Big guns lining up for Sunday's start
With just over two days left until the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race, a press conference for the race was held yesterday in the Sir Max Aitken Museum in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It was a case of standing room only for the international press that will be covering the Rolex Fastnet Race, the oldest offshore yacht race in the world.
Eddie Warden Owen, Chief Executive of the Royal Ocean Racing Club summed up the quality and quantity of this year's race: "The 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race is not just a record fleet, it is a fantastic fleet from professional high performance racing yachts to family owned production yachts raced by corinthian sailors. The biggest yacht is a 140ft trimaran, Maxi Banque Populaire and the smallest, Brightwork a 30ft cruising yacht. It is an amazing array of yachts, quite outstanding."
RORC Commodore, Andrew McIrvine will be racing his First 40, La Réponse and the Commodore has had to qualify for this race just like all of the 300 hundred yachts racing under IRC: "Besides a large fleet of professional teams racing, there are thousands of sailors competing for the Fastnet Challenge Cup. The Rolex Fastnet Race is a challenge for any of the competitors and this year, the Royal Ocean Racing Club has had a really windy season, so in qualifying for the Race, the competitors are very well prepared. This race was sold out in 11 days back in January. It looks like we are going to have a fantastic race and everybody is really looking forward to it."
George David, skipper of Rambler 100, has been enjoying an incredible season, winning the RORC Caribbean 600 overall and taking line honours in last month's Transatlantic Race. The 100' canting keel Maxi is the hot favourite to take line honours for the monohull division, but David is not taking anything for granted: "The weather forecast suggests that we should have wind for the race, there is disagreement about the direction with different forecast models, but it looks as though we should have wind of 12-20 knots, maybe more. We think we could have a shot at the record, but we will see how things go. My main concern when racing is that in order to come first, first you have to finish."
Ross and Campbell Field, the father and son team from New Zealand who are to compete in the Global Ocean Race this autumn, are both highly accomplished professional sailors, but are new to the Class 40 scene and this will be their first race together on their Verdier-designed Hupane. There are over 21 Class 40s in the Rolex Fastnet Race, the most competitive fleet assembled for this year's race.
"I have done a lot of sailing with my Dad and we get on just fine," said Field Jnr. "We are new to the class and we decided to enter this race with a very strong field to see where we are compared to the experienced and successful teams, but we are under no illusions, this is a very good fleet of Class 40s. On board, sometimes I call him Dad, other times Ross, it depends on what message we are trying to get across."
Henry Smith is a squad member of the British Keelboat Academy and will be skippering Yeoman of Wight, which has been loaned to the Academy for young aspiring sailors by former RORC Commodore, David Aisher: "It has always been a personal goal, it is an iconic race and one that I have always wanted to do and this will be my first time. The team on Yeoman are all young, the average age of the crew is 21 and it is very exciting for all of us to be competing, a bit of an Everest really."
In sharp contrast to the young crew on Yeoman of Wight, Ken Newman will be competing in his 27th Fastnet Race on Marinero. Ken reminisced about his first race: "I am in awe sitting here with these supreme sailors. I am glad to be here, but at the age of 82 and a quarter, I am glad to be anywhere! My first Fastnet was in 1957 when 40 boats left Cowes in a gale and by the time we got to Brixham, we had lost both halliards. I had to row ashore to get new blocks which I don't think I paid for. How times have changed since then."
The largest yacht competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race is the fastest offshore race boat in the world. The 140ft trimaran, Maxi Banque Populaire is skippered by French legend Loick Peyron and among the 14 crew is Brian Thompson. "Banque Populaire is capable of reaching and maintaining speeds approaching 40 knots for several hours," said Thompson. "We recently completed a 360 mile race in 12 hours. My dream would be to finish the race with just one night at sea and get in late on Monday night, but the weather may not cooperate. We would like to thank the RORC for allowing big multihulls into the race and add an extra dimension to it. This year, it is an unbelievable fleet, the best Rolex Fastnet Race ever, possibly the best ocean race ever."
The Rolex Fastnet Race starts on Sunday 14 August at 1100 BST. All of the competing yachts will be fitted with the latest tracking systems from Yellowbrick and many of the yachts are capable of sending back messages, pictures and even video of the drama as it unfolds.