that own the Class40 Manic (the first letters of their Christian names). This boat was campaigned by leading British offshore sailor Sam Goodchild in last year's Route du Rhum, backed by the Netflix series (and branded) Narcos, sadly dismasting while in third place.

“We have all done a lot of RORC racing,” explains Hoddle, who won IRC Three and 2 Handed in last year's RORC Season's Points Championship. “With this we decided to step up and compete at the next level.”

Since buying Manic, they have acquired a new single spreader rig and upgraded the boat. Their first outing was the Morgan Cup Race, which they won. The Rolex Fastnet Race, only be their fourth race, is on a 'bucket list' which includes the RORC Transatlantic and Caribbean 600. Of the Rolex Fastnet Race, Hoddle says “It will be nice to have some more boat-on-boat action. We particularly want to race against the French guys and see how we get on. We know that the boat is more than capable – our objective is to be up in the top 10.”

As the step-up from his Sun Fast 3600, Hoddle adds that the Class40… “lights up like a dinghy. When you get to 17-18 knots with the kite up, it just takes off.”

The Class40 will be in the second start with the IMOCA 60s on Saturday with a warning signal at 1235 BST.

-James Boyd

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