The waiting is nearly over: the 44th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, one of the great ocean challenges is just 2 weeks away. With a staggering 350 entrants at the ready, 1979’s record-breaking tally of 303 participating yachts will almost certainly be surpassed. The sheer size of the fleet is impressive. Its quality and diversity quite breathtaking. Inspiring and exhilarating in equal measure, there is every reason to believe that the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race will maintain the event’s pioneering and prestigious tradition.
The numbers game
Due to the Rolex Fastnet’s unique allure, event organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) never have any difficulty ensuring that there is a large and impressive fleet in attendance. This year is no exception. Entries came in thick and fast and were closed within ten days of opening in January. However, the requests kept arriving. After being inundated with additional enquiries from the Volvo Open 70s, the IMOCA 60s, Class 40s and Multihulls to join the 608-nautical mile marathon, the RORC adjusted the entry limit to allow these ‘professional’ classes to be counted above the initial cut-off mark.
The Rolex Fastnet Race commences from Cowes on Sunday 14 August (the first signal sounds at 10:50 BST). Whilst crews with the ambition of being the fastest to the finish will hope to spend only one or two nights at sea, spare a thought for those at the back of the pack, for whom a near week in often punishing conditions may be the order of the day.
Rambler 100 enjoying Leopard hunt
Short of a catastrophic breakdown, the fastest boat on the water at the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race will be the 100-foot trimaran, Banque Populaire (FRA), which just broke the round the Britain Isles record by almost a day and a half. However, the battle for monohull line honours is the most anticipated clash and is expected to be the privilege of two other 100-ft challengers: Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard (GBR), first elapsed-time finisher in the past two editions, and arch-rivals George David’s Rambler 100 (USA). The two crews know each other extremely well, given their series of tussles in recent months. A head-to-head battle in the Transatlantic Race, which saw Rambler 100 ease to line honours after ICAP Leopard lost her bowsprit, the freshest encounter.
“Having won the Rolex Fastnet Race twice, the big play is to win three in a row, which would be quite exceptional,” explains Slade, whose yacht also holds the course record of 1 day, 20 hours and 18 minutes [set in 2007]. “During the RORC Caribbean 600, Rambler 100 proved to be the faster boat in her ideal conditions. However, Rambler 100 may also need to protect herself in bad weather, more than ICAP Leopard. We feel we have a good chance in light and heavy airs, it is the bit in between that we might have a problem! I am really looking forward to the Fastnet, it should be a very exciting race but above all else, I don’t want to lose our record to Rambler 100, that would be heartbreaking and we will vigorously defend it.”
Rambler 100 is as keen to renew hostilities. “We’re anticipating sailing in Cowes Week from 9-11 August and hope ICAP Leopard and others will be competing as well,” explains David, “we’ve had three races together already, the Caribbean 600, the Annapolis to Newport and now the Transatlantic Race. Rambler 100 took line honours and corrected ahead of ICAP Leopard in all three.”
David is fervent about the upcoming Fastnet Race and describes his own personal highlights of the parcours: “Beating out through The Needles in a huge fleet, the beauty of the south coast of England, the approach to the [Fastnet] Rock, and the wind and weather conditions all over the place.”
Whilst these two ocean greyhounds are clear monohull line honours favourites, they may not have it all their own way. There is the significant presence of six Volvo 70s, including two of the latest breed: Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Groupama IV (FRA). Then there is the Mini Maxi class including defending Rolex Fastnet handicap winner, the 72-ft Rán (GBR), owned by Niklas Zennström, in addition to Andres Soriano’s Mills 68 Alegre (GBR), a fantastic campaigner in the Mediterranean in recent seasons. Throwing in the American challengers, the STP65 Vanquish, and the Reichel-Pugh 66 Zaraffa, who like ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100 competed in the Transatlantic Race, it promises to be a tight contest at the top of the fleet.
Tales from the foreign third
Of the record breaking 350 yachts competing at this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, approximately a third are non-British crews. A scan of the 2011 entry list highlights the global pull of the event, with yachts competing from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UAE and the USA.
