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.
Since 1866, the cornerstone of offshore yacht racing has been transatlantic races, due, in part, to legendary yachts sailed by icons of the sport. Few, however, would disagree that the impending showdown between Rambler 100 and ICAP Leopard ranks right up there with the best battles of all time.
Sunday, July 3, the third and final start for the Transatlantic Race 2011 will commence at 1350 Eastern Daylight Time, when the warning signal is fired at Castle Hill Lighthouse. Six yachts will then begin this historic and epic race across the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean. The following day as 4th of July celebrations are underway ashore, the action out on the race course is sure to be every bit as explosive.
While Rambler 100 and ICAP Leopard, sailed by George David (Hartford, Conn.) and Clarke Murphy (New York, N.Y.), respectively, are likely to contest for line honors in the Transatlantic Race 2011, the other combatants are not just filling out the numbers. The conditions will play a big part in deciding the overall class winner in IRC Class One and the victor will claim the Cape May Trophy, which James Gordon Bennett – winner of the first-ever Transatlantic Race in 1866 — presented to the New York Yacht Club in 1872.
For Sojana, whose owner Peter Harrison (London, U.K.) is a member of New York Yacht Club, the Transatlantic Race 2011 is an opportunity to resolve unanswered questions.
“When they announced they were doing it again we were delighted to enter, because, for Sojana, it is unfinished business,” said skipper Marc Fitzgerald (Gurnard, U.K.). “We had a dramatic race in 2005. We had a medical evacuation when one of the crew broke his arm and we diverted to drop him off for surgery. We were leading our class at the time and lost 36 hours in the race. At that time we were on for the course record. Obviously we had no hesitation in getting treatment for the injured crew, but this race is unfinished business. That race was wet, windy and cold, which is not a problem on Sojana. We have hot showers, comfortable beds and proper food. If we have an advantage it will be in heavy air reaching and horrible conditions, simply because the conditions onboard the high performance race boats will be uncomfortable for their crew. We are a superyacht in with the racing yachts. We like playing with the big boys, but we are under no illusions, we are not even thinking about giving them a hard time. However, we did beat Leopard on corrected time in the RORC Caribbean 600, so it’s not impossible.”
Mark Thomas (Perth, Australia), watch captain on ICAP Leopard, gave an overview of the 100’ canting keel super maxi as final preparations were being made dockside.
“ICAP Leopard has a 47m cathedral rig,” said Thomas. “All of our mast locks are rated for 16 tons, which means the tack of the sail loads can take up to 14 tons. Leopard has got to have locking halyards – they take compression out of the rig and without them you would need to have massive halyards.”
Thomas added that the rigging is made from an exotic material called PBO and solid thermoset carbon fiber from Future Fibres. The running backstays cost roughly $8,000 each and are an essential part of trimming the sails, “however, the most important piece of equipment we have onboard is the toasted cheese sandwich machine. It will be a dark day when we run out of bread, as the rest of our rations are freeze dried.”
The young sailors on the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team are absolutely thrilled to be taking part in this race and are reveling in the thought of crossing the start line with some of the legends of the sport. Vanquish, the Reichel Pugh 65, has two young women in crew — Kaity Storck and Molly Robinson – who are both in their twenties.
“Although I am just 65kg there is little I can’t do on the boat,” said Storck (Huntington, N.Y.), an Inter-collegiate Sailing Association All-American. “These sails are heavy and need a group of people to drag them into place. Weight distribution is also very important. The pedestal grinders onboard are very efficient and most of the time fitness is more important than brute strength. Also, when we need the weight off the rail, if one of the lighter crew comes down to trim the main, the boat doesn’t heel over as much. I have done a lot of match racing and 470 sailing before and the basic principles are just the same. One of the big differences is that when you race inshore, if you fall out with someone you can just walk away and resolve it later. In the middle of the Atlantic that is not an option, everybody has to get along, all the time. We all take part in many different roles onboard and for me to drive a 65’ racing yacht is fantastic.”
Prior to joining the Vanquish crew Robinson (San Francisco, Calif.) was primarily crewing on 29ers. “This is a big step up for me and very different. We might be bathing in sunshine now, but we could well be heading up into the northern latitudes where it will be cold and the weather can be pretty bad. We all realize how lucky we are to be part of this program and we hope that the team will be able to carry on after this race and compete in others such as the Rolex Fastnet Race.”
