Boats in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, which departs from Cowes on Sunday 8th August, are so diverse in size and shape that it is difficult to pick out the winner of the trophy.
In the past there have been some surprises. Boats range in size from top end keelboats and the multi-hulled MOD 70s to very much smaller craft.
Some of the World’s fastest offshore racing yachts, with the potential to get around even the new elongated course in less than a day will be those in the MOCRA class.
Since the MOCRA (Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association) was set up in 1969, multihulls, both catamarans and trimarans, have evolved hugely.
Leading the MOCRA class on the water will certainly be the two MOD70s, from America Jason Carroll’s Argo, with Island based Brian Thompson as navigator on board, and from Italy Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati. Both have upgraded foil packages to encourage them, if not to fully fly, then at least, to reduce displacement.
Class IRC Zero represents the top end of keelboats. It’s likely that line honours will go to one of the maxis in the class, perhaps George David’s 88ft defending line honour champion Rambler 88 (USA), if she can keep the freshly launched ClubSwan 125 Skorpios (MON) at bay.
Traditionally IRC Zero has produced the most overall winners. Over the last 10 editions, half have been won by IRC Zero competitors, including Niklas Zennstrom’s two-time winner Ran 2, while David and Peter Askew’s VO70 Wizard won overall IRC honours and the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2019.
Alongside the fully professional teams competing aboard the maxis, there is a growing charter market in the Volvo Ocean 65 and Volvo Open 70 boats, so there is sure to be some exciting racing throughout the 695nm race which after the start from Cowes goes via the Fastnet Rock to, for the first time this year, Cherbourg, France.
IRC One will see one of the toughest battles within the race with French boats hard to beat. Among the leading contenders are Jacques Pelletier’s Milon 41 L’Ange De Milon which won IRC One in the 2019 edition or runner-up to Pelletier in 2019 but outright race winner in 2017, Didier Gaudoux’s JND39, Lann Ael 2.
Due to the COVID 19 situation there have been few indicators of offshore form over the past 18 months, but Lann Ael 2 did win the IRC division in the 2020 edition of the Drheam Cup. ahead of Eric Fries’ JPK 11.80 Fastwave 6 and Laurent Charmy’s J/111 SL Energies Groupe Fastwave, both of which will be competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race in IRC Two.
Other boats to watch in IRC 2 include Eric Fries’ Fastwave 6, Richard Fromentin’s Cocody from France, Astrid de Vin’s Il Corvo from the Netherlands, from the UK, Ed Bell’s Dawn Treader and Thomas Kneen’s Sunrise.
The largest class to compete in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race will be the 80+ boats in IRC Three. This class has produced two overall winners of the Rolex Fastnet Race – Pascal and Alexis Loison racing Two-Handed with Night and Day (2013) and Gery Trentesaux’s fully crewed Courrier Du Leon (2015). The vast majority of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race’s IRC Two-Handed teams will be racing in IRC Three with the doublehanded discipline becoming hugely popular, almost doubling in the number of entries over the last decade.
More than 70 boats are expected to be on the start line racing in IRC Four for this race. Nearly all of the 500 plus sailors racing in the class are amateurs, and all bar a few boats are under 40ft. For the small boat class, the race is a labour of love and in many respects the toughest challenge of the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Several Isle of Wight based sailors are racing. They include Shirley Robertson OBE, who will be returning to sailing after commentating on the Tokyo Olympic Games. Shirley will be in the two- handed class on board Swell with Henry Bomby. Brian Thompson will be navigator on board ARGO, the very fast MOD70 which recently crossed the Atlantic in a new record time (Bermuda-Plymouth WSSRC Record) whilst Cowes resident Robbie Southwell is a crew member on Tala. However, it is not only Cowes based sailors taking part with Hugh Doherty on Xanaboo and Thomas Scott on Itma from Bembridge and Steven Anderson on Cracklin Rosie from Ventnor.