Overall standings: Team AISM 1st, BAE Systems 2nd, EFG Bank (Monaco) 3rd – Short race leg brings drama in the dark for crews -
Dubai-based Team AISM has maintained the overall lead by claiming the fourth leg of the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour following a night of drama for the world-class crews from around the world and the Gulf region competing between Dubai and northern Emirate Ras Al Khaimah.At only 53 miles up the coast from Dubai to Al Hamra is the second shortest leg on the bruising 15 day and 760 nautical mile EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour and should have been routine. But due to Custom’s procedures in Dubai taking longer than anticipated, the scheduled mid-morning start was delayed until 14:50, forcing crews to re-equip themselves and their boats ready for a night time finish.The result was a race of intense fighting in darkness with the wind ranging from zero to as much as 17 knots, with the boats reaching or sailing downwind with Bertrand Pace’s overall leader, AISM, continually a nose ahead. Following AISM into Al Hamra were the youthful Team Messe Frankfurt led by Marcel Herrera and in third team BAE Systems.Yet the finishing order does little to tell of the drama that unfolded for the teams at around 20 miles out from the finish and an hour and a half after it turned dark. Just at a time when the boats were being pushed to limit sailing high under their big spinnakers, the fleet came across an area densely populated with fishing boats and their nets.
As Cedric Pouligny, skipper of BAE Systems described the high jump manoeuvre they had to perform each time they ran into a net: “Basically you went from 10 knots of speed to zero, then you had to broach and make even more heel before the boat could get off again.” Broaching normally occurs when a boat is overpowered in a gust, the rudder loses control and the boat is forced over on its side, but was necessary on this occasion effectively to lift the keel over the net.Unfortunately the result on this leg was determined by those who got through the fishing nets the fastest.
Speaking following another action-packed leg and night of drama Issa Al Ismaili, Director of Events at the race’s organiser Oman Sail said:“Firstly congratulations to team ASIM who continue to prove best equipped to deal with every challenge the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour offers including on this occasion fishing nets. Obviously such a test at night was not planned for. But that is sailing and this world-class regatta is having to overcome unique challenges on every single leg. Even this leg to Al Hamra at only 53 miles, the second shortest on the race schedules has pushed crews to face the unknown. We’re delighted all have made it safely to Ras Al Khaimah and our preparing themselves for the next round of in-port racing.” After their disappointing result on the Abu Dhabi to Dubai leg yesterday, Marcel Herrera’s University of Plymouth team on Messe Frankfurt had managed to get back in with the lead trio and were into fourth place when they encountered the nets. “I think we hit eight fishing nets – along with every other boat, but the other boats seemed to broach a bit more when they hit them,” said Herrera. “We ploughed through them and managed to get a good technique going so that we didn’t get caught.”Because of this Messe Frankfurt emerged in second place and as the wind dropped subsequently they were closing on first placed AISM as they crossed the finish line at 21:49 (local time), three and a half minutes after Pace’s team. “It makes up for yesterday,” said Herrera.AISM crewman Benoit Briand said that through the day their speed was good and being ahead they had been able to control their opponents before they encountered the fishing nets. “We were lucky that we got over them quite easily, our keel seemed to pass over the nets.”
The AISM team was also pleased that Messe Frankfurt came home second as it puts more distance between themselves and second placed BAE Systems in the overall results. “Bertrand is going to be even more difficult to beat. He is going to be hard to catch,” admitted BAE Systems skipper Cedric Pouligny.One of the most dramatic moments occurred when team BAE Systems and EFG Bank (Monaco) got caught on the same fishing net at the same time and started to get drawn into the middle of the net so that at one point they came very close to colliding, only 2m apart.
Mohsin al Busaidi’s Renaissance came home in fifth place. The Omani skipper, the first sailor from the Middle East to sail non-stop around the world, reckoned that his team had hit maybe seven nets. “We got stuck in the first one. It was a surprise because we were all together and only two boats got stuck and other boats got through.” Al Busaidi’s solution was speed: “If you are going more than 10 knots you can pass it. We stopped once for three or four minutes and at other times we were slowed down from 10 knots to 5 and then we were off again. Fortunately Mohammed in our team is a fisherman…”
Most disappointed last night when they got in was Dee Caffari’s women’s team on Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat and Kay Heemskerk’s Dutch team on TU Delft. Having been caught in nets and then further suffering after the wind went light, they finished outside of the time limit and have been scored ‘TLE’ (time limit expired) or seven points for this leg.“It was disappointing that we didn’t get to start until five hours late and then to sail through miles of fishing nets in the dark,” said Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat’s Liz Bayliss, one of two Americans in the all-female team that also includes four Omanis.Their race effectively came to a grinding halt when they got entangled in a fishing net and remained that way for more than an hour. “We hit something and then we got stuck – the fishing boat finally came over to us and cut the net but retrieved both ends of it. There were nets everywhere,” Bayliss continued.