The Farr 80 Beau Geste, skippered by Karl Kwok (Hong Kong), was in fine form in the Annapolis Newport Race, beating both Rambler 100 and ICAP Leopard overall after time correction. Watch captain Gavin Brady (Auckland, New Zealand) is an America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran who has been sailing with Kwok for many years: “The ideal conditions for us will be a variety of wind angles and wind speeds. The other yachts will prefer one type of condition the whole way across. Puma, for example, is half the weight of Beau Geste and will go better in light conditions. All of the canting keel boats have dagger boards that give zero leeway and in heavy upwind conditions, that is a big advantage. Virtually all of our competitors are extreme boats, but Beau Geste was designed for a variety of wind angles and if we get upwind, downwind and reaching conditions that would be our perfect scenario. I also think that it is important to stress that this race rewards good seamanship, handling the boat well and pre-empting changes will be rewarded and that’s a good thing. The overall winner will probably be the boat that is sailed the best; we should all get the result that our performance deserves.”
George David, skipper of Rambler 100, explained that his maxi yacht is a very complicated machine, and it takes a very high level of skill to sail it. “It has been a lot of fun to take a boat like this and modify it to improve it,” said David. “One of the biggest changes was to the sail plan. The forestay is now out on a bowsprit, which has increased the foot of the headsails by over four feet making the headsails 30% larger. The mainsail was reduced in size and these changes have allowed us to rebalance the boat, especially to get the bow out of the water to promote the boat onto the plane. The sprit is also designed to deflect water off the deck. In extreme conditions several tons of water can come down the deck; this affects performance and also can cause some serious problems for the crew. Green water smashing down the deck at 30 knots is not easy to work with.”
According to Tony Mutter (Auckland NZ) watch captain on PUMA Ocean Racing’s Mar Mostro, “this is a very important race for us. We will be racing with the full PUMA team and in full race mode. Time on the water is very important, as the rules for the next Volvo Ocean Race do not allow us to test with two boats, so this race will be part of our learning process with the boat. So far we have sailed about 3,000 miles in the new boat. The Transatlantic Race 2011, followed by the trip to our training camp in The Canaries will double our time on the water. We hope to get a variety of conditions to test the systems onboard and especially to look at a variety of sails. This is all extremely valuable training, but so is racing. Also with so many boats getting a head start it will give us something to go for. I don’t think we can catch them all but it will be a good motivation to push as hard as we can.”
Sponsors of the TR 2011 are Rolex, Thomson Reuters, Newport Shipyard, Perini Navi and Peters & May, with additional support by apparel sponsor Atlantis Weathergear.
For more information, visit http://www.transatlanticrace.org/.
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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.
ICAP Leopard was the first home at the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race taking the award for line honours. Try as they might, Mike Slade’s all-star crew were unable to crack the nut that is Rambler’s course record. Arriving just before midday at the Royal Malta Yacht Club line in Marsamxett Harbour, the 100-foot Farr designed supermaxi was just over half an hour outside the mark set by George David and Ken Read two years ago. She had made a tremendous effort never straying far from the pace required despite less than perfect conditions.
Slade believes they raced as well as they could. He was quick to acknowledge that for every frustration they may have encountered this year, Rambler was sure to have suffered in some similar way herself in 2007. Asked if he could identify any points on the course they could have made up the wayward 30 minutes, he replied wryly, “at least twenty.”
ICAP Leopard‘s record attempt was always in the balance the moment they crossed the start line. They gave it a good go though, relishing a promising forecast. Slade was quick to compliment his crew on a job well done, “it’s fantastic to have finished this tough race. The record was tantalisingly close, but the important thing is that we achieved our goal of getting line honours and bringing the boat home in one piece. The crew were fantastic and our reception in Malta has been amazing – what a wonderful event!”
