The historic 50th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Rolex Fastnet Race sets sail with the first start at 1300 BST this Saturday (22 July) from Cowes, Isle of Wight bound for Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France via the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland.
With more than 450 entries, this special anniversary race will have a record-sized fleet, up from the previous record of 388 set in pre-COVID 2019. The Rolex Fastnet Race is by far the world’s largest offshore yacht race in terms of participants.
The line-up ranges in size from the world’s fastest offshore race boats, the French 32m long flying Ultim trimarans, likely to cover the 695 mile course in a little over a day, down to 30ft cruiser-racers and classics, such as the Australian 9m long 1932 classic Maluka, which could take six days.
Held in 1925, the first Fastnet Race (known at the time as the ‘Ocean Race’) helped established the sport of offshore racing in the UK and Europe. It was held annually until 1931 and biennially since, excluding the years over WW2.
In 1957 the Fastnet Race became part of a bigger event, the Admiral’s Cup, one of grand prix sailing’s pinnacle events during the 1970s-90s.
The race was marred in 1979 when an unforecast storm battered the fleet, resulting in the loss of 21 lives, including 15 competitors. Since 1925, the race has spawned numerous other 600 mile offshore events internationally such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart and Rolex Middle Sea Races.
The Rolex Fastnet Race is one of the few events where regular sailors can line up on the same start line as many heroes of the sport, from Vendée Globe and Ocean Race winners to Olympic gold medallists, to the world’s fastest man on the water (Paul Larsen), to the enthusiastic amateur majority, to families and individuals for whom the event represents the pinnacle of their sailing careers.
The fleet is divided into nine classes: the bulk of the fleet race under the IRC rating system for the event’s overall prize – the Fastnet Challenge Cup. This group is divided into six classes from the biggest, fastest boats in IRC Super Zero (SZ), down to the smallest, slowest 30 footers racing in IRC Four. In addition are the two professional classes, the IMOCAs and Class40 and the Multihull class, which includes racing trimarans such as the Ultims and Ocean 50s, and the faster cruising multihulls. There is also a doublehanded ranking for boats being sailed within the IRC fleet by two crew.
The start takes place from off the Royal Yacht Squadron line off West Cowes on Saturday 22 July with the starts for the classes separated by 20 minute intervals:
1300 Multihulls; 1320 IMOCA; 1340 Class40; 1400 IRC 4; 1420 IRC 3; 1440 IRC 2; 1500 IRC 1; 1520 IRC S/SZ
All the yachts are fitted with yb trackers enabling the 50th Rolex Fastnet Race to be followed in near real time from https://yb.tl/fastnet2023 (available online or via the yb app).
The tracker permits the full fleet, separate classes or individual yachts to be followed. The tracker display also features a pop-up leaderboard for each class and for the IRC classes calculates a real time ranking based on each boat’s rating. Additional features include four different map types, the ability to overlay the latest weather and to scroll back through the race.
Here there is more accurate information, showing for example both elapsed and corrected times plus also the data for each sector. This will show when boats yet to finish need to reach Cherbourg if they are to win their class, but new this time is displaying this information for each sector. SailraceHQ will also show details of how the fastest boats stand in terms of race records.
Those not sailing can get a taste of the race by competing in the Virtual Regatta edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. This is popular – in 2021, 38610 people played the race. Join the game on https://www.virtualregatta.com/en/
50th Edition Fastnet Race 2023