Rolex Fastnet Race. Why It’s Such A Compelling Race

Rolex Fastnet Course.
Whatever the weather or time of day, rounding the Fastnet Rock is an unforgettable experience.
Pic by Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

This classic race starts on Sunday 6 August, just a few days away. It’s well known as a classic, but why? All is revealed here.

A True Test
The Rolex Fastnet Race is legendary within the world of ocean racing. First run in 1925 and held biennially since the 1930s, the 605 nautical mile race is one of the true tests of offshore sailing. Rolex has been a committed partner of the organizers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), for over 20 years and in 2001 became the first ever Title Sponsor of this pioneering race, which to this day continues to perform a pivotal role in the growth and evolution of the sport. The Rolex Fastnet, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015, sits alongside the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as one of the pillars of Rolex’s unique and privileged relationship with yachting. The 47th edition will be held from 6 to 11 August 2017, and is set to welcome an impressive international fleet of over 350 yachts.

Fact: Only four of the seven-boat fleet finished the first race in 1925

Compelling Challenge
The Rolex Fastnet is an arduous yet absorbing adventure. During the month of August, the Atlantic shores of northern Europe, and particularly the British Isles, regularly witness westerly winds reaching gale force; harsh conditions are almost guaranteed for one or more stages of the race. The event’s history pays stark testament to the potential severity of the challenge. During the 1979 edition, a ferocious storm cost the lives of 15 sailors. The RORC reacted decisively and effectively promoting significant improvements in yacht design, safety equipment, the qualification process and race management. These advancements continue to resonate around the world today, and the RORC remains a leading reference within the sport.

Fact: The record number of boats to start the Rolex Fastnet stands at 356 yachts, set in 2015. This number may well be overtaken in 2017

The Rolex Fastnet fleet pass many landmarks en-route to the finish, The Needles and Hurst Castle mark the exit from the Solent.
pic by Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Wide-ranging Appeal
The diversity of the competing yachts and sailors demonstrates the multi-layered appeal of the Rolex Fastnet. Cutting-edge multihulls and professionally crewed monohull maxis share the course with much smaller boats crewed by passionate Corinthians. It is a democratic competition in every sense. The rating system applied to the main body of the fleet means the overall winner can spring from any size of boat. Over the 15 years of the Rolex partnership yachts ranging between 33 feet and 72 feet have secured the Fastnet Challenge Cup and Rolex timepiece awarded to the overall winner. Accuracy, robustness and reliability – values shared by Rolex – are essential attributes for all crews as they manage and anticipate the changing tidal and meteorological conditions.

Fact: The previous two Rolex Fastnet Races have been won by French crews. Father and son, Pascal and Alexis Loison with Night and Day in 2013; Géry Trentesaux’s Courrier Du Leon in 2015

Famous Course
Historic and compelling, the Rolex Fastnet course is etched in the consciousness of every self-respecting yachtsman and -woman. Starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, the Isle of Wight, it passes noted landmarks in the English Channel including The Needles at the western end of the Solent, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard and Land’s End, before embarking on the open water passage across the Celtic Sea and the symbolic turn around the Fastnet Rock off the southern coast of Ireland; a rounding that heralds the race’s emblematic halfway juncture as the fleet embark on the long return leg via the Scillies to the finish in Plymouth.

The Needles lighthouse is one of a number of famous lighthouses on the Rolex Fastnet Course.
pic by Rolex/Daniel Forster

Fact: The current monohull race record is 1 day, 18 hours and 35 minutes, set in 2011 by the Ian Walker-skippered 70-foot Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

International Reputation
The Rolex Fastnet Race is truly global with participants representing five continents. The eight editions supported by Rolex have seen monohull line honours go to six different nationalities, and the Fastnet Challenge Cup to four different countries. Fittingly, this includes boats from Ireland, which provides the iconic turning mark of the Fastnet Rock, and France, the country that regularly provides the largest number of overseas entries. Further back in the history of the race, boats from Australia (Ragamuffin, 1971), Brazil (Saga, 1973) and 11 entries from the United States, such as two-time winner Dorade (1931 & 33), have won the overall prize.

Fact: Niklas Zennström’s Rán 2 is the only yacht since the late 1950s to claim back-to-back Rolex Fastnet wins on handicap. Rán 2 triumphed in 2009 and in 2011

Rounding the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland is a seminal moment for all competing crews.
pic by Rolex/Daniel Forster

Offshore Leadership
The RORC’s history is inextricably entwined with that of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The RORC was founded immediately after the first race in 1925, with the objective “to encourage long-distance yacht racing and the design, building and navigation in which speed and seaworthiness are combined”. The Rolex Fastnet spearheads the fulfilment of that mission and has become an institution in the sporting calendar. The club has long been a pioneer and innovator, not only organizing and promoting offshore racing activities, but also in developing standards of excellence, particularly in issues of safety.

Fact: Jolie Brise was first to finish the 1925 race in a time of 6 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes. In 2013 the same yacht completed the race in 5 days, 4 hours, 39 minutes

The Start
On 6 August 2017, the starting gun will be fired from the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the world’s most revered yacht clubs, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2015. The Squadron, as it is universally known, is regarded as one of the preeminent clubs in the world. Its respect for the ideals and traditions of the sport offer a beacon for others to follow. In recognition of its privileged relationship, which began back in 1983, and to mark the special anniversary, Rolex presented the Squadron with a unique clock that does more than simply tell the time – it gives details about the state of the tide and barometric pressure: essential information for race officers and sailors alike. The club’s present headquarters at Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight is a true landmark, and “The Squadron Line”, an imaginary line stretching from the Castle northwards across the Solent towards the mainland shore, is used for the start of major races such as the Rolex Fastnet.

The Fastnet Rock is an iconic turning point for the return leg to Plymouth.
pic by Rolex/Daniel Forster

Fact: The first race started from Ryde and headed out of the Solent in an easterly direction

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