Even if one sails the boat to its full potential and suffer no breakages, success is still dependent upon the weather. Completing the 606 nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race in less than 48 hours is well within the capability of a canting keeled, water ballasted flying machine staffed by some of the world’s top inshore and offshore yacht racing specialists. Brad Jackson, Jules Salter and Guy Salter were all on the winning boat in the last Volvo Ocean Race. Rob Greenhalgh raced on the second placed yacht, whilst Justin Slattery raced on the winning boat in the previous VOR. Jason Carrington has probably built more race winning boats than there have been Rolex Middle Sea Races. Sailmaker Jeremy Elliott is another who has raced around the world and at the America’s Cup. Hugh Agnew navigated the winning yacht at the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart. And, in case anyone needed reminding, Mike Slade has moulded teams around him and raced at the grand-prix level of the sport on a variety of state of the art maxi yachts since the early 1990s, invariably with the reassuring hand of Chris Sherlock to run the boat. Experience and ability were two things in plentiful supply. What kept holding Leopard back was the vagaries of the wind.
Slade explained how the race had unfolded, “this race is very special. It always is. It is a tough race and a great race, but any race that goes round in a circle is going to have lots of pitfalls. You are seeing land all the time and you suffer all the things that happen because of the land. There’s a saying that Etna sucks wind out of the Strait and it was true for us. We got stuck in its shadow. We got through and punched on towards Stromboli and that’s where the problems really started.” It was here that the mini maxis Rosebud/Team DYT (USA) and Bella Mente (USA) dropped by the wayside in dramatic fashion on Sunday. Since then some twenty other competing yachts have followed these two into the sickbay as strong gusting winds lashed the northeastern corner of Sicily for a 36-hour period.
“After Stromboli was tough,” comments Slade. “We had 5 or 6 hours of real weather front. We’re a big strong boat and can cope with it. In fact we were hoping to get more of the same at the bottom of the course.” This hope never fully materialised, as he went on to explain. “It took 12 hours to get across to the Egadi Islands and it was only then on the way down to Pantelleria that we started putting on some real boat speed. It was bump, bang, everyone hold on. We would have liked it to carry on down to Lampedusa, but it just didn’t happen. There was no wind there of any consequence.” At this point Leopard was only 75-minutes off Rambler’s blistering pace. Munching the miles to Comino was something this boat was born to do. But she needs wind. Slade had said before the start that 20 knots of wind and flat water would be ideal. What he got for the final long leg was sloppy water and soft winds bouncing between 12 and 18 knots.
“It was a struggle to get back from Lampedusa to Comino,” continued Slade. “And it was a struggle to get into the harbour because the wind was dead aft and we had to do some monumental gybes.” Philosophical in defeat, if line honours in a second successive 600-mile race may be described as such (ICAP Leopard had been first home at the Rolex Fastnet in August), Slade admitted asking himself several times where they could have saved the deal-breaking thirty-minutes. He was adamant that there were any number of places and not one thing in particular could be blamed, adding “that’s yacht racing and we’ll have to do it again now, won’t we!” Malta cannot wait.
The wait for the next boat home was a short one. Just as during the Rolex Fastnet, Karl Kwok’sBeau Geste (HKG) had been shadowing her bigger rival for the whole course, waiting for a chink in the armour that might let her snatch the lead. Skipper Gavin Brady, tactician Francesco de Angelis and navigator Andrew Cape are a deep-filled talent pool, but even they found the conditions testing. Brady is a tough customer, but even he acknowledged the severity of the situation after Stromboli on Saturday night/Sunday morning, “up until then we had been concentrating on getting away from the competition, but when the weather struck we were glad to have some company. We were in survival mode for some time.” The small boats have been reporting difficulties with sail changes at night as bandit squalls struck without warning. Cape confirmed Beau Geste had struggled with this too, particularly as they turned the corner at Favignana, “we had the wrong sail combination up, which caused us to lose a bit of time. In those conditions it can take around an hour to execute a sail change on a boat this size.”
De Angelis was able to throw some humour into the situation describing an incident on board where coming off a wave Cape somersaulted across the cabin to land on top of him, “I have raced against Capey for a long time, but at this moment I got to know him very well!” Karl Kwok is coming to the end of this season’s European adventure, which has seen him and his crew impress at a number of major races and regattas. “We are very happy with the way the boat held up in the conditions. Like others from the [United] States we came to Europe to race because the competition is so good. We’ve not been disappointed.”
