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Celebrating Fastnet and J/70 Worlds winners, New Zealand SailGP suspended

by David Schmidt 17 Aug 16:00 BST August 17, 2021 08:00
IRC Two victory for Tom Kneen and his young team on the JPK 11.80 Sunrise - Rolex Fastnet Race © Paul Wyeth /

While this August has been marked with hot temperatures and wildfire smoke cross much of Canada and the USA, the significantly better news is that the sailing world has been delivering some hot action of its own, starting with the world's biggest offshore sailboat race.

The biennial Rolex Fastnet Race regularly attracts starting fleets that exceed 400 vessels, often "selling out" all entry slots in minutes from the time that registration opens. The storied regatta tests entrants with a course that can deliver a wide range of conditions as sailors race from the starting line, off of Cowes in the UK, and around Fastnet Rock, before swinging their bows east-southeast to a finishing line off of Cherbourg, France for a distance of 695 nautical miles (this latter bit is a first for this offshore classic, which historically started and finished in Plymouth for a distance of 608 nautical miles).

This year's Fastnet Race began on August 8 and saw the fleet start in rough conditions that promptly probed each team's weakest links.

Few readers will be surprised to learn that the first boat to cross the finishing line was a mighty Ultime trimaran, namely the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, which established a record elapsed time of just one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 54 seconds for the new course. Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winning skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier; she was followed across the finishing line by fellow Ultime trimarans Actual, which posted an elapsed time of one day, 18 hours, 41 minutes and 22 seconds, and Sodebo Ultim 3, which posted an elapsed time of one day, 20 hours, 16 minutes and 36 seconds.

While these were impressive finishing times for the big trimarans, it's fair to say that the eyes of the sailing world were particularly locked onto IRC Z class, where Dmitry Rybolovlev's ClubSwan 125 Skorpios made her racecourse debut. The giant, "distinctively" ("unique"?) painted monohull is the biggest Swan ever built, and while her graphics scheme may be questionable to some, no one is doubting her ability to take line honors in serious offshore contests.

Swan bills the Juan K designed 125-foot monohull as the world's fastest, and while these are still early days for the giant sloop, her monohull line-honors time of just two days, eight hours, 35 minutes and five seconds is an auspicious start to her racing career.

"We're very pleased with the boat, the team was great," said Rybolovlev, a Russian national who is new to sailing, in an official event press release. "We want to thank the whole team for such great efforts. We were trying to stay conservative, especially in the high wind at the start, but we're excited to see what the boat can do in future races. Rounding the Fastnet Rock was kind of magical, it felt like a really special moment."

Skorpios may be Russian-owned, but she is raced by a highly skilled and largely Spanish crew that was led by skipper (and Olympic gold medalist) Fernando Echavarri.

"The boat is very strong, we backed off on speed coming out of the Solent, but so was everyone else," said Echavarri in the same release. "We had an idea of what the boat might be able to do, but we didn't know for sure, so we learned a lot on this race."

The next monohull to cross the finishing line was the Volvo Open 70 I Love Poland, which posted an elapsed time of two days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 8 seconds.

Given the rough conditions that greeted the fleet at the race's onset, it's not surprising to see a significant number of "DNFs" in the results. Sadly, for American-flagged interests, George David's Rambler 88 ended up with a "NSC" ("Did not sail the course") for a navigational mistake.

Once the finishing guns fell silent and the calculators were put away until 2023, Thomas Kneen and his crew aboard his JPK 1180 Sunrise (GBR888X) won IRC overall with an elapsed time of three days, 21 hours, 24 minutes and 43 seconds (the team's corrected time was four days, six hours, 45 minutes and 11 seconds). Impressively, this marks the first time a British skipper has won the race since 2003, when Charles Dunstone's maxi Nokia Enigma claimed corrected-time honors.

"I've had 24 hours to reflect on the race after we finished yesterday, and it really is all about the people, the amazing team that sailed with me, and my incredible partner Francesca who has done so much to make this happen," said Keen in an official press release.

Like Rybolovlev, Kneen is relatively new to offshore sailing. While Keen had raced the Fastnet in 2015, 2021 proved to be a whole different animal for his highly capable crew of 20- and 30-somethings.

"It doesn't really matter what level in the fleet you're at," said Keen. "As long as you have a good crew, and the right support, then you can win your class. And if you can win the class, you can win overall, although that depends on things like tidal gates, wind conditions, things that are much more in the hands of the gods, I think."

Conditions may have been boisterous in this year's Fastnet, but the Pacific Ocean (for once) lived up to its moniker at the J/70 Worlds, which were hosted by the California Yacht Club, in Marina del Rey, California, from August 7-15.

While races were lost to a dearth of wind on some days, the RC managed to score eight races, which was enough for Peter Duncan, who was sailing with Willem van Waay, Morgan Trubovich, and Victor Diaz de Leon aboard his Relative Obscurity, to claim top honors. Duncan and company were joined on the winner's podium by skipper Bruce Golison's Midlife Crisis crew and Laura Grondin's Dark Energy squad.

Impressively, Duncan also won the J/70 Worlds in 2017, a performance that also earned him the title (and timepiece) of US Sailing's 2017 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.

"I'm elated!" said Duncan in an official regatta press release. "That was a tough day out there. We didn't start very well but had a bit of a break with a header on the first run of the second race that let us get close to everybody and sail through some folks we need to sail through."

As for Relative Obscurity's keys to success, Duncan pointed to his crew. "We have a lot of fun onboard - joke and laugh and keep it light - and that worked in our favor when we had to grind through. Everybody knows what their job is, and these guys do them exceptionally well."

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, last weekend marked the debut of the inaugural Safe Harbor Race Weekend (August 13-15), which unfurled on the waters of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay. Racing was scored in the performance cruising spinnaker, performance cruising non-spinnaker, PHRF C, PHRF B, PHRF A, ORC and superyacht classes, and crews were tested in both medium (Saturday) and light (Sunday) airs.

"We managed to survive," said Richard Barker, who is the skipper of Hawk, an Evelyn 32, which finished just astern of Chris Tate's Blitz in PHRF C class, which (with nine boats) was the regatta's single biggest class, of Sunday's light-air conditions. "It was not your normal race start. It was on an outgoing tide inside the channel with spinnakers up. If you were on starboard at the start you had to jibe to port almost immediately to make it under the bridge."

(See a pre-event interview on the 2021 Safe Harbor Race Weekend with Veronica Brown, Safe Harbor Marinas' director of experiences.)

Finally, news recently broke that the New Zealand SailGP event, scheduled for January 28-29, 2022, has been put on hold as a result of a decision by the New Zealand Government to refuse to allocate 170 spots in the country's Managed Isolation Quarantine for SailGP athletes and personnel.

"The reality is that it is most likely cancelled, but we are still working through what [the NZ Govt decision] does mean," said Karl Budge, SailGP's Event Director, in an interview with Sail-World's New Zealand editor Richard Gladwell.

While this is bad news for New Zealand and its economy, as well as for SailGP, this postponement/cancellation is yet another warning shot to the world that we can expect more disappointments, frustrations, and sadly, tragedies, until the wretched pandemic is globally defeated.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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