Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut

Rolex Fastnet Race - line honours form guide

World's two largest offshore racing tris to line up for the first time in five years

Friday August 2nd 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

While the Rolex Fastnet Race's main prize is the Fastnet Challenge Trophy and Rolex chronometer for the first among the 300 boats competing under IRC handicap, another significant battle come the start on Sunday week will be among the fastest and most high profile yachts - the monohulls and multihulls gunning to claim line honours.

This year’s record breaking-sized entry list that now stands at 350 with IRC and non-IRC fleets combined reads like a Who’s Who of offshore racing.

At the very front of the fleet this year will be an intriguing dogfight between the world’s two fastest offshore racing multihulls.

The former Banque Populaire Maxi, the 40m long trimaran which reached Plymouth first in just 32 hours 48 minutes two years ago under skipper Loick Peyron (and is also the outright Jules Verne Trophy, W-E transatlantic and 24 hour record holder), is back but as Spindrift 2, co-skippered by Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard.

And slightly confusingly Banque Populaire as a team is back this year but with another trimaran, this time the slightly older and more compact 31.5m former Groupama 3, now called Banque Populaire VII. This is of course the boat in which Franck Cammas and his team set a new Jules Verne Trophy in 2010 and which later that year Cammas incredibly raced singlehanded to victory in the Route du Rhum (albeit the boat fitted with a shorter rig for this). Now liveried up in Banque Populaire’s blue and white, the team’s new boat also has a new skipper in Armel le Cleac’h, who has finished second in the last two Vendee Globes.

Racing alongside Le Cléac’h , is Bertrand Pacé, Ronan Lucas, Pierre-Emmanuel Hérissé, Kévin Escoffier, Pierre-Yves Moreau, Emmanuel Le Borgne, navigator Marcel Van Triest and....Nigel Musto.

Despite her being some 8.5m longer, there is no certainty that Spindrift 2 will come out on top. Prior to the start the team will have only spent two weeks training on what is the world’s largest trimaran. Going into their final week of training Yann Guichard said that they at present they lack experience in stronger winds. “Two weeks ago it was very light, 10 knots and flat water - it was like a holiday! Now we need 20-25 knots which we should see this weekend.” While in the past this boat has achieved peak speeds approaching 50 knots (ie a shade faster than an AC72 catamaran), the maximum the Spindrift team has seen from their new beast so far is 33 knots.

Along Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard (above) are some extremely experienced multihull sailors including Jacques Guichard, Erwan Tabarly, Christophe Espagnon, Antoine Carraz, Nicolas Texier, Xavier Revil, Jean Baptiste le Vaillant, Thierry Douillard, Sébastien Marsset and Erwan Israel. Of their 14 crew only two, Xavier Revil and sailmaker Jean-Baptiste Le Vaillon, were on board what is the world's biggest racing trimaran from when she was Banque Populaire.

Both co-skippers Guichard and Bertarelli are looking forward to the Rolex Fastnet Race. For both it will be their first time. “It is really a mythical race,” says Guichard. “I think the most fantastic part will be the start with 300+ boats. You have to be careful, but it will be really exciting to be on the start line with a 40m trimaran alongside the other boats. I like to sail alongside amateur sailors. It is going to be a great event.”

Unfortunately the Spindrift crew, they not only have Banque Populaire to look out for, but also the two MOD70s Edmond de Rothschild and Oman Air-Musandam. Of these the latter, skippered by Sidney Gavignet, is expected to be more competitive as it is being raced by a full crew, while Edmond de Rothschild is being sailed doublehanded by Seb Josse and Charles Caudrelier in preparation for this November’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

Former Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe skipper Seb Josse says he enjoys the Fastnet race, particularly aboard a big trimaran. Two years ago he was second home aboard the other maxi-trimaran in Baron Rothschild’s stable, the 23m long Gitana 11 (which he and a full crew are sailing next week in the Artemis Challenge). “I like that in a big multihull we are just passing the Scilly Isles when we start to see the first monohulls. You just have three hours to go while the others have two days!”

The MOD70s are obviously significantly shorter than Spindrift 2 and Banque Populaire, but on both MOD70s the crews are much more highly trained.