With two boats tied up in the harbour we have a yacht race. When Beau Geste crossed the line at 15.28 she moved into pole position on handicap. Her moment in the spotlight was short lived. Alegre (GBR) finished at 18.33 and moved back into a lead that she has held since Stromboli. Neither Rán (GBR) nor Luna Rossa (ITA) were in a position to dislodge her when they finished. Intermatica VO70 (ITA) won the battle of the two Volvo boats, beating Ericsson (SWE) on handicap although not on the water.
The bulk of the fleet is still racing. 23 yachts have now retired citing various reasons, mostly sail and equipment damage resulting from the vicious squalls that persisted until midday today. Next boat home will be DSK Pioneer Investments (ITA), which is halfway between Lampedusa and Malta. After that we are in for a long wait as the competing yachts struggle down the western edge of the course. Seven yachts including the two remaining double-handers have yet to pass Capo San Vito at the northwestern point of Sicily. The forecast shows winds to be remaining from the northwest during the next twelve hours, but lightning up considerably. The smaller yachts are in for a long slog home and those yachts safely back in port will be feeling happier by the hour.
Two months out from the start of an event the stature and complexity of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, most yacht clubs would be happy to be entering the home straight of processing competitor registrations. Not the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Not only are they organising this 606 nautical mile offshore race, they are preparing to start it from a new line and with the new yacht club premises still in build. Only in Malta. On the plus side this is the thirtieth time the race has been held and this year’s fleet looks no less exciting than any of the past decade; a period which has seen the race return to the world stage of competitive offshore sailing.
Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard is the headline act at this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. Bursting with satisfaction having taken back-to-back line honours at the Rolex Fastnet, the crew of this 100-foot ocean-eater will be looking to add part two of an offshore racing trifecta that Slade hopes will culminate in December with the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The only other yacht to take consecutive Line Honours at all three of these 600-plus mile races is Neville Crichton’s first Alfa Romeo, which some years later in the hands of George David and under the name Rambler, scorched to a new course record in 2007. And, that will be another of Slade’s objectives when he hits the line on Saturday, 17 October.
Where in the fleet the overall victory is decided will depend on the prevailing weather. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a four-sided course, not without its share of traps and pitfalls for the unwary. The tidal gate at the Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from mainland Italy is a critical point in the race, but it comes at the end of the first straight. With three more sides of the irregular quadrilateral to go, no one is certain of victory at this juncture.
Leopard’s closest rival on the water at this summer’s Rolex Fastnet was Karl Kwok’s brand new Farr 80 Beau Geste. Led once again by Gavin Brady and Francesco de Angelis, do not be surprised to see this Hong Kong maxi breathing down the neck of Leopard, despite being 20 foot shorter. Strategy and tactics are as key to success in this race as speed. Slightly further a back major battle will be underway between the Mini Maxis. The Royal Malta Yacht Club expects Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán 2 (overall winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet) and the STP 65s of Udo Schütz (Container/GER), Patrizio Bertelli (Luna Rossa/ITA) and Roger Sturgeon (Rosebud/USA – overall winner of the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart) to be joining Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA) and Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) – the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race Line Honours winner – for the another major offshore race line-up in the class.
Recent years have proved time and again that size is not everything in this race. The 2008 winner of the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy for victory overall was the 40 foot French yacht Spirit of Ad Hoc. In 2004, it was the 50-foot Greek yacht Optimum 3. The Maltese also stuck the flag in the sand for small boats back in 2002, when the 32-foot Market Wizard claimed the prize. The Maltese will be out in force again this year. Some more experienced than others, but none just in it for the ride.
Jonathan Gambin has entered his own boat, Ton Ton, for a second time and whilst this will be only his third race, it confirms a growing enthusiasm for the course. This is no surprise. Even before crossing the start line in 2008, Gambin vowed “whatever the result I’ll be back again next year.” He finished a very respectable eleventh overall on handicap, beating two-thirds of his class in the process. Kevin Dingli is one of this year’s novice skippers. Last year he participated on Squibs, the last boat to finish the race. Undeterred, for this edition, he will be leading a crew on his 40-foot Beneteau, Fekruna. “I only started racing in 2005,” says Dingli. “Although we are relative novices, we are taking the race seriously. Taking my own yacht on the race is something I have long wanted to do and it will be an adventure. I’m looking forward to both the start and finish,” he continues, “The start will be an adrenalin charged moment, especially within the confines of Grand Harbour. But our main objectives are to finish safely and within the time limit.”