Karl Kwok, owner of the 80-ft Beau Geste (HKG), will be taking part in the event for the third time. “I am definitely here for the challenge as this is one of the most interesting and competitive offshore races in the world,” he explains. “My first time here was in 1995, followed by my second appearance in the last edition [in 2009]. We did well on that occasion, but it could be better still!” Kwok adores offshore racing: “For me the top three blue water offshore classics are the Fastnet, Sydney to Hobart and Newport to Bermuda – in that order. And Rolex has the top two!” Beau Geste will be another yacht snapping at the heels of the 100-footers and also arrive in Cowes fresh from competing in the Transatlantic Race.
One overseas crew in particular has reason to treasure its association with the Rolex Fastnet. Six years ago, Frenchman Jean Yves Chateau’s 33-ft Nicholson Iromiguy won the competition on corrected time, the first time in three decades that the overall prize had been won by a yacht under 40 feet. For the Saint Malo-based skipper, the victory was both a surprise and a fulfilment of an ambition: “To win the Rolex Fastnet Race was like a childhood dream, it is like an ‘Everest’ in my life and in the life of each member of my crew: absolutely fantastic, unbelievable, gorgeous, not to mention the incredible fact of having beaten all the big guys. It was also very important for me to be the third French sailor to win this race and to have my name engraved on this Cup close to Eric Tabarly [the legendary French skipper who won the race in 1967]!”
Regarding the ‘draw’ of the Rolex Fastnet, Chateau continues: “It is a mythical race. This year will be our seventh time and we are always very pleased and enthusiastic to participate with the crazy dream of winning it one more time.” Amongst the sizeable French contingent is the intriguing story of the IMOCA 60 DCNS 100 (FRA), sailed by skipper Marc Thiercelin and his famous apprentice, former downhill skier and endurance motorsport driver, Luc Alphand. DCNS 100 is one of seven IMOCA 60s, including Cheminées Poujoulat (SUI) launched in May this year.
John Towers is helming the J/122 Oojah (GBR) with a US-based crew joining British boat owner Peter Tanner, their navigator for the race. The English Channel is some distance from their usual racing haven of the east coast of the United States. “As a group of Americans, we consider the Rolex Fastnet Race to be a once in a lifetime adventure that is a natural compliment to our passion for distance racing,” explains Towers, “the Fastnet is a big deal for us and an adventure that we have been planning for the last two years.”
Tanner continues: “Our goal will be the same as any other race we enter. Priority one is a safe passage. Priority two is that the experience is very positive for all members of the crew. Our third priority is to be competitive.”
Triple TP52 challenge
The three TP52s competing at the Rolex Fastnet Race will resume their engagement having been near inseparable at the recent Giraglia Rolex Cup. On that occasion, Franck Noël’s Near Miss (SUI) finished the 243-nautical mile race less than two minutes ahead of Johnny Vincent’s Pace (GBR). Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky (USA) was only a further hour behind. On corrected time, only seven places separated the three crews, with Pace coming out on top. Over a considerably longer distance, this ‘race within a race’ will be one to follow come August.
Back of the pack
The crew of the Contessa-32 Drumbeat (GBR) will likely have one opportunity to admire ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100 – during the passage out of the Solent. For co-skippers and brothers-in-law, Mark Himsworth and Pierre Walrafen, the race ahead will be one of endurance and, at times, solitude: “It feels amazing to be one of the smallest and slowest boats competing, tacking or gybing down the Solent against much larger and faster machines after the start. All the while competing on handicap directly against them,” explains Himsworth, who will be taking part in the Rolex Fastnet for a third time.
The reality soon becomes quite different, as Himsworth reveals: “After 24 hours, most of the competition is long gone. Thereafter it’s occasionally difficult to keep your mind away from the thought of the faster boats turning towards (or arriving at) Plymouth while ours plugs steadily westwards round Land’s End. It’s a pretty solitary undertaking when you’re on watch and your co-skipper’s sleeping and none of your competitors are visible, but that’s all part of the attraction, and there’s still plenty going on in Plymouth when we arrive!”