Yann Guichard maintains that whether it is Spindrift 2, Banque Populaire or a MOD70 that reaches Plymouth first will depend on the conditions. “If it is really strong we are favourite, because if you are big you are faster as it is easier in the waves. If the conditions are really light, the MOD70s are really fast as is the new Banque Populaire, because it is lighter compared to Spindrift 2.”

Monohull line honours

The form for the monohulls is also highly weather dependent, although oddly the line honours race favourite in this would prefer light to medium conditions.

On paper the Gazprom-backed European-flagged Esimit Europa 2 is most likely to reach Plymouth first. Her main competition is Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard. At 100ft, both boats are the same length and both are fitted with canting keels, but Esimit Europa 2 is some 40% lighter.

Esimit Europa 2’s skipper, German three time Olympic medallist Jochen Schümann believes that his team is favourite on paper, but the 100ft monohulls don’t have the greatest record for making it around the course. Rambler 100 lost her keel and capsized just after rounding the Fastnet Rock in 2011, while in her previous life as Neville Crighton’s Alfa Romeo, Esimit Europa 2 was forced to pull out while leading the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race.

“We are unbeatable, unless we break the boat,” says Schümann. “From 12-14 knots we are fully loaded and then we start reefing and then slowing down the boat, and then there are conditions when either the VO70s and in some wind directions the Mini Maxis could be faster reaching or downwind than we are. In heavy breeze, it will be a really tough competition.”

In the afterguard with Schuemann on board the blue maxi are Volvo Ocean Race veteran Andrew Cape, and 470 gold medallist, ex-Alinghi and Volvo Ocean Race tactician/strategist, Jordi Calafat.

Schümann has competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race on at least two occasions during the 1990s during the Admiral’s Cup aboard the ILC40 Aerosail and on the IMS50 Rubin XV. “350 boats - it is great,” he says of this year’s event. “It shows what sailing can provide from racing to cruising, big boats to smaller boats. I like that very much. Only the very best boats and crews can win, but it is good to have such a strong competition in terms of numbers.”

Mike Slade’s crew on ICAP Leopard has huge experience having won line honours in both the 2007 and 2009 races. Boat captain Chris Sherlock says they missed out on this in 2011 because “we weren’t in the right frame of mind. We got a bit gun shy. Due to the simple fact that when Rambler’s keel fell off, we were all a bit jittery.”

On previous occasions that ICAP Leopard has lined up with her, Esimit Europa 2 has won usually because the racing has been in lighter conditions. Ideal conditions for ICAP Leopard would be upwind or downwind in 20 knots, says Sherlock, but there is always the ‘Grand National’ element. “In tidal waters, you never know what is going to happen. There might be shut downs and a race restart. We would be happy with our boat if we get a podium position.”

While there are a few guests on board ICAP Leopard, 21 of her 26 crew are her race crew. Mike Slade's team also comes fresh from a line honours and corrected time win in the RORC's recent St Malo race.

The boat which beat ICAP Leopard into Plymouth in strong breeze two years ago is back. Skippered by Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing VO70 in 2011 also set a monohull record of 43 hours 39 minutes.
"We will need a lot of luck to repeat that," says Walker of their prospects this time. "It needs to be too windy for the 100 footers and for us to have lots of reaching."  

Walker will be using the event partly to trial crew for the new Abu Dhabi campaign for the 2014-5 Volvo Ocean Race. On board with him for the Fastnet are his ex-Abu Dhabi team mates Nick Dana, Jeremy Elliott, and UAE sailor Adil Khalid. Stepping back into the navigator role is Simon Fisher, joined in turned by Guy Barron, Phil Harmer (ex-Green Dragon/Groupama), veteran Kiwis Tony Mutter and Cameron Dunn, and nippers Tom Johnson, Jeremy Wilmot, Phillip Carlson, the Artemis Offshore Academy's Jack Boutell and on board reporter Cameron Dueck.

In addition they will face direct competition from the largely female crew, featuring Britain's Sam Davies and Annie Lush but also Volvo Ocean Race veteran Brad Jackson, on Team SCA's VO70, the former Puma.  

Walker is impressed by the record-sized fleet in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. “It is interesting how many areas of the sport of sailing are struggling for entries, but then you have the Fastnet Race which sells out in 24 hours. It is a great race and brilliant to see it being so popular.”

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