RORC – 50th Edition Fastnet Race

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image of Cowes Classic 2018

50th Rolex Fastnet Race – how ocean racing came of age

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

Historic race becomes a legend

In one month’s time, on 22 July, yet another record-sized fleet will depart from Cowes to tackle the 50th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event: the Rolex Fastnet Race.

At present from across the globe 491 yachts of all shapes and sizes, ranging from 9m to 30m, are on the race’s provisional entry list. This is 26% more than the previous record entry of 388 that participated in 2019’s pre-COVID edition – the largest leap in entries in the event’s recent history.

Given this is more than twice that of any of the other classic international 600 mile offshore races, the Rolex Fastnet Race is soundly the biggest offshore yacht race in the world.

The first Fastnet Race, originally called ‘The Ocean Race’ was held in 1925 on a course from the Solent, where the start was from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Ryde, before the boats exited the Solent to east, then headed to the Fastnet Rock, finishing in Plymouth. With the start moving to Cowes the following year, the race going biennial in 1931, gaining Bishop Rock as a turning mark, and, as a one-off, finishing back in Cowes in 1933, the course remained largely fixed until the fleet outgrew Plymouth and was moved to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin in offshore racing-friendly France for the first time in 2021.

The pilot cutter Jolie Brise entered the history books after winning the first pioneering Ocean Race in 1925 © Daniel Forster/ROLEX

Rod and Olin Stephens’ Dorade, the 1931 and 1933 winner of the Fastnet Race © Daniel Forster/ROLEX

Founded in 1846, The Royal Engineer Yacht Club have entered a boat in every Fastnet Race since 1925! This year is no exception as their J/109 Trojan will be on the startline to continue the tradition © Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX

 

 

“Even before the first Fastnet Race, the REYC was quite adventurous and was involved in transatlantic races.” Aside from the tradition, they compete because they view the team aspects of yacht racing as good training. In addition to their

Designed to win offshore and built for the race – RORC Commodore James Neville’s new state of the art C45 Ino Noir

© Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com

 

 

 

The Rolex Fastnet Race, more than any other sailing events in the world, represents the full pantheon of offshore yacht racing

© Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX

Representing the full pantheon of offshore yacht racing

As a result, while the pipe smoking, bully beef eating, Guernsey and sou’wester-wearing crew of Jolie Brise may have won the 1925 race at the snail’s pace of 4.1 knots, even the extraordinary record of the Fife Hallowe’en set the following year (that would stand until 1939) was only at 6.7 knots average. When the VO70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing set her 2011 monohull record, her average speed doubled this – 14.25 knots. Most astoundingly the outright record to Plymouth set in 2019 by the 32m Ultim trimaran Groupe Edmond de Rothschild was at the average speed of 21.7 knots, although such craft are capable of 37+ knots average. If the weather permitted them to achieve this around the entire course, they would take just 18 hours to complete it.

Aside from this the biggest development in the race is its sheer popularity: while up until WW2 entries never reached more than 29, in the 1960s they increased exponentially from 59 in 1959 to 209 in 1967. While numbers took a hit following the 1979 disaster when a record 303 yachts participated, it was only in 2011 when this number was exceeded again, with the fleet size growing steadily to the present record of 388 in 2019.

Today the Rolex Fastnet Race, more than any other sailing events in the world, represents the full pantheon of offshore yacht racing from mum and dads in their family cruisers to sailing schools and ‘pay to play’ boats, to the more competitive amateur IRC teams to pro teams and the French classes such as the Class40, IMOCA and Ultim. EG Martin and the original pioneers of the race and the sport would be beyond proud.

A memorable sight for all sailors – the emblematic Fastnet Rock © Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX

Rolex Fastnet Race history article in the 2023 RORC Year Book by James Boyd is HERE
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: https://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/

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