Rolex Fastnet Race: Classics, Doubles and Round the World Adventurers

Rolex Fastnet Race IRC Two Preview… Expect the doublehanders to have a big say in the outcome of IRC Two. There are some powerful duos ready to show what they can do across 695 miles of race track. There will also be some major ‘races within a race’ taking place in the IRC Two fleet, including: seven JPK 1080s, 12 JPK1030s, 15 Sun Fast 3600s and a whopping 22 Sun Fast 3300s. There are also nine J/Boats of various sizes and speeds. One of those is Ajeto!, a J122e which the Dutch doublehanded team of Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre sailed to great effect in the North Sea Race in May, winning IRC Overall.

After racing Ajeto! for seven years, Verhoef says they are very comfortable with knowing how to change gears and mode the boat for different scenarios. They also like the fact that the design is not particularly extreme, and feel the J122e is pretty good across the range and wind and wave conditions. Having already covered the Fastnet course five times previously, Verhoef and van der Starre are certainly expected to be up near the front in 2023.

 For sheer consistency and such commitment to RORC competition, a strong contender in IRC 2 will be Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster, whose family has been campaigning their Oyster Lightwave 48 continuously for 30 years. During this time they have racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600. Recent IRC 2 class successes include victory at the RORC Cervantes Trophy Race and a second place in the RORC Myth of Malham Race.

For sheer consistency and such commitment to RORC competition, a strong contender in IRC 2 will be Ross Applebey’s Scarlet Oyster, whose family has been campaigning their Oyster Lightwave 48 continuously for 30 years. During this time they have racked up numerous race wins and class victories notably in the Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Caribbean 600. Recent IRC 2 class successes include victory at the RORC Cervantes Trophy Race and a second place in the RORC Myth of Malham Race.

Rated at the top end of the IRC Two band are some beautiful classics which will bring some latter-day glamour to the fleet. They include Quailo 3, a Nicholson 55 that used to compete in the Admiral’s Cup, the Swan 55 yawl Lulotte, and the US-owned S&S 49 Hiro Maru. 

Designed by Sparkman & Stephens and launched in 1971, aluminium-hulled Hiro Maru previously raced as Scaramouche when she secured second in the 1972 SORC and won class in the 1977 Transpac under previous owners.

Current owner Hiroshi Nakajima has logged over 20,000 miles competing in the Newport-Bermuda eight times and winning class in the 2019 Transatlantic Race. Nakajima believes the boat is tough enough for most offshore conditions: “This boat is built well (by the Palmer Johnson boatyard). It’s a period boat from the late 1960s/early 1970s when they were building rugged aluminium boats.

Another American boat taking advantage of competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race while on this side of the Atlantic is Momentum, a Hinckley Sou’wester 51 from Newport, Rhode Island. Skipper Paul Kanev says sailing the Rolex Fastnet Race will be “a dream and, as our yacht is in the UK, a unique opportunity“. Although the crew have huge experience, having raced six Bermuda Races together, they’re keeping their Fastnet goals modest: “Having fun, a safe finish and finishing better than dead last‘”. While they might not be expecting to win IRC Two, with three paediatric neurosurgeons and an intensive care nurse on board, you can probably believe Kanev when he says, “Medically we are prepared for anything!” 

While Kanev has 63 years of sailing experience, Zeb Fellows has less, because he’s only 16 years old. However, he and his father Dan have already been enjoying some good success on their Sun Fast 3300 Orbit. “Just less than a month before the Rolex Fastnet Race now and it’s a busy one,” said Zeb, who has already completed the Cervantes Trophy and De Guingand Bowl this season and picked up fourth place in class at the Myth of Malham. 

We are competing in the European Doublehanded Offshore Championships. This includes two races, La Trinité-Cowes and the Cowes-Dinard. We would like to be near the top in the doublehanded fleet and would be pleased to be up there as we have only had the boat this year. We need to learn to sail faster in the lighter airs upwind as that is our weakness. We are more confident in the heavier breezes, but hopefully these next two races will help us bridge the gap. Whatever we do, we always aim to leave everything on the race course

We are very excited for the Fastnet, and especially me because it’s my first ever, although I am quite apprehensive as its quite a long one with such challenging coastlines. But I’m confident that we can fight towards the front of the doublehanded fleet, even if we’re talking about a mind-blowing 100 entries! I know I’m super lucky to be doing this so young and I can’t wait.

There’s another father and son combo in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet, Peter and Duncan Bacon. They have had an action-packed season already this year, starting with a two-handed assault on the RORC Transatlantic Race, followed by a fully crewed RORC Caribbean 600. With son Duncan in between finishing university and starting a job in the Royal Navy, Peter wanted to grab the chance to race a Rolex Fastnet Race with his son while the opportunity was there.

Another family affair in the 3300 fleet is the husband and wife team of Justin and Christina Wolfe. Their boat is called Red Ruby after the name of the smallest octopus in the Salish Sea; their home waters in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Coached by offshore veteran and Olympic gold medallist Jonathan McKee, the Wolfes could be a force to be reckoned with, even if this is their first time racing in the Rolex Fastnet Race. “We have learned how good the doublehanded fleet in this region is,” says Christina who has been racing with her husband for almost 30 years. “It’ll be a race like no other; a start line with over a hundred boats will be plenty challenging. After that, it will either be the weather or tides that present the most challenges.”