The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. In addition, there are more than 30 additional trophies that will be awarded at the prize giving on Friday, 19 August at the historic Royal Citadel, home of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooking Plymouth Sound and Sutton Harbour, where the majority of the fleet will berth.
Among the 30-strong fleet preparing to compete in the Transatlantic Race 2011 in late June and early July, there are at least as many variations on the theme of traversing 2,975 nautical miles of ocean stretching from the start in Newport, R.I., to the finish at The Lizard on the coast of Cornwall in Southwestern England. For some, sailing across the Atlantic in this race, co-organized by the Royal Yacht Squadron, New York Yacht Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Storm Trysail Club, is about the chance to sail into the history books, while for a younger generation of sailors it is about building a foundation for future success in the sport.
A growing contingent of younger competitors is seeking sailing opportunities beyond the inshore dinghy programs typically offered at yacht clubs, high schools and colleges. The young sailors making up the Oakcliff All American Offshore Team (AAOT) on the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s (USMMA) IRC 65 Vanquish and the German team on the Andrews 56 Norddeutsche Vermögen Hamburg are two groups who are taking advantage of the Transatlantic Race 2011 to expand their skills and hopefully build reputations as the next wave of capable ocean racers.
The German team is organized by Hamburgischer Verein Seefahrt e.V., an organization founded in 1903 in Hamburg with the express goal of maintaining seagoing vessels and training young people, both physically and temperamentally, to become skilled mariners. The German crew looks to be the youngest in the race, with an average age of 22.5, but has experience that belies their years as all have offshore experience from racing long and short distances as well as making passages on the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas.
“This specific team never sailed together before,” said Eike Holst whose third Transatlantic Race will be his first as skipper. “We all knew each other and almost everyone sailed together somehow but never in this constellation. This is caused by the structure of our club. For example, me and my navigator, Max Wilckens, sailed together exactly in these positions in the 2010 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, finishing second in our division, and we sailed together with one other crewmember, Katrin Hilbert, in the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race when Max was one of the watch officers and I sailed as bowman.”
Holst selected the team to undertake the Transatlantic Race 2011 “with good advice of Max,” and noted that while most of the crew participated together in an ISAF Survival at Sea Seminar in March as well as in “teambuilding meetings” during the winter, the first time they all sailed together was in April. When Norddeutsche Vermögen Hamburg, launched in 1999, departs with the 15 other boats during the second start (June 29), Holst and his crew will have spent close to three weeks in Newport making their final preparations for the race.
“Probably we’ll be the youngest crew in the race this year and we’re really curious what the race will bring,” said Holst. “In long distance racing everything is possible, so let’s see what a young crew will achieve with an ‘old’ boat.”
Learning of the German entry in the Transatlantic Race 2011 was all the motivation Ralf Steitz, President of the USMMA Sailing Foundation, needed to form the Oakcliff AAOT earlier this year. Steitz brought his long-held desire to establish a youth-driven ocean racing movement to fruition with the backing of other leaders on the U.S. sailing scene, and, once the program was announced, saw 250 applications pour in over four weeks from sailors anxious to seize the opportunity. The average age of the 14 Oakcliff AAOT members who will race aboard Vanquish is 23.75, and, like the young German team, with just a few short months to prepare they will get a crash-course in working as a cohesive unit during their participation in Storm Trysail Club’s Around Block Island Race and the Annapolis to Newport Race prior to making the third start (July 3) of the Transatlantic Race 2011.
“I really enjoy sailing offshore,” said Nate Fast (Noank, Conn.), who will celebrate his 20th birthday two days before starting the race and is the youngest member of Oakcliff AAOT. “I did the 2008 Bermuda Race, which was my introduction to the high level and complexity of offshore sailing. Being the youngest means I have to work that much harder, but that will probably help me because I’ll be trying to prove myself. Offshore sailing is a lot of fun and a great experience and I hope to continue with it after this race.”
