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Rolex Fastnet Race MOCRA class - Rise of the 50 footers

by James Boyd 18 Jul 2023 10:58 BST 22 July 2023
Roland Jourdain will be racing the customised Outremer 59 We Explore in Saturday's Rolex Fastnet Race © Royal Ocean Racing Club

Much of the media oxygen in this year's special 50th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Rolex Fastnet Race will again be on the battle at the front of the fleet between the two 30m Ultime trimarans, Banque Populaire XI and SVR-Lazartigue, skippered respectively by Vendée Globe winners Armel le Cléac'h and François Gabart, or the close competition between the Ocean Fifty trimarans.

Another growth area in this year's record-sized fleet (currently standing at 460 entries) are the larger fast cruising catamarans in the MOCRA (Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association) class. While conceptually not new, their popularity has swelled recently thanks to some strong French manufacturers, such as Gunboat, Marsaudon Composites and Outremer. Also, that you can race your luxury floating apartment - complete with your own ensuite cabin - preposterously fast, has attracted several more 'experienced' racers, including former IMOCA and ORMA 60/MOD70 skippers Roland Jourdain and