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Rolex Fastnet Race: The challenge intensifies

by Quinag 5 Aug 06:58 BST 8-14 August 2021
Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi

A substantial fleet of more than 300 yachts is set to compete in the 49th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The entry list is evidence once again of the illustrious status and widespread appeal of the event, which starts from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in England on Sunday 8 August.

Rolex this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its partnership with the biennial competition and its organizers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC). The offshore race is one of the cornerstones of the brand's enduring association with the sport of sailing.

Since 1925, when seven yachts first competed and the winning entry, Jolie Brise, took nearly a week to complete the course, the Rolex Fastnet has constantly adapted to the times, developing a revered position as a standard bearer in yachting. Over the decades the feats of intrepid competitors have built the legend, supported by the RORC's continuing dedication to deliver the highest standards of race management and ensure it caters for an ever-increasing interest.

An inspiring and often gruelling challenge, nothing can be left to chance. Preparation needs to be total and teamwork exemplary, while all physical and mental demands must be embraced. Only with the strongest will, the keenest experience and a sharp intuition can crews overcome factors such as the prevailing winds, currents and sea state. Paul Cayard, a Rolex Testimonee and winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race, has experienced the race's unique character on several occasions since his debut in 1993. He believes it to be one the most complete tests in offshore racing:

"The Rolex Fastnet is a rite of passage for any sailor. Throughout the race you are exposed to the elements and some of the world's most challenging and ferocious waters. The course has a raw beauty and is a stringent test of seamanship, demanding full focus, concentration and determination. On crossing the finishing line, your sense of achievement is tangible."

As part of the process of evolution, this year's race will finish at Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France, rather than the traditional end point, the port of Plymouth on the south coast of England. RORC race director Chris Stone explains:

"Despite difficulties caused by the pandemic, we are excited by the prospect of finishing in Cherbourg. The town's impressive facilities allow the club to accommodate a greater number of competitors. The entry list is an incredible array of boats and crews, from the fastest and most professional to the more Corinthian. The nature of the challenge, though, is unchanged, with most yachts facing two or more nights at sea and a mix of challenging conditions."

Like the challenge, much of the course remains the same. The start is a line set off the imperious Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS), another long-time partner of Rolex. Crews will head west through the Solent, before a long passage along the English Channel to Land's End, passing noted landmarks such as The Needles and Portland Bill. A long and sometimes brutal leg awaits. Crossing the open waters of the Celtic Sea to the iconic Fastnet Rock, the race's eponymous symbol off the southern coast of Ireland, is often into the teeth of an Atlantic weather system. The imposing rock and lighthouse are a welcome sight whatever the time of day. Following a typically exhilarating leg back to the Isles of Scilly, for the first time the fleet will then turn towards the French coast, where new tidal challenges come into play, particularly between Alderney and Cap de la Hague just before Cherbourg. The alteration to the finish has lengthened the course to 695 nautical miles (1,287 kilometres), some 87 nautical miles (161 kilometres) longer than recent editions.

The fleet for the 2021 Rolex Fastnet is truly global in its composition, with yachts representing 31 countries. The largest registered entrant is Skorpios, a ClubSwan 125 measuring 42.62 metres (139.83 feet); the smallest yachts are a mere 9.33m (31ft). The fastest monohull and multihull yachts from 2019 return. Two years ago, the French trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild clinched the multihull victory just metres from the finish, while George David's United States maxi Rambler 88 secured the monohull title. Both crews will encounter stiff competition in their quest to repeat their success.

Claiming the race's main prize, overall victory under IRC handicap and the Fastnet Challenge Cup, marks a level of achievement hard to quantify. The varied roll of honour is united by skill, dedication and fortitude. Winning skippers in this year's fleet include Frenchman Didier Gaudoux, hoping to reprise his 2017 performance with Lann Ael 2.

For nearly a century, the Rolex Fastnet has set the highest standards of excellence in offshore sailing. It is a challenge that inspires sailors of all backgrounds. Rolex has enjoyed an affinity with human achievement from its earliest days, and is proud to support a sporting contest that continues to unite like few others, one that mirrors its own Perpetual spirit: humbly adapting to the elements, constantly seeking to improve and summoning one's deepest resources.

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