Cowes at centre of world’s biggest offshore race
Cowes will be in the spotlight across the globe on Saturday, August 3rd, when the world’s biggest offshore race returns for its 48th edition.
The Rolex Fastnet Race – run by Cowes and London-based Royal Ocean Racing Club – will start prior to Cowes Week for the first time. The 605-mile race travels to the Fastnet Rock, on the south coast of Ireland and back, finishing in Plymouth.
Only seven boats took part in the very first race in 1925, which has since evolved into a prestigious worldwide event. This year, 400 yachts from more than 26 different countries will set off from the famous Royal Yacht Squadron.
While the majority of boats are from the UK, a large amount will come from France, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and the USA. Several boats will have also made their way a
cross from America to Cowes as competitors in the Transatlantic Race which started at the end of June.
Enjoy the spectacle of the diverse fleet and range of boats, from the smallest at 30ft to the four mighty French foiling machines, the 100ft Ultime trimarans and everything in between. Look out for the oldest yacht, the 1939 Amokura and also the famous Gipsy Moth IV, as they jostle for their position on the start line.
Although some teams will have more than 25 crew on some of the largest boats in the race, there is a record number doing it just two handed. Some of the world’s top professional sailors will be making their way to Cowes from as far away as Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Russia and China, plus there’s plenty of local Isle of Wight sailors who will also be competing on the same 605-nautical mile race course. Some will be fulfilling a personal ‘bucket list’ challenge and taking part for the first time, but for others, the race is a must do event, with more than 20 races already under their belts. Many teams will be made up of family and friends and the bulk of them will be Corinthian sailors, ranging in age from 15 to over 80.
Among the monohull contenders for line honours this year are the Hong Kong newcomer, Seng Huang Lee’s 100ft Scallywag and George David’s familiar Rambler 88, returning for a fifth time.
In 1925, answering the call for an offshore race that would push yachtsmen to their limits, the Fastnet was born. Most of the seven yacht fleet were gaff-rigged, old working boats. The first to finish, Jolie Brise, did so in six days, two hours and 45 minutes. This first race resulted in the formation of the Ocean Racing Club, subsequently named the Royal Ocean Racing Club.
The fleet now range from purpose-built grand prix racing machines to family cruisers, and multihulls with a course record of less than two days to beat. The race is both physically and emotionally exhausting. Competitors race night and day, usually rotating active and resting crew through a watch system, living on board in cramped, damp conditions come rain or shine. Coaxing the maximum speed from the vessel in all conditions is made all the more challenging when those conditions vary from swelteringly hot August sunshine to gale force winds and tumultuous seas. The threat posed by the elements can be severe indeed; in 1979, a storm swept through the fleet prompting a huge rescue operation but tragically resulting in 15 fatalities.
In 2011 there was another reminder of its fearsome reputation when George David’s Rambler 100 lost her keel and capsized dramatically after rounding the Fastnet Rock. By close adherence to safety procedures and good fortune the crew were all plucked to safety from the Irish Sea. Today, safety remains of principle concern to the organisers and all yachts must meet rigorous qualification requirements to participate. A special church service remembering those lost in the 1979 race will take place on Friday, August 2nd at 6pm, in the Holy Trinity Parish Church, Cowes.
For the first time, a Fastnet Race Village will be open to the public on Thursday, August 1st on The Parade in Cowes. Everyone is welcome.
Fastnet Race Village – Cowes Parade
Thursday, August 1st: 11am – Midnight
This year, the Rolex Fastnet Race will have its own Race Village on Cowes Parade, just prior to the start of the race. Join the event shoreside to see a number of race boats up close on Trinity Landing and meet the skippers and crew. Try paddleboarding around an inflatable version of the Fastnet Rock with UKSA and relax shoreside with live music and entertainment at the Crew Bar on Cowes Parade.
11am: Live entertainment throughout the day
4.30pm: Press presentation on main stage – Q&A with guest skippers
6pm: Skippers briefing
7.30pm: Crew party and hog roast
9pm: Music by BRANDO – closes midnight. Free entry –
paying bar and hog roast available throughout the day.
Watch the starts:
Yachts will start coming to the start area from around 11am, while the racing will begin from 12.30pm with the fleet divided into groups, each starting at a different time and heading west down the Solent:
1245pm: IMOCA 60 and Class 40
1pm: IRC 4
1.15pm: IRC 3
1.30pm: IRC 2
1.45pm: IRC 1
2pm: IRC Zero and VO65
Where to watch:
The best vantage points of the start will be along Cowes Green and Egypt Esplanade. As the fleet funnels west out of The Solent there will be lots of chances to see the yachts from Yarmouth as well.
Live streaming and radio coverage
Live action will be simulcast with Fastnet Radio 87.9fm and streamed on the official race website, RORC Facebook and YouTube Channels.
Track the fleet
Follow the fleet via the online tracker. The race player is available online and on android/iPhone through the YB Races App.
www.RolexFastnetRace.com – #RolexFastnetRace
Isle of Wight sailors taking on the challenge include:
Hugh Brayshaw, from Cowes – Abu 43, Figaro 2
Formerly owned by the Artemis Offshore Academy, Abu 43 is an enhanced Figaro 2, optimised for racing under IRC, with many Solitaire du Figaro under its belt. Owned by German investor, Christian Teichmann, the boat will be sailed two-handed alongside Hugh Brayshaw, a sailor and designer based on the south coast. Hugh has spent a childhood in boats, competing in and winning national championships here and abroad before spending two years sailing the 470 in the Olympic squad.
Mark Wynter, from Cowes – Alexa, X-332
Retired accountant Mark Wynter has been sailing yachts since 1977 and mainly races locally with the Junior Offshore Group, RORC and the Island Sailing Club. His last yacht, the half-tonner Alchemist, was unfortunately lost in 2016 when it foundered during the Round the Island Race, run by the ISC, during his tenure as Commodore, a role that meant he was not onboard at the time.
Sean McCarter, from Cowes – Umiko, Swan 82
Returning to UK waters for the summer in order to compete in its first Fastnet Race, Umiko has put in some decent mileage, finishing second over the line in the outward ARC. After a season of chartering she competed in the RORC Caribbean 600 (finishing 10th in class), Heineken Regatta and the Voiles de St Barths before returning for the event. Owned by Philip Rann of Conquistador Sailing, she will be skippered by Irishman Sean McCarter.
Richard Palmer, from Cowes – Jangada, JPK 10.10
Jangada regularly competes with the RORC, finishing the 2018 Season’s Points Championship in second place after sadly retiring from the Rolex Middle Sea Race with rig failure. They take on some of the biggest races in the season including the RORC Transatlantic, RORC Caribbean 600, Round Britain and Ireland (1st in class in 2014) and Round Ireland races.
Pete Newlands, from Gurnard – Anticipation, First 40.7
Gurnard resident Pete Newlands has competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race many times and is racing in one of the largest classes in the fleet. “I have to confess we are racing with a normal boat and with a normal crew of UK workers, all hoping to safely achieve a finish place for their bucket list and happy not to be last (hopefully).”