The greatest offshore race

Record-sized fleet, Banque Populaire, two MOD70s, 20 Class 40s, VO70 debuts and 280 IRC boats...
The largest, most diverse fleet of racing boats ever assembled in the history of offshore yachting sets sail tomorrow on the 608 mile Rolex Fastnet Race. While the previous record entry was 303, this year 318 yachts are due to start, and the fleet is as impressive in its size as it is, is its variety: from the 40m long trimaran Maxi Banque Populaire to the 9.1m Rogers 30, Bernie Bingham’s Brightwork. The first gun for the multihulls is to be fired at 1100 (BST) with the last start for the Volvo Open 70s and big monohulls, including the two 100 footers, George David’s Rambler 100 and Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard, at 1310. In addition to the strong IRC entry, the Royal Ocean Racing Club has made the inspired move this year to invite non-IRC classes to take part over and above their 300 limit, and this has succeeded in attractin a wealth of high profile racing hardware from around the world. Line honours is expected to go to Banque Populaire, the fastest and largest offshore racing multihull in the world, with Loick Peyron having taken over from Pascal Bidegorry as skipper earlier this year and with a crew line-up that includes Britain’s Brian Thompson and Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup winner Juan Vila as navigator. Banque Populaire’s 24 hour record saw her cover the equivalent of one and a half Fastnet races in a day or an average speed of 37.84 knots. This pace would have her in by 0300 on Monday! Unfortunately this won’t happen, as Juan Vila states: “It is a middle range breeze at the beginning getting lighter towards Land’s End and then hopefully we can get a nice southwesterly ahead of the cold front so we can have a fast run back from the Rock. So at the