The 2013 Rolex Fastnet fleet leaving the Solent. Image: Rolex-Kurt Arrigo
The Royal Ocean Racing Club, race founder and organiser of the Rolex Fastnet Race, has said that the fleet that will contest the 2017 edition looks set to be the largest and most diverse in offshore racing history.
The facts unanimously back up the statement. The near 400 yachts registered for the 47th running of the 605nm race represent a record number of participants. Crews will hail from 29 nations, another landmark figure. From multihull to monohulls, cutting-edge design to classic, professional racers to Corinthian-crewed, 115-feet to 30-feet, the fleet of competing yachts reflects the full scope of the sport.
Offshore racing is currently enjoying a wave of popularity. On its opening in January, the Rolex Fastnet entry list was filled within an incredible four minutes, 24 seconds. This popularity extends beyond northern Europe; the biennial Rolex Fastnet forms part of a triumvirate of 600-nm offshore races partnered by the Swiss watchmaker, which includes October’s 606-nm resurgent Rolex Middle Sea Race and the irrepressible, iconic 628-nm Rolex Sydney Hobart starting on 26 December.
The democratic nature of offshore racing ensures that whoever is crowned winner of the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race in Plymouth on 11 August will be determined not by whomever has the most resources, but by how skilfully and effectively those resources are employed in the prevailing weather conditions.
The starting signal for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race will sound in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron’s magnificent clubhouse in Cowes on 6 August. The first few hours of the race are compelling to watch. In the main fleet, the smallest yachts start first, with the largest and fastest yachts starting over an hour later. As they progress westward through The Solent, the sight of Maxis negotiating the same tight body of water as slower yachts, captures, in a moment, the event’s broad appeal.
As participants then embark on the passage down the English Channel to the open waters of the Celtic Sea, the race becomes a more solitary experience. Each Rolex Fastnet Race is testimony to the unpredictability of the weather conditions. This changeable component is another enduring part of the contest’s overall appeal. The flickering beam of the Fastnet lighthouse off the southern coast of Ireland provides a welcome juncture. The emblematic landmark heralds the race’s virtual halfway point and the beginning of the final leg to Plymouth.
The Rolex Fastnet has always been a magnet for international crews, and in 2017, over 40% of entrants are expected to come from overseas. A significant proportion will come from France, a country renowned for its offshore racing heritage.
In recent years, French yachts have dominated the standings under IRC handicap. The past two winners of the race – the doublehanded crew of Pascal and Alexis Loison on Night and Day in 2013 and Géry Trentesaux’s JPK 10.80, Courrier Du Leon in 2015 – hailed from across the English Channel.
The large French contingent will be joined by yachts from across the globe including Chilean entrant Equinoccio, a family-crewed Swan 57. The United States has a strong race pedigree having provided 11 overall winners over the race’s 92-year history. George David is a regular presence at the event and his Rambler 88 will be one of the contenders for both monohull line honours and the overall win. Among her rivals will be Ludde Ingvall’s recently revamped CQS, an Australian entry that contested the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart. Ingvall has a close affinity with the race. His success with Nicorette in 1995 is significant – it is the last time a yacht achieved line honours and overall success in the same edition. Asia will be represented with entrants from China and Japan, and once again, a strong presence from Russia is also anticipated.
The largest entrant is the 115-ft British yacht Nikata with the smallest competitor expected to be 29.6-ft British-flagged Silver Shamrock owned by Stuart Greenfield. The presence of the 73-ft Sparkman & Stephens design, Kialoa II, the all-conquering Maxi and winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1971, will be a reminder of offshore racing prowess from a bygone era.
Among the fastest yachts, the multihulls will be looking to outperform the time of 32 hours, 48 minutes set by Banque Populaire V in 2011; while the leading monohulls will focus on Abu Dhabi’s record of 42 hours, 39 minutes set in the same year. For the overall winning monohull on handicap, the Fastnet Challenge Cup, a Rolex timepiece and a place in history await as rewards for their triumph. A compelling challenge, the Rolex Fastnet is an icon of its sport, a race that through its traditions, values and evolution perfectly embodies Rolex’s longstanding commitment to offshore racing.
Rolex has always sought to associate with activities that, like itself, are motivated by passion, excellence, precision and team spirit. Naturally, Rolex gravitated toward the elite world of sailing, forming an alliance that dates back to the late 1950s. Today, Rolex is Title Sponsor of some 15 major international events. From leading offshore races, such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race, through to the highest-level grand-prix competition at the Rolex TP52 World Championship, spectacular gatherings at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Swan Cup, as well as its close relationships with the most prestigious yacht clubs around the world such as the New York Yacht Club (US), the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (Italy) and the two clubs at the very heart of the Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex has established an enduring relationship with pinnacle of yachting.
Race organiser the Royal Ocean Racing Club, was founded in 1925 immediately after the conclusion of the first Fastnet Race. 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. The Royal Yacht Squadron, an exclusive and active club, celebrated its bicentenary in 2015 and has enjoyed a close partnership with Rolex since 1983. In recognition of its privileged relationship, and to mark the 200-year 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.
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