The world’s largest, most prestigious offshore sailing event will take place this summer in the UK with the 47th running of the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Some offshore yacht races struggle for entries, but the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial flagship event is not one of them. When the entry list opened on 9 January, spaces sold out faster than a Rolling Stones farewell concert, the 340 boat limit reached, incredibly, in just 4 minutes and 24 seconds. And this figure excludes the non-IRC fleets which will include a giant international turn out of Class40s and significantly, will be the first occasion the eight VO65s, set to compete in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race, will line up in anger.
When the Rolex Fastnet Race set sails from Cowes on Sunday 6th August, close to 400 boats will make up the combined IRC and non-IRC fleets – the largest ever entry in the race’s 92 year history and a significant step-up from 356 in the last race.
So why is the race so successful? “It is within easy access for the largest fleets of offshore-capable yachts anywhere in the world,” succinctly explains Nick Elliott, Racing Manager of the RORC.
The Rolex Fastnet Race is one of the world’s oldest offshore races, but the 605 mile course represents much the same challenge today as it did to competitors 90+ years ago: Typically an upwind westbound slog along the south coast of England, then full exposure to the open Atlantic Ocean on the crossings to the Fastnet Rock (lying four miles off southwest Ireland) and back, before leaving Bishop Rock and the Scilly Isles to port, en route to the finish off Plymouth.
However today, the standard of yachts and their equipment have improved immeasurably, as have the safety and qualification requirements for competing yachts and crews. This, combined with weather forecasting becoming a more exact science are all designed to prevent a repeat of the 1979 race, when a storm of un-forecast severity devastated the fleet and cost 18 people their lives.
The modern day Rolex Fastnet Race fleet is also the most diverse, with yachts of every conceivable type represented. These range from the 100ft long Ultime trimarans, the fastest offshore race boats in the world, to the Volvo Ocean Race one designs, to the IMOCA 60s, used in the Vendée Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race, while, with thirty four boats entered, the Class40s will be by far the biggest non-IRC class.