After the late finish the two in-port races are being held today off Al Hamra with the first start attended by H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud Al Qasimi, Crown prince of RAK and commencing at 11.00am.
Competing aboard identical Farr 30 yachts, the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour has attracted nine crews representing five different nations, led locally by Oman’s Team Renaissance, Royal Navy of Oman, Team BAE Systems and the all – female Team Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat. Two teams will compete on behalf of the UAE, Team Abu Dhabi and Team AISM. International crews include EFG Bank (Monaco), Team Delft Challenge – TU Delft (Holland) and the Team Messe Frankfurt (EU).
Taking in four countries and eight ports of call, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour is a showcase of everything that the Gulf has to offer in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and idyllic sailing conditions Leaving Manama on February 10th, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour calls at Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Dibba and Mussanah and ends February 25th in Muscat. The racing will include in-port racing at selected locations
Abu Dhabi shrugged off seven months of frustration to seal their first offshore victory in a nerve-jarring transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, while Groupama’s second place finish — five and a half minutes behind after more than 3,500 nautical miles racing — was enough to take them top of the leaderboard in place of long-term leaders Telefonica.
Groupama spent days snapping at the heels of the Emirati team and were within a mile of their rivals as they headed up the River Tagus towards the finish line.
Ian Walker’s team defended resolutely, however, matching their rivals gybe for gybe to ensure their first podium finish on an offshore leg would also be their first win, and spark wild celebrations lit up by a booming firework display.
For Groupama, the consolation prize came soon enough, as Telefónica’s finish in fourth place — behind PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in the third podium slot and just ahead of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand — meant the French team climb above them.
Abu Dhabi, who finished at 21:23:54 UTC, received 30 points for victory, with Groupama netting 25 after their finish at 21:29:21. PUMA took 20 points, Telefonica 15 and CAMPER 10.
Team Sanya finished sixth to pick up five points.
Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, now lead Telefónica by three points overall, with the Spanish team dropping off the lead for the first time since their victory on Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town back in November.
Four teams remain separated by just 21 points, making it the closest contest in the 39-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with just two offshore legs and three in-port races still to come.
The arrival in Lisbon represented a homecoming for Abu Dhabi, who had a training base in nearby Cascais during the build-up to the race.
“It’s incredible — what a welcome,” said Walker, before he and Emirati crew member Adil Khalid were chucked into the water by their team mates.
“Do you think you can make the last 10 miles of a race any harder than that?
“It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my sailing career, that’s for sure. Mentally, certainly I’m exhausted. It’s just such a relief.”
Abu Dhabi also visited Lisbon in much less happy circumstances during Leg 1, after a dismasting within the first few hours ultimately forced them to ship the boat from Lisbon to Cape Town.
While they have notched up three victories in in-port races, and have a strong chance of winning the series, this is the first time they have really been able to shine in an offshore leg.
First Groupama and then Telefónica enjoyed the lead for long spells on a leg that started out looking like a fast, direct sprint across the Atlantic before the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto altered things drastically.
One by one, the boats were forced to head ever further north towards the ice exclusion zone.
Abu Dhabi moved into the lead on Day 6 and after briefly surrendering it to CAMPER they were back ahead the following day.
Two days later they were clear, though skipper Ian Walker warned repeatedly that a light-air zone inside the final 300 nautical miles would see the fleet compress.
That’s exactly how it turned out, with Abu Dhabi forced to scrap every step of the way to an emotional victory at the team’s second home.
“It came down to the wire, and we certainly had our ups and downs, but we are very happy,” said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “it was a good operation for us!”
Third place for PUMA kept them in contention for the overall lead, 12 points behind new leaders Groupama.
“This is a great result,” said the team’s American skipper Ken Read. “There’s still a lot of points on the board and to be on the podium is a big deal for us.”
The battle between Telefónica and CAMPER for fourth and fifth came down to a slow-motion tussle over an excruciating final few miles, with no breeze and the current against them.
Telefónica eventually finished with an advantage of 102 seconds and less than a boat length for a five-point boost that could yet prove crucial.
The action resumes with the In-Port Race on June 9, followed by the start of Leg 8 to Lorient the following day.
