There was no shortage of drama throughout a memorable and historic 45th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The race concluded today with the final prizegiving fittingly held in glorious sunshine on Mount Batten, overlooking Plymouth.
Diverse and global
336 yachts from 20 countries started the biennial race that runs from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock on the south-west tip of Ireland. The line up had everything: professional and Corinthian sailors; some of the world’s fastest, most technologically sophisticated yachts competing against 30-ft family crewed boats; participants from as far afield as Australia, Oman and the United States.
Overall Winner: The Formidable French
The most remarkable story of the week belonged to a father and son crew from Cherbourg, France, sailing the 33-ft JPK1010 Night And Day. No double-handed crew had ever won the Rolex Fastnet Race; hardly surprising given the gruelling demands posed by offshore sailing.
Pascal Loison and his son Alexis, a professional solo sailor, arrived in Cowes with the ambition of winning their double-handed class. They will sail back to France tomorrow with the Rolex Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex timepiece for company as the overall winner of the biggest offshore yacht race in the world.
“If you compete in offshore sailing, winning the Rolex Fastnet is really a pinnacle of success. It’s nice, it was not expected, I don’t know how to describe it,” said a shell-shocked Pascal. “We are a small boat, two handed and we have managed to win this race, beating all these large professional boats and crews,” added Alexis. “It’s my day, a good surprise and I will remember this victory all my life.”
Conditions during the race, light for the first few days before an upturn in breeze after the second half of the fleet rounded the mythical Fastnet Rock – the midway point – proved advantageous for the smaller boats. It was an especially good year for the French. Twelve of the first fifteen placed yachts, indeed the top five, hailed from across the English Channel.
Night And Day, named after the Cole Porter song, is the first French boat to win the Rolex Fastnet for eight years. Curiously, the 2005 winner – Jean-Yves Chateau’s Iromiguy – was also a 33-ft boat.
Line Honours: Debut success for Esimit Europa 2
An impressive clutch of boats were competing for line honours, awarded to the fastest monohull yacht. Igor Simcic’s 100-ft Maxi Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) started as marginal favourite having dominated Mediterranean offshore sailing over the past three years but arrived as a Rolex Fastnet debutant. In unfamiliar territory she would have to be even more wary of the first-class competition on offer. The fleet’s other 100-ft Maxi ICAP Leopard, owned by Mike Slade, is a two-time Rolex Fastnet line honours winner and set a race record in 2007. The Ian Walker-skippered Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing set a new race record in 2011 (42 hours, 39 minutes) and along with the predominantly female crew onTeam SCA (SWE) were primed to impress.
While her rivals all suited heavier, punishing offshore conditions, Esimit Europa 2 is comfortable in lighter airs. Once she made her way through the Solent and passed the entire monohull fleet by the first evening, her leadership was never threatened. On the turn from the Rock, she built an ever-increasing lead. “It was a huge up and down race as we sailed the 300 or so miles up to the Rock upwind and then (after the Rock) in very light downwind conditions with a lot of gybes,” explained skipper Jochen Schümann. “That’s why we are not close to a race record but it was long and challenging. It was my third Rolex Fastnet Race and more Mediterranean in terms of conditions - although the weather could have been a lot warmer!”
Multihull: Fastest home
Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s 131-ft Maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 was the largest boat in attendance. She was also to prove the fastest.
Completing the course in 38 hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds, she sealed multihull line honours although six hours short of the record time set two years earlier by the same boat under the name Banque Populaire V. "We're very pleased, very happy to be here because the outcome was not certain," said Bertarelli on arrival in Plymouth. "We knew it would be difficult, especially with the light conditions, but we managed to manoeuvre well, keep good speed and have the right sails up to stay ahead."
By the final prizegiving at 17:00 BST, 322 of the 336 starters had completed the race. Eight boats had retired.
How to follow the Rolex Fastnet Race
The Rolex Fastnet Race is organized by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and sponsored by Rolex since 2001.
For more information about the RORC and the Rolex Fastnet Race, please visit www.rorc.org
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