Other yachts to watch out for are: Kees Kaan’s GS43 ROARK/Claus en Kaan’s Architecten (NED), Boat of the Series at the 2008 Rolex Commodores’ Cup, and fellow countryman Piet de Vroon and his latest Tonnerre de Breskens. De Vroon is a former winner of the Rolex Fastnet. Yachts likely to catch the eye are the brand new Shipman 72, Geometry (BVI), entered by Philippe Gigon and the Swan 82RS, Nikata (GBR), entered by Nicolai Tangen. Gigon is another on a fast learning curve for this race, although the unknowns are primarily associated with his yacht. “Geometry was launched on 13 July this year,” explains Gigon. “We’re still testing the systems and sails, and will do so right up to the start. My co-skipper did this race last year on Coral and we both have racing backgrounds, so we’ll do our best to get round the course at the best of Geometry’s potential.” Like Dingli, Gigon is looking forward to the start. Amusingly, he says the bit he is not looking forward to is the finish, since it means a return to winter quarters in Italy.
The place to be to watch the start of the race this year will undoubtedly be the Saluting Battery in the Upper Barrakka Gardens overlooking Grand Harbour from the Valletta side. This will be the first time in the forty-one year history of the race that Malta’s most famous port will host the start. The RMYC is working hard on the final details with the Malta Maritime Authority, which will be closing the harbour for around four hours on the day. The purists need not worry that some of the theatre may be lost with this move of venue. The line is planned to stretch across to the bastions of Fort St Angelo on the Birgu side of the harbour and there will be plenty of the familiar echoing gunfire as the starting procedures get underway.
As for the yacht club premises, given the short lead-time, Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis is delighted with progress to date, “the majority of the major works have been completed. As with all projects of this nature there are moments of difficulty, but the membership of the club is thoroughly involved and we will be in good shape come October. We’re all looking forward to another great race.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 17 October 2009. Entries close on 10 October. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 24 October 2009.
George David’s Rambler established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard secured a second consecutive line honours victory in the Rolex Fastnet Race in the early hours of this morning. With the mixed conditions the 100ft super-maxi was considerably behind the course record she set two years ago. Arriving at the Plymouth breakwater finish line at 00:09:36 GMT, her elapsed time on this occasion was 2 days 11 hours 9 minutes and 36 seconds, compared to 1 day 20 hours 18 minutes and 53 seconds in 2007.
“It was a great race,” commented Slade. “It is always nice to have a race where there are no breakages or damage. We didn’t get into any difficult situations. We just wanted to get around fast and competently. All in all we are delighted to be here, second time running, back to back victories in this great race. A huge thanks to the RORC, our sponsors ICAP and Rolex for yet again taking an interest in yachting.”
To have broken the record would have required more wind, but despite this the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race was still a nailbiter, said Slade. “There was a lot of light air and ‘are we going to get through a tide gate?’ It made for a very exciting race. We were always looking over our backs because, Rosebud, Ran and Luna Rossa were all there, all ganging up, only 20 miles behind all the time. So we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.”
ICAP Leopard’s next major events are the Rolex Middle Sea Race out of Malta in October followed by the Rolex Sydney Hobart in December. “No one has ever won all three and we will give it a try,” said Slade adding that he would be back to try for a third win in the RORC’s biennial offshore classic in 2011. Specifically this is a warm-up for the race to Hobart . “There is Maximus from NZ, Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats, so we’ll have our work cut out. We will go down there and represent Britain and try and knock off the Aussies. God knows what they are going to do at the Oval [the Ashes cricket contest]. We might need to get some revenge!”
Karl Kwok’s brand new Farr 80, Beau Geste was second home, arriving in drizzly Plymouth at 03:25:03 GMT, and now tied up in Sutton Harbour. “The race has been enjoyable,” commented Kwok. “We are racing the same IRC Class SZ boats as we did in Cowes Week, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses more or less. Knowing that beating everyone on handicap is almost impossible, our hope was maybe line honours for the class, because once into the ocean, waterline (length) counts. So it was a drag race and we beat Ran on that one, but they are pretty close.”
