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Fast Rolex Fastnet Race – J Boats Report

The 605.0nm Rolex Fastnet Race, one of the most famous offshore races in the world, saw 340 teams take off from the equally famous Royal Yacht Squadron starting line to begin their epic adventure, fantastic voyage out around the iconic Fastnet Rock Lighthouse.

For all J/Crews, the big decision everyone had been strategizing for days was whether to go inshore or offshore. The debate raged, but very experienced offshore veterans of the race saw it quite clearly and, remarkably, were quite prescient in their forecasting.

Fastnet Race meteorologist Libby Greenhalgh (part of the famous Greenhalgh family that also sails and races the J/92 J’RONIMO) spelled out the options for everyone the afternoon before the start; it turned out she absolutely nailed it. “Over the first night, the crews will have to negotiate a ‘transition zone’ that will see the wind drop before filling in from the southwest. It appears the best option is to go offshore and south (to get to the new gradient pressure first), as always, also dependent on the state of the tide. Faster boats will tend to dig further south towards the Casquets TSS (Transportation Separation Scheme- a ‘no-go’ zone) and will be the most southerly,” continued Greenhalgh. “For everyone else it will be of more rhumb line or just south of the rhumb line route. The good news is that after that scenario unfolds, it becomes straightforward, with a reach across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock. Heading back to the Scilly Isles, it will be southwesterly or WSWerly winds and in pressure that will vary between 15-25 knots according to the timing.”

Even IRC Doublehanded navigator, Henry Bomby, was “spot-on” for the overall race strategy. “I did quite a bit of pre-race analysis and whenever an IRC Three or Four boat does well it is because they just make it through the tidal gate at Portland Bill,” said Bomby. “Normally you are upwind through there, but we’ll be straight line sailing. There appears to be more wind in the south where the transition is also shorter, but then you end up more upwind anyway. So, our route will take us quite close to the Casquets and we’ll be offshore for the transition, then tacking and getting lifted. After the transition, we’ll be fully upwind, pointing at Penzance, but then eventually getting lifted. That will be quite a tricky thing– when you start getting the new breeze filling in. The more west you get, the quicker you’ll get through it, but the chance of sailing extra miles because you overlay is quite high. That will be a critical part of the race. For boats in this size range the crossing of the Celtic Sea will still be a reach but in a more moderate 12-14 knots.”

In the final analysis, the biggest issue the navigators/ strategists faced was, in fact, the transition zone. Those further south and west faired much better than those north. In fact, the further south and west you got, the greater the gain. The winners were all well south of rhumbline when the WSW’er filled in.

In the IRC 1B division, Nick Angel’s J/121 ROCK LOBSTER managed a 7th in class despite not being one of the more southwesterly boats in their division.  The J/121 excelled in the fast, hard-reaching conditions from Fastnet Rock back to the Scilly Isles, past the TSS zones, and into the finish at Plymouth.

Not surprisingly, it was the dynamic French duo of Gilles Fournier & Corinne Migraine on their J/133 PINTIA that pulled off a very respectable fourth place in IRC 2A division. Frenchman Yves Grosjean’s J/133 JIVARO took 7th, Englishman Chris Daniel’s J/122E JUNO took eighth, and the French duet of Alain & Marie Catherineau sailed their J/122 LORELEI to ninth place. Notably, the J/133s were the top production cruiser/racers in the most competitive class.

The twin “flying Dutchmen” produced excellent results in IRC 2B division. The two J/122 teams are archrivals, great friends, and are extremely experienced offshore doublehanded racing teams.  The first doublehanded IRC team around Fastnet Rock was the infamous duo of Robin Verhoef & John van der Starre on their J/122E AJETO! They battled on to take second place and add yet more silver to their Fastnet Race trophy collection (having won their class in the past with their J/111!). Finishing close behind them were their friends Chris Revelman & Pascal Bakker on their J/11 JUNIQUE/ RAYMARINE SAILING TEAM, taking fourth place!  For more Rolex Fastnet Race sailing information