Preparing for the Rolex Fastnet Race
Run biennially, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event will start at 10:00 on Sunday 10 August from the usual Royal Yacht Squadron line and will then run down the normal course past Anvil Point, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard, Lands End, then across the Irish Sea to the Fastnet Rock before returning to Plymouth via Bishop Rock, a course of 608 miles in total.
The current monohull race record stands at 53 hours and among the fleet this year are several boats capable of beating this, the favorite being Neville Crichton’s 90-foot maxi monohull Alfa Romeo. Crichton’s New Zealand-registered yacht has already picked up line honours in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race in December last year and recently broke the record for the Rolex Giraglia Race in the Mediterranean.
Another group of boats contending for line honours are six of the globetrotting Open 60 monohulls. Among them are Vincent Riou’s bright orange PRB, winner of the recent Calais Round Britain and Ireland Race and Mike Golding's Ecover.
But the Rolex Fastnet Race is not just about breaking the record. There are two main handicap trophies, the Fastnet Challenge Cup and the Fastnet Rock Trophy. Each will be awarded to the boat that sailed nearest to its rated potential to post the Best Corrected Time respectively from the IRC fleet, which represents the majority of the 240 boats entered, and the IRM fleet, which represents the best modern racing boats.
The duality of the Rolex Fastnet Race’s overall title is due to the popularity of the two different handicap systems as most of the demand to take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from owners with either IRM or IRC rated boats. Other classes, such as IMS-rated boats, multihulls, Open 60 monohulls and Volvo 60s, benefit from the RORC’s policy of being accommodating to all and race for separate trophies.
The Rolex Fastnet Race, was first sailed in 1925. It has been the prime mover in the growth of offshore racing ever since, and is still intricately linked to advances in yacht design, boat handling and seamanship techniques, safety equipment - and generally to the popularity of the modern sport of sailing. It means different things to the more than 2000 different people who will sail the course this year. For some it is a once-in-a-life-time challenge, for others it is part of a much bigger picture. It is not undertaken lightly by anyone and each boat and crew must fulfill strict qualification criteria before being allowed to compete.
There are more than 30 trophies to be awarded at the conclusion of this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. The prizegiving will take place at the Royal Citadel, home of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, in Plymouth on Friday 15 August. As ever, collecting the top division prize will be the result of meticulous preparation as well as hard and intelligent sailing over the whole course. Whatever size or type of boat, whatever level the game is played at and no matter what the individual and team goals are, the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race has more than enough for everyone. Its’ ongoing success says it all.