Back to back wins for Ran
For the first time in more than 50 years the Rolex Fastnet Race has a back to back handicap winner. Following on from her victory under IRC two years ago, so this afternoon the RORC has confirmed that Niklas Zennström’s Rán is once again the overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race and the prestigious Fastnet Challenge Cup.
Past double winners of the race include Jolie Brise (1929 and 1930), yacht designer Olin Stephens’ Dorade (1931 and 1933), John Ilingworth’s Myth of Malham (1947 and 1949) and most recently Richard Nye’s Carina II (1955 and 1957).
The Judel-Vrolijk designed 72ft Rán finished in Plymouth on Tuesday at 12:53:44 and even then she was looking like a strong contender for the overall prize, but this has only just been confirmed by the RORC.
Under IRC, Rán’s time corrected out so that she beat ICAP Leopard by 4 hours 38 minutes and 18 seconds, Mike Slade’s 100ft supermaxi in turn a massive 10 hours 40 minutes ahead of third placed Vanquish, the American STP65 - truly this year's event was a big boat affair.
“It’s fantastic. It’s still hard to believe almost. Everyone on the team is very very happy and very pleased,” said Zennström of his second consecutive Rolex Fastnet Race victory, adding that defending their title was one of his sailing team’s primary objectives for the year. “You may say ‘we’re going to race to win’, and that is really what we were going for, but also these races have so many different variables that you cannot really take into account. It’s great when it works out.”
While their 2009 race was well planned, this year Zennström tried to take their campaign to a new level. “This race is about having a good, well prepared boat and a well prepared strategy and a crew that works well together - all those things,” he says. “The way we sailed as a team – we’ve never sailed better and because we were very well prepared, I think we executed very well. We sailed the boat very hard, we were never relaxed, we were very focused all the time and we pushed the boat a lot. When we rounded the Rock, on the way back, we pushed the boat as hard as we could, and I think that we pretty much held our time on the water. I think we lost maybe 40 minutes or even less on Leopard on the way back, so we sailed very very well. The strategy was great, well implemented and we didn’t have any crew mistakes. The team did a very good job.”
Typically with his campaign, Zennström says he sets the parameters and objectives, but it is Tim Powell, Adrian Stead, Steve Hayles and Jeremy Robinson who set out to achieve them. In the case of the Rolex Fastnet Race it was in particular Stead and Hayles who did most of the pre-race investigation into the strategy.
Rán herself has seen a marked change compared to her two year old self with 500kg shed from her keel bulb at the beginning of 2010. Brendan Darrer now runs the boat, having come across from the John Cook’s Cristabella TP52 program. “This year we haven’t made any changes, but you know the boat has never been so well prepared and because there hasn’t been so much bigger work on the boat the shore team been able to do more smaller refinements, the small details which makes life on board better.”
So the boat is well developed and according to Zennström the crew is now very comfortable sailing her. “This is the third year we have been racing the boat and we have done quite a few offshores and I think that is important because not only do we know the boat very well, but we also have very very good confidence. Having done two Sydney Hobarts with the boat an one Fastnet Race and one very windy Middle Sea Race we know we can trust the boat not to break down, so that we knew even if it was rough the boat could take it and we were confident we could push harder and harder. So that is very important: sometimes not making so many changes in a boat can be a good thing, because you feel the boat is in very good trim.”
As to the race itself navigator Steve Hayles commented: “It was an interesting race. It wasn’t quite as favourable a forecast for us this time as last time. We thought it was a big boat race when we set off which put us in with a chance, but we knew there was a bit more reaching, and our boat is better upwind than reaching.
“We had to work hard on getting out of the Solent and the Channel and that went pretty well. Then we hung on for dear life to be honest, to stay as close as we could. And then there were a few breakages, which worked in our favour as well. We would have had a very very close race with Beau Geste for sure, because she was going very nicely. They weren’t far from us when they turned back but at the end of the day you’d rather beat them on the water.”
Beau Geste skipper Gavin Brady has this year been recruited as tactician on the Ran TP52 on the Audi MedCup, so there was some good natured inter-team rivalry on the water. “He slammed on us a couple of times in the Solent and once down the Channel,” recalls Hayles. “It was a good race.”
As to their tactics Hayles said: “At St Albans, we did a nice job down there. We are fortunate in that we have raced up and down the coast a lot. Ado [Adrian Stead] does a superb job in those situations and we work quite well together as a team. We put a lot of effort in to this race. Niklas set us the challenge of trying to do a better job of preparation than we did for the last race and we felt we did a good job last time. But we have stepped it up a bit and spent more time looking at tides and different parts. So massive credit to the boat and for the crew for pushing really hard. Coming back off of the Pantaneus mark we had to push hard on that reach and there were two difficult changes and getting reefs out and getting the whole boat going and every time we asked anything of anybody, they got stuck in.”
En route into the Fastnet Rock Hayles says it got lumpy and they think they saw 30 knots there, although it took a long time to build. Their group of boats were then fortunate to arrive at the Fastnet Rock at the same time as the shift. “We were in a perfect situation: we reached in and on the beat out to the Pantaenius buoy the right shift started to come, so we reached both ways so I think we were very well placed timing-wise. We knew our biggest worry were the two big boats and Beau Geste.”
This weekend Zennstrom is off to Cartagena, Spain, to continue campaigning the Ran TP52, so in contrast to this - what to him is the appeal of offshore racing? “First of all, it is such a different thing from going on Saturday to the next Audi MedCup event. The offshore races - they are really enjoyable in a whole different way, because it’s much more of an endurance thing. There are a lot of times when you are really wet and cold and tired and very uncomfortable when you kind of wonder ‘why am I here?’ and ‘when am I going to get to shore?’, when it is quite miserable, but as soon as you hit the dock you want to go looking for the next offshore race!”
It is no secret also that Zennstrom’s French wife Catherine, who always sails on board too, particularly likes offshore sailing.
Navigator Steve Hayles felt the forecast while favouring the upper echelons of the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet, wasn’t quite as favourable for them compared to two years ago. “We knew there was a bit more reaching, and our boat is better upwind. We had to work hard on getting out of the Solent and the Channel and that went pretty well and then we hung on for dear life to be honest, as close as we could.”
Their main competition had been Karl Kwok and Jim Swartz’s Beau Geste, and there was some friendly rivalry between the two boats as Gavin Brady skippered the Farr 80, but is also acting as tactician this year on Zennström’s TP52 in the Mediterranean. “He slammed on us a couple of times in the Solent and once down the Channel. It was a good race,” recalled Hayles.
So will Rán be back to defend her title for a second time? Zennström says it is too early to decide at this stage, but it is something they would certainly strongly consider. “The achievement of winning two back to back is pretty amazing and more than we could have hoped for. After the first win, and when we started to think about this year’s planning, this was the thing we have to go for.”
All that has been decided so far is that next year the Ran 72 will be heading for the Caribbean and competing in the RORC Caribbean 600 and possibly some other regattas there.