380 boats for the Rolex Fastnet Race
Setting sail on 11 August, this year's Rolex Fastnet Race will once again demonstrate that the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event is world's largest and most diverse offshore yacht race, by some considerable margin. Among the other 'classic 600 milers', including the Rolex Sydney Hobart and Middle Sea Race and Gotland Runt, only the biennial Newport-Bermuda race regularly has an entry list of more than 100 boats.
This year the Rolex Fastnet Race is lining up to be the biggest ever in the event's 89 year history. As many as 380 yachts, from over 22 different countries are entered for the event that takes the boats around Land's End, across the Celtic Sea before rounding the Fastnet Rock and Bishop's Rock en route to the finish line off Plymouth.
Leading the charge will certainly be the world's fastest offshore boat. As Banque Populaire Maxi, the 40m trimaran romped around the course in a record time of one day eight hours and 48 minutes in the hands of skipper Loick Peyron. This boat is also holder of the Jules Verne Trophy for sailing non-stop around the world, but perhaps more impressively crossed the Atlantic at an AVERAGE speed of 32.94 knots, during which time she set a new 24 hour record of 908.2nm (average speed 37.84 knots).
The boat has since been sold to the Dona Bertarelli-backed Spindrift Racing campaign, where Bertarelli and Yann Guichard intend to continue and improve upon the amazing giant tri's record breaking career.
(Confusingly Banque Populaire returns this year with their 'new' maxi trimaran, formerly Franck Cammas' Groupama 3).
At the other end of the scale is the famous pilot cutter Jolie Brise. Built in 1913, she has participated in the Fastnet race four times, winning the first race in 1925 again in 1929-30 in the hands of Evelyn George Martin. It was after the first Fastnet Race that Martin and a group of like-minded individuals formed the fledgling Ocean Racing Club (the club receiving its Royal warrant in 1931).
In 1977, Dauntsey's School acquired Jolie Brise and has sailed and maintained the classic yacht ever since. Skipper Toby Marris explains: "Since Dauntsey's School started to sail Jolie Brise, over 9,000 pupils have sailed on her. She sails about 220 days each year, clocking up about 10,000 miles.
"We have raced across the Atlantic with The Tall Ships Race, as far north as inside the Arctic Circle, east as far as Russia and south as far as The Cape Verde Islands. Jolie Brise is available for charter, but during Dauntsey's School's holidays, the pupils have priority. For the Fastnet, we will have seven girls and boys from Dauntsey's School, all under 18 and two crew selected by The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. This year's race will be a once in a lifetime experience. Our goal is always to enjoy sailing her, but this race will become part of her history, so it is very special."
Jolie Brise's race record is likely to be challenged this year by Niklas Zennstrom's Mini Maxi Rán 2. Having won the last two races overall under IRC in 2011 and 2009, Rán 2 this year could match the pilot cutter's record if she wins this year, but would enter the history books for being the first boat to win for a third consecutive time.
Tim Powell, Rán's Team Manager, commented: "Having the chance to win the race for a third time in a row is amazing. It is always tough just to win your class, but to win overall you also need to have the weather conditions in your favour and I have to say that we have had our share of luck in the last two races.
"This year, Bella Mente (Hap Fauth's American Mini Maxi) will be a big threat. Rán 2 is now four years old and I think it would be fair to describe Bella Mente as a more modern version of Rán 2. If we have a 25-knot reach to the Rock and back, we should be the slower boat. If we have a more tactical race then perhaps that will be in our favour. Bella Mente has an excellent crew, but then we know the Fastnet Race really well and maybe that is an advantage.
"Experiencing the start of the Fastnet is unlike any other offshore race and this year with a record entry it will be a special moment for everybody in the race. I would especially like to wish the young crew of Jolie Brise a great race. I started racing offshore with The Youth Challenge and if you told me then that I would have the chance of winning it three times, I wouldn't have believed you. For me, The Fastnet will always be a very special race."