Both the American and German teams qualify as youth entries in the Transatlantic Race 2011, meaning that at least 50% of the crew is age 25 or younger on the date of that yacht’s start in the race. In addition to respective class honors, the two teams will vie for the Venona Trophy, which will be awarded to the highest placing youth entry.
“Of course we want to win this trophy!,” said Holst. “But it’s going be really hard work for us. The Oakcliff AAOT has a really young but very professional crew (some of them are sailing in the RC44 circuit regularly) and for sure the faster and newer boat. Crossing the finishing line in front of them would be great but probably as hard as beating them by corrected time. Of course we also have quite a lot of experience in offshore sailing but in a different way. The focus in our club lies on good seamanship and education for becoming skilled mariners but this doesn’t imply that we’re becoming professional offshore sailors. But besides that we’re having regular contact with Oakcliff AAOT and are looking forward to meeting them and having fun together in Newport.”
More about the Transatlantic Race 2011
The Transatlantic Race 2011 charts a 2,975 nautical mile course from Newport, R.I., to Lizard Point, South Cornwall, England. Pre-start activities will take place at the New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, while awards will be presented at the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Cowes Castle clubhouse on the Isle of Wight. Three separate starts – June 26, June 29 and July 3 – will feature 30 boats ranging from 40 to 289 feet in length. In addition to winners in seven classes (IRC Class 1 Racer, IRC Class 2 Racer, IRC Class 3 Racer/Cruiser, IRC Class 4 Racer/Cruiser, Classic, Class 40, and Open), whichever yacht finishes the course with the fastest elapsed time will set the benchmark for a new racing record from Newport to Lizard Point, to be ratified by the World Speed Sailing Council. Rolex watches will be awarded to the record holder and the overall winner (on corrected time) under IRC.
The Transatlantic Race 2011 is also the centerpiece of the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series (AORS), which includes the Pineapple Cup – Montego Bay Race, RORC Caribbean 600, the Annapolis to Newport Race, Rolex Fastnet Race, Biscay Race and the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Of the seven races in the AORS, three races, including the TR 2011 must be completed to qualify for a series victory. Each race is weighted equally in overall series scoring with the exception of TR 2011, which is weighted 1.5 times. All entered yachts are scored using their two best finishes in addition to the TR 2011. Awards for the AORS will be presented in November, 2011, at the New York Yacht Club’s Annual Awards Dinner in Manhattan.
For more information, visit www.transatlanticrace.org
TR 2011 Roster of Entries
Yacht Name, Skipper, Hometown
Ambersail, Simonas Steponavicius, Vilnius, Lithuania
Beau Geste, Karl Kwok, Hong Kong, China
British Soldier, Lt. Col. Nick Bate, Falmouth, Cornwall, U.K.
Carina, Rives Potts, Essex, Conn., USA
Concise 2, Ned Collier-Wakefield, Oxford, U.K.
Cutlass, Nick Halmos, Palm Beach, Fla., USA
Dawn Star, William N. Hubbard III /William N. Hubbard IV, both New York, N.Y., USA
Dragon, Michael Hennessy, Mystic, Conn., USA
ICAP Leopard, Clarke Murphy, New York, N.Y., USA
Jaqueline IV, Robert Forman, Bay Shore, N.Y., USA
Jazz, Nigel King, East London, U.K.
