Strong female entries in record-breaking Rolex Fastnet Race
A key feature of this year's Rolex Fastnet Race will be the number of high profile women taking part, when the world's largest offshore race sets sail from Cowes on Sunday 11 August.
Yet again the Royal Ocean Racing Club's flagship event is breaking new records in terms of the size of its fleet with 372 boats entered at present. The biennial race from Cowes to the Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland and back around the Scilly Isles to Plymouth, is now by far the biggest of all the international 600 mile offshore races.
The largest on the start line will be the 40m trimaran Spindrift 2, which as Maxi Banque Populaire in 2011 romped around the course in just 32 hours 48 minutes. As she was finishing most of the fleet had still to round Land's End en route to the Fastnet Rock. Since the last race, the fastest offshore boat in the world, which holds the record for the highest ever 24 hour run (908.2nm or 37.84 knots average) has been sold to the Franco-Swiss Spindrift racing team. Her new co-skippers are Yann Guichard and Dona Bertarelli (above), whose brother Ernesto Bertarelli twice won the America's Cup with his Alinghi team.
Spindrift is obviously gunning to beat the existing record of its new trimaran. However even with a good forecast this shouldn't be taken for granted.
"This race is a big challenge for me and for the Spindrift racing team as a whole, not only because of its historical importance, but for several other reasons," explains Bertarelli, who has spent the last years campaigning the D35 catamaran Ladycat in Switzerland. "The Rolex Fastnet Race will be my first offshore experience, but it will also be our first race with Spindrift 2. We are competitors and even though we will have had little time to train, to get to know the boat and build a strong sailing team, our objective remains to win."
Team SCA is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race as part of the Swedish campaign's rigorous training regime and selection process to mount the Volvo Ocean Race's best ever all-female campaign. As part of their training regime, they typically sail their VO70 training boat - formerly Puma Ocean Racing's mar mostro - with their male coaches on board. For the Fastnet this will comprise multiple Volvo Ocean Race winner Brad Jackson, Joca Signorini and Spanish bowman Pepe Ribes. Among the British crew is Vendee Globe skipper Sam Davies and Olympic match racer Annie Lush, two of the five women already selected for the team.
For Davies this will be her fifth Rolex Fastnet Race, having last competed with Sidney Gavignet aboard the IMOCA 60 Artemis Ocean Racing in 2009. On board she is navigator although as she points out "we are all in the watch system, so I will be sailing and navigating."
Team SCA is at present one of four VO70s competing, up against the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi, which set a monohull course record in 2011, plus the former Team Russia and the latest entry, Camper, being campaigned by an Australian crew led by TP52 owner Jason van der Slot.
How does Team SCA expect to get on against Abu Dhabi? "We have done a lot more sailing, but we are missing the Volvo experience still. I'm sure their crew will be made up mostly of people who have done the race before," says Davies.
Likely to finish between Team SCA and Spindrift 2 will be another Vendee Globe competitor, Dee Caffari.
For Caffari this will be her seventh Fastnet, her first having been as skipper of the Challenge boat Group 4 in 2001. In 2007, her IMOCA 60 Aviva had to pull out with a ripped mainsail and a very sick quadruple Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent on board, while last year she received her multihull baptism, hitching a ride on Steve Ravussin's MOD70 Race for Water.
"I'd never done the race that quick before in my life, so I am really delighted I'm back on a MOD70," says Caffari, who this year joins Sidney Gavignet's team on Oman Air-Musandam.
As part of Oman Sail's continued efforts to develop women's sailing in the sultanate, Omani sailor Raya Al Habsi will also be competing on board. She has previously competed in Sailing Arabia-The Tour in 2012 and 2013, and is currently part of the all-female Oman Sail entry at the J/80 Worlds. "Raya has been with us from the beginning of the girls' offshore sailing," says Caffari. "She has been working the bow on the Farr 30 and has been cold, wet and beaten up and still continues to smile, which is a good characteristic to have for a tough environment, which the Fastnet is. This is big deal for Oman Sail and for Arab women in sport."
As to their prospects this year Oman Air-Musandam will be up against another MOD70 in the Seb Josse-skippered Edmond de Rothschild. Caffari remembers two years ago when they match raced another MOD70 Veolia Environnement for the entire race. "I am really looking forward to being back in that intensity again."
Some way behind the grand prix speedsters will be another all-female team led by Lucy Reynolds. While husband Christian Reynolds will be campaigning the Swan 53 Northern Child, Lucy has entered the First 40, Southern Child. "One of our regular crew asked if I'd be interested in doing an all-female campaign and I went 'why not?'" says Lucy of how this came about. The Reynolds run a charter company and the crew of Southern Child is mostly paying guests.
"One of our crew has done the race before and another has done the ARC and various transatlantic and offshore passage, so it is a mixed level of experience, and we have a couple coming in from the States," says Lucy.
To date they have had a training weekend and competed in the RORC's Morgan Cup and have the St Malo and Channel Races ahead of them to build up their experience and qualification miles.
"It has been very enjoyable, everyone just growing and learning," explains Lucy for whom this will be her third Rolex Fastnet Race. "Quite often with female sailors, they do a task and they don't understand why they are doing it. So it has been a really enjoyable process empowering people to do things for themselves and understand why they are doing it."
At present there are six First 40s competing in IRC 2 and given that two, La Réponse and Lancelot 2 Logic finished just nine seconds apart on corrected time in the RORC's recent Morgan Cup, they can expect some close racing.