Leg 7 results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 11d, 04h, 23m, 54s
2. Groupama sailing team – 11d, 04h, 29m, 21s
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG – 11d, 06h, 26m, 52s
4. Team Telefónica – 11d, 08h, 28m, 27s
5. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand – 11d, 08h, 30m, 09s
6. Team Sanya – 11d, 08h, 44m, 25s
Overall Leg 7 Total
1 Groupama sailing team 25 183
2 Team Telefónica 15 180
3 PUMA Ocean Racing by BERG 20 171
4 CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ 10 162
5 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 30 104
6 Team Sanya 5 32
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing launched an 11th hour comeback in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race to take their tally of in-shore successes to three, while Groupama scored a strong second to pile the pressure on overall race leaders Telefónica.
Ian Walker’s crew were rewarded for sailing a near-perfect race on Saturday when they snatched the lead from Groupama on the penultimate leg and went on to seal a dramatic victory.
Although they were pipped at the post, Groupama’s result moves them to within just seven points of Telefónica, who had yet more in-port disappointment when a penalty for touching one of the turning marks relegated them to last place.
In a thrilling finale, PUMA came from behind to rocket past CAMPER into third just metres from the finish line.
It was a fourth successive podium finish in the in-shore series for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew, and it brought them to within a point of third-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard.
Team Sanya, the only team not racing in a new generation boat, were unlucky not to finish higher up the leaderboard, having to settle for fifth after a brave battle with their rivals.
“It feels great,” said a jubilant Abu Dhabi skipper Walker moments after crossing the finish line.
“We’ve had a tough time of it. We had no time at all to prepare for the last in-port race and we made a special point of having two full days’ training here. We wanted to show the world that Abu Dhabi hasn’t given up. We’re a good team, we’re determined, and it feels great to win a race.”
With the Volvo Ocean Race entering a critical stage with just three offshore legs and three in-port races left, just 14 points split the top four boats.
Telefónica still lead with 165 points but snapping at their heels are Groupama on 158, while CAMPER and PUMA are dangerously close on 152 and 151 respectively, bolstered by the results of the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race.
In a nail-biting contest peppered with position changes, Abu Dhabi capitalised on a strong start along with Sanya but it was Telefónica who led round the first mark, showing off their blistering speed on Leg 1.
The action couldn’t have been any more intense with Abu Dhabi and Groupama overhauling Telefónica on Leg 2. Meanwhile, after paying the price for heading offshore, CAMPER and PUMA were left desperately chasing the frontrunners.
While the front two stretched their lead, a fierce battle for third developed, climaxing on Leg 6 with Telefónica hitting the mark and the rest of the fleet piling in behind.
Telefónica were penalised by the on-the-water umpires, adding to their in-port misery and ending their hopes of consolidating their overall lead.
Sniffing a chance to pick up crucial points, PUMA, CAMPER and Sanya put pedal to metal and launched an extraordinary comeback that brought them back in touch with then leaders Groupama and second-placed Abu Dhabi with just a few legs left.
Abu Dhabi’s defining moment came when they hoisted a bigger sail than their French rivals, making the most of the smallest of speed advantages to pass Groupama despite having to dodge a spectator boat.
With the breeze fading, race officials chose to shorten the course and Abu Dhabi hung on to claim the win, all the more sweet due to the fact that just a few weeks ago their stricken boat Azzam was on a container ship en route to Brazil.
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for 3,580 nautical mile Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, starting on Sunday at 1700 UTC (1300 local time).
PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 74:09
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28
Ken Read and The PUMA Ocean Racing Powered By BERG team win Leg 6,American skipper Ken Read led his PUMA team to a second consecutive leg win on Wednesday, arriving on home soil in Miami triumphant following an epic 17-day match race with closest rivals CAMPER to confirm they are back in contention for overall victory.
Since the heartbreak of the first leg, in which their yacht Mar Mostro dismasted, PUMA have been on the up – and after scoring their first offshore success in Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí, Brazil, they made it two in two with glory in Leg 6.
After coming off best in an intense battle for first place with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who at one point closed the gap to less than a mile, Read said his team were back in the fight for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 trophy.
“That was about as stressful as it can get, believe me,” Read said. “It was touch and go, and the guys on CAMPER sailed very well, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team — they did an unbelievably great job.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the finish line at 18:14:00 UTC, 17 days after leaving from Itajaí, Brazil, with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand around an hour behind PUMA and on course to take second.
PUMA dominated the 4,800 nautical mile leg from the start, only surrendering the lead on two occasion to CAMPER and for no more than 48 hours.
A fast start to the leg in fresh conditions saw PUMA lead out of Itajaí and into several days of fast sailing up the Brazilian coast.