Apart from three short races at Cowes Week, this was Beau Geste’s first major race and both Kwok and skipper Gavin Brady said they still have much to learn about the set-up and development of the boat. “There are still a lot of things we can still do to reduce its rating,” said Kwok, who intends to enter his new boat in all the classic races he has not yet entered. Their program includes the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia then the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Brady added: “It is a big ask to bring a boat like this straight into one of the biggest events in Europe as your first race, but there is a lot we can take out of it.”
Brady says that in the Rolex Fastnet Race, the leaders seemed to be connected by elastic. “Our race didn’t really start for 24 hours and in a race that is that short you are giving away a lot of race course, where you are behind your competitors. By the time we passed Ran 2 we were 13-14 hours into the race. As soon as we got up to a ten-mile lead, then the compression started again and each time that happened, there was less and less race course.”
One of the most interesting races on the water, that developed in the last few hours, was that between Niklas Zennström’s Judel Vrolijk 72, Ran 2 and BT IMOCA 60, sailed two handed by Sebastien Josse and Jean-François Cuzon. This battle from Bishop Rock to the finish was won by the French duo, arriving just over one minute ahead, the wind dropping all the time to a minimum of five knots.
“We saw Ran just before the Scilly Isles,” recounted Josse. “We crossed and we said ‘maybe these guys will gybe, because we are on starboard’. And no one moved…but then we are a bad reference because when we gybe we have to start 20 minutes before! Then eventually we saw the bowman go on the bow, furl the staysail and in seconds they were away. So I said ‘maybe we won’t match race with these guys because we’ll lose’.”
Nonetheless in the VMR running conditions, the blue IMOCA 60 stayed ahead, despite having run headlong into a moon fish while crossing the Celtic Sea and running out of diesel by the time they reached the finish.
Despite being beaten on the water by BT IMOCA 60, this was of little consequence to Niklas Zennström and the crew of Ran 2. This morning they remain the leader overall on handicap.
“I think we knew it would be up to the last bit here, but I think we have a good chance,” commented the Skype founder on their prospects of a handicap win in what is the first major offshore race for their new boat. “We didn’t lose so much here at the last bit. We had a good breeze all the way in, so we have a good chance. But now we have to wait and see.”
Zennström had no regrets about bringing his boat all the way back up to UK from the Mediterranean, to where it will now return. “One of the objectives when we built the boat was to race a Rolex Fastnet Race competitively. Two years ago we had to pull out – so we had some revenge to do…”
According to Ran 2 navigator Steve Hayles, they ended up arriving in Plymouth three hours earlier than he had anticipated yesterday. After the distance between the front runners compressed as they reached Bishop Rock, he says it was not the wind speed but the direction that saved them on the final run home. “It stayed a bit more westerly and it didn’t go around to the north, so we didn’t have all the issues of trying to get under the land. We ended up running down in here.” They then got less foul tide passing the Lizard, extending their lead over the boats astern.
This morning the lead boats in IRC Class Z have been rounding the Fastnet Rock, with the majority of the fleet still crossing the Celtic Sea outbound. Under handicap, Piet Vroon’s new Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens has taken the lead in IRC Z and is now most of the way back to Bishop Rock. French boats continue to dominate the small handicap classes. The Grand Soleil 43 Codiam remains in front of Class 1, having rounded the rock at 0300 GMT. Just short of the rock, the A35 Prime Time has taken over first place in Class 2, while the Dufour 34 Major Tom is still first in Class 3.
1) ICAP Leopard, Mike Slade (GBR) – 00:09:36 GMT
2) Beau Geste, Karl Kwok (HK) – 03:25:03
3) BT IMOCA 60, Sebastien Josse (FRA) – 04:00:15
4) Ran 2, Niklas Zennström (SWE) – 04:01:33
5) Artemis Ocean Racing, Sam Davies (UK) and Sidney Gavignet (FRA) – 05:15:41
6) Safran, Marc Guillemot (FRA) – 05:56:18
7) Team Pindar, Mike Sanderson (NZ) – 06:15:42
Aviva, Dee Caffari (UK) – 06:57:13
9) Luna Rossa, Flavio Flavini (ITA) – 07:01:54
10) Rosebud Team DYT, Roger Sturgeon (USA) – 07:45:37
11) Akena Verandas, Arnaud Boissières (FRA) – 08:34:51