Kamoa’e, Eric LeCoq, Bridgeport, Conn., USA
Maltese Falcon, Elena Ambrosiadou, Monaco
Norddeutcshe Vermoegen Hamburg, Eike Holst , Hamburg, Germany
Nordwind, Hans Albrecht, Munich, Germany
Ourson Rapide, Paolo Roasenda, Vedano al Lambro, Italy
Persevere, Bugs Baer/Colin Rath, Madison, Conn. / Darien, Conn., USA
Phaedo, Lloyd Thornburg, St. Barthelemy
Prodigy, Chris Frost, Durban, South Africa
PUMA Ocean Racing mar mostro, Ken Read, Newport, R.I., USA
Rambler 100, George David, Hartford, Conn., USA
Sasha, Albrecht Peters, Hamburg, Germany
Scho-ka-kola, Uwe Lebens, Hamburg, Germany
Shakti, Christoph Avenarius / Gorm Iver Gondesen, Hamburg, Germany / Flensburg, Germany
Snow Lion, Lawrence Huntington, New York, N.Y., USA
Sojana, Peter Harrison, U.K.
Sumurun, Bob Towbin, New York, N.Y., USA
Vanquish, USMMA Oakcliff All American Offshore Team, Kings Point, N.Y., USA
Varuna, Jens Kellinghausen, Hamburg, Germany
Zaraffa, Huntington Sheldon, M.D., Shelburne, Vt., USA
George David’s maxi yacht, Rambler 100, crossed the finish line in Antigua in the early hours of Wednesday morning in an elapsed time of 1 day 16 hours 20 minutes and 2 seconds.
Subject to official confirmation, Rambler 100 has broken the monohull race record set by race rival, Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard by nearly four hours.
Two of the world’s most impressive racing yachts have been locking horns over 600 miles of high-speed action in a fight to the finish. Competing against each other for the first time and battling it out to snatch the record for the third edition of the RORC Caribbean 600.
The Rambler crew contained the entire compliment of the Puma Ocean Racing team which will be competing in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, tired but elated, Puma skipper, Kenny Read commented dockside in Antigua:
“That was a lot of fun but hard work for a while, you do something like sail around the world and that is almost easy compared to this, because there is no time to take any sleep, you’re taking so many corners and turns but it is also a gorgeous course, it’s a dream come true type of event. I am glad we came and that George invited me. Probably the most memorable part of the course was at night with a full moon at the top of St. Maarten, big breeze and massive breaking waves, it was huge fun and really cool, we came out of their doing 26 knots, it has been a real adventure and a this course and Rambler 100 is a whole new dimension for sailing.”
Rambler 100′s George David, an avid sailor and member of the New York Yacht Club, has been sailing with Kenny Read for 17 years.
“Rambler 100 is quite a handful, it’s like a Volvo 70 on steroids and this is a big fast race, which favours us,” commented David. “It is part of the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series, the RORC Caribbean 600 has been a great race as part of that series. We never took this win for granted, we have carried out some optimisation towards the IRC rating and we really didn’t know how we would perform, as this is the first time that the boat has been raced to be IRC competitive. Leopard is a powerful boat and they are a good team that has been sailing together for a number of years.
Thank you to the RORC and the Antigua Yacht Club, a lot of people have put a great deal of effort into making this a great race, I think this race is going to attract a lot of competitors, we have a record fleet this year and I can only seeing it growing, I think we will be back next year.”
IRC Overall Provisional Results
1. USA25555 Rambler 100 JK 100 George David
2. CAN84248 Vela Veloce Southern Cross 52 Richard Oland
3. GBR115L Sojana Farr 115 Peter Harrison
4. AUS5299 Jazz Cookson 50 Chris Bull
5. GBR1R ICAP Leopard Farr 100 Mike Slade Mike Slade/Clarke Murphy
6. IRL5005 Lee Overlay Partners Cookson 50 Adrian Lee
7. GBR22N Aegir Carbon Ocean 82 Brian Benjamin
8. GBR4321R Oystercatcher XXVIII Humphreys 54 Richard Matthews
9. NED46 Tonnerre de Breskens 3 Ker 46 Piet Vroon
10. LTU1000 Ambersail VO 60 Simonas Steponavicius
11. US60006 Venomous Carroll Marine 60 Derek Saunders
12. USA60271 Ocean’s Seven² Fauroux 104′ OSML Ltd JP Chomette
13. NED001 Windrose Of Amsterdam Dijkstra 40m Schooner Andrew McIrvine