The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet race was one to remember, with extreme conditions wiping out a quarter of the fleet before tapering off for a slog to the finish. The biannual race is a 625-mile marathon from Cowes, UK, around Ireland’s Fastnet Rock, and then down to Cherbourg, France (formerly finishing in Plymouth, UK). The 430 boats that participated were divided into 20 classes including 15 IRC divisions, Class40s, IMOCA 60s, and Ultims.
For fans of the Vendée Globe and The Ocean Race, the 50th Rolex Fastnet was a who’s who of familiar names from the IMOCA 60 circuit—Charlie Dalin, Clarisse Crémer, Pip Hare, Sam Davies, Jérémie Beyou, and Kojiro Shiraishi just to name a few. The Ultim class comprised just two boats, SVR Lazartigue and Banque Populaire, skippered by François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h respectively.
Also familiar might be the first and second place finishers from The Ocean Race’s Sprint Cup—WindWhisper and Team Jajo.
From the start the fleet was slammed with elevated sea states and high winds. The first night out, Hurst Castle—a fortress and lighthouse on the English Chanel—recorded 38 knots of wind sustained, gusting 43. Some crews reported seeing the winds hit 46 knots.
By the second day, 100 boats were out of the race, either retired or DNS. Four yachts dismasted, the coast guard was called for a number of injuries, and one yacht, the Sun Fast 3600 Vari, had sunk.
“At approximately 16:30 yesterday afternoon the Sun Fast 3600 Vari began to take on water southwest of the Needles,” the race organization reported. “Thanks to the swift response of the emergency services both crew members were evacuated to Yarmouth, Isle of Wight and are safe and well. The boat is believed to have sunk although the exact reasons are not yet confirmed.”
The next morning was met with conditions that could not be more opposite, with the sea state calming and the wind dropping to 10-15 knots in the English Channel and then further down to 5-10 as the fleet entered the Celtic Sea.
While many boats were still in the English Channel, though, François Gabart and his Ultim SVR Lazartigue was already heading towards the finish, blazing ahead for a new course record of 1 day, 8 hours, 38 minutes, and 27 seconds.
The next day the overall winner came from the IRC Zero fleet in the form of Max Klink’s Botin 52 Caro. The Swiss-flagged boat finished in 2 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes, and 2 seconds.
“Winning the Rolex Fastnet Race is any sailor’s dream, so to win would be beyond words, something we never expected,” Klink said.
Tactician and two-time Rolex Fastnet winner Adrian Stead said, “We’ve worked hard, we didn’t leave anything out on the racetrack, and after that difficult start to the race we have really, really come back into it. The breeze filled in just at the end, and we were able to come into Cherbourg at pace. We saw the VO65s and Lucky slow down on the way in yesterday afternoon, so we got out a few chocolate bars and worked extra hard for the last few miles.”
In the IMOCA Class, Charlie Dalin’s MACIF came in first, followed by Yoann Richomme’s Paprec Arkéa, and Sam Goodchild’s For The Planet.
As is becoming typical of this class, standout female skippers showed up in force, with Sam Davies, Clarisse Crémer, and Justine Mettraux taking places five through seven in the 29-boat strong class. Crémer —who recently made a splash fighting for maternity leave rights after setting a new course record for female sailors in the Vendée Globe [https://www.sailmagazine.com/racing/race-to-the-start-for-the-vendee-globe]—had this to say about her female competitors: “There are more and more women coming into sailing. Justine and Sam are brilliant sailors, especially Sam. It is great to see for the first-time women who have very competitive boats and a chance to be at the front of the fleet.”
MACIF’s first-place finish in the IMOCA fleet set a new class course record, as did the Class40 winner Everial, MOCRA winner Allegra, and Ultim winner SVR Lazartigue. But despite these impressive runs, fast finishes weren’t par for the course. Some boats took over a week to finish, and 18 are still on the course as of press time.
For the full results and to watch the final boats arrive on the tracker, visit rolexfastnetrace.com