As winds eased the fleet split into three groups, with CAMPER and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing closest to the shore enjoying two days at the head of the pack, while Team Telefónica and Groupama sailing team opted to head east in search of better breeze. PUMA split the difference and it paid as they got a jump on their rivals that would lay the foundations for their eventual win.
With the south-east trade winds providing near-perfect conditions for the Volvo Open 70s, a drag race began up to the Equator and through the Doldrums, which presented little problem for the fleet. But 10 days into racing, PUMA were nearly undone by storm clouds which stalled the leaders, allowing CAMPER and Telefónica to reel them in to just six miles.
Into the Caribbean Sea they enjoyed fast sailing once more until they hit tricky weather systems that once again saw the leading boats compress. Despite coming under fire from CAMPER right up until the very last minute, faultless sailing saw PUMA defend their lead to claim the win.
It’s the fourth time in six legs that PUMA have finished on the podium, and they pick up an invaluable 30 points for the leg win to take their overall tally to 147.
CAMPER will be awarded 25 points for second place, their best result in the offshore series since Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi when they finished second behind Team Telefónica.
“It’s been a long leg and PUMA have sailed very nicely, they have defended very well, but I think we have attacked well too,” CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said as his team closed in on the finish line. “I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone. We’re in better shape now for the next leg.”
Both teams will close the gap on overall leaders Telefónica, who were still scrapping it out for the final podium position with Groupama sailing team.
The current ETA for the arrival of Groupama and Telefónica is 0300 UTC, with fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing expected to arrive at 0800 UTC.
A trough of low pressure blocking the fleet’s path brought light winds on Friday and a tactical split in the trio at the front. Leaders PUMA have stuck doggedly to their north easterly course, while CAMPER and Telefónica gybed to the west in search of stronger winds closer to the Caribbean Islands.
By 1200 UTC today Team Telefónica had resumed a northerly track, putting pressure on CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who must decide to follow suit or press on with a higher risk westerly strategy.
With up to 30 hours of slow sailing likely before the leaders break through into steadier winds, the pressure is well and truly on for the skippers and navigators on the top three boats.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG navigator Tom Addis said leading into such a scenario was always tricky as it raised the threat of being caught by the boats behind, but was nevertheless confident in the short term strategy.
“A front has come through to the north and disturbed the trade winds so we’ve all compressed again,” Addis said. “It is unfortunate for us but it’s just how it goes.
“It’s hard to say when the breeze will pick up again. We’ve still got about 10 knots of breeze but it’s going to be a good day and a half before we’re into decent breeze again.
“When the wind goes light and you compress, especially for a good solid day, anything can happen. If someone gets a squall and picks up some wind for a few hours that could easily turn the fleet inside out.
“That makes things more tense on board, no question.”
Addis said PUMA’s current plan was to skirt around the eastern side of the Caribbean to avoid the additional threat of wind shadows in the lee of the island chain.
“The next 1,000 miles is going to be pretty light and tricky and it’s going to be ‘heart in the mouth’ stuff for the majority of the rest of the leg,” he said.
“We think we’ve got a solid plan and most likely we’ll go round the outside of the Caribbean islands,” he said. “Through the Caribbean there’s plenty of water but it’s fraught with lees.
“Those islands are very tall and they create big wind shadows so you’ve got to be very careful going through them.”
On second placed CAMPER, Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said the mood was equally tense with skipper Chris Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley spending long hours together at the navigation station, deliberating on the best plan.
“It is certain to be a nerve-wracking few days for sure,” Hooper said.
“It has been said from the start that this last 1,000 miles will be where the leg is won and lost, and it’s looking about as tricky as tricky can be, with light fickle breezes throughout.
“It’s a maze. One boat will come out looking famous and it could be one of any of the five boats in the fleet.
“Abu Dhabi and Groupama who are still 100 miles behind are still right in this leg and in fact they are in the sometimes enviable position of having nothing to lose, so able to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble.”
Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape described the final push to the finish as “a bit touch and go”.
“There’s going to be a lot of changes, put it that way,” Cape added. “It’s going to be a tricky one. There’s going to be opportunities both ways but certainly the team that gets it right will be the winner.”
Cape said he was happy with the Spanish team’s positioning at this point but said there would be plenty of other key decisions to agonise over before the finish.
“We’re where we wanted to be, but this is the very first stage of about 25 that we need to get right,” he said.
At 1300 UTC PUMA still led the fleet, from CAMPER in second, Team Telefónica in third, Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth.
Latest estimates show the leading boats arriving in Miami on or around midday on May 9.
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.