Ben Palmer and his co-skipper Sam Eversfield first raced each other in Topper dinghies at Island Barn Reservoir in West London. Now they are racing together on the Sun Fast 3300 Surf in what will be Palmer’s first Rolex Fastnet Race and Eversfield’s second. A national champion in the RS200 dinghy fleet, Palmer tried his hand racing Mini 6.50s in France, so he should be well prepared for the rigours of the Fastnet in the bigger Sun Fast 3300. “We are most looking forward to being offshore for five days,” says Palmer. “Experiencing the elements, pushing ourselves and enjoying the sunrises and sunsets. We are just excited for the challenge and the enjoyment of sailing this great boat, navigating the coast of UK, Ireland and France.

I see the course broken down into three parts, and all of them can be challenging depending on conditions. Challenge No.1 is getting out of the English Channel, navigating the tidal gates and being in good shape for the Irish Sea. Challenge No.2 is the Irish Sea crossing up to and around the Rock. Challenge No.3 is back to Cherbourg and the difficult tides into the finish.

In the Sun Fast 3600 fleet, Rob Craigie and Deb Fish will be among the favourites. Together on Bellino they lead the 2023 Two-Handed leaderboard in the RORC Season’s Points Championship. For a team that finished second overall in last year’s Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, a 695-miler should seem quite straightforward, and having stood on the podium in past editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race there’s no reason to doubt they could do it again this year.

The British Armed Forces are fielding two boats in the Sun Fast 3600 fleet. The Royal Naval Sailing Association is entering a team in Yoyo, and the British Army is entering Fujitsu British Soldier, skippered by Major Henry Foster, a former Volvo Keelboat Squad member and regular on the yacht when she was known as Redshift. The team is competitive, winning the RORC Season’s Points Championship in 2018 with their X-41. Now, with the Sun Fast 3600, the team have achieved solid results and have started the season strongly with a second class win in the Cervantes Trophy Race. 

Experienced dinghy racer Alastair Bisson is loving his foray into offshore competition. He can’t wait to race the Sun Fast 3600 Killing Time in his first Rolex Fastnet Race. With a fairly inexperienced team from Guernsey he’s trying to manage expectations, considering this more of an adventure than a race this time round. “The start will be amazing but we’re inveterate rock-hoppers – Guernsey has more than its fair share – so we’re looking forward to Portland Bill and the rest of the south coast tidal challenges. If all else fails we’re sure to enjoy the party in Cherbourg, traditionally an area we excel in!

It’s also inevitable that we’ll take some wrong turns on the race course, call the wrong shifts or find tide that wasn’t supposed to be there. Keeping the team motivated after one of those is also going to be a big challenge, but we’ve fought or way back before so we know what’s possible.

The JPK 1080 has strong credentials in the Rolex Fastnet Race after Géry Trentesaux’s Courrier Du Leon won the race overall in 2015. This year Sam White’s class victory at the Myth of Malham makes Mzungu! one of the favourites. Similarly a JPK 1030 has won IRC Two Handed in the last two races and this time there are a few strong European entries to watch out for. Christian Teichmann’s Germany entry, Vela Roja, and Astrid de Vin’s Il Corvo from the Netherlands both performed well at the Myth of Malham. But top of the JPK 1030s in that race was third-placed Foggy Dew from France, which also won IRC Two at the Morgan Cup in June as well as taking third overall. 

RORC veteran skipper Noel Racine, a multiple past class winner in both the Rolex Fastnet Race and the RORC Season’s Points Championships, is satisfied with his build-up to the big one. “The preparation of Foggy Dew for the Rolex Fastnet Race is now complete. Our qualifications are done and the boat is ready despite a few more details, as there always are. As for the race, there are so many great competitors in our class that our chances of doing very well are very difficult to assess. The outcome of the race depends on the weather. My preference would be for mixed conditions with some transitions, but we will do our best whatever the weather.

Prime Suspect is a 1997-vintage design that made quite a splash in its original guise as Quokka IV. A proven performer over the years, she was bought by a Wexford syndicate headed up by Irish farmer Keith Miller. “We aim to be competitive in our class,” says Miller. “This is our third time doing the race. My crew was so excited in 2021 racing Andante [a Yamaha 36], that we pooled together to buy Prime Suspect and up our game!” 

Lowest rated boat in IRC Two is Black Betty, a 2022-built Dehler 30OD skippered by Ian Griffiths. He’s hoping for plenty of opportunity to fly big headsails downwind. “Black Betty is the only Dehler 30 in the UK and when the wind points in the right direction – aft of the beam – can punch well above her weight. Getting up on the plane in flat seas, warm breeze and great visibility,” enthuses Griffiths. “It’s going to happen, right? If not, then probably, the first cold beer in Cherbourg followed by a very long hot shower!

The complexity of the course, along with the unique blend of natural beauty, technical challenges, and the spirit of competition contribute to the allure and excitement of the Rolex Fastnet Race,” continues Griffiths. “I know we will cherish the memories and experiences gained as we navigate these remarkable stretches of water and conquer the many challenges along the way.”

While for the majority of IRC Two competitors the race will be the longest race of their lives, for skipper Campbell Mackie and the crew of Baltic 55 Outlaw it is a mere warm-up for the Ocean Globe Race around the world. With a team name of Spirit of Adelaide, a number of the crew are alumni from the Clipper Race, so they’re well acquainted with covering huge distances. So is the boat, as Outlaw was originally known as Equity & Law when she took part in the 1985/86 Whitbread Round the World Race. Among those on board is Dougie Mill, whose father Alistair Mill raced around the world on Equity & Law almost 40 years ago. “This will be the first time the Outlaw crew will race together and will be a great practice run for the Ocean Globe Race,” said Dougie. “We are looking forward to getting to know our boat better and how she can perform and the privilege of sailing in such an iconic race. One to tick off the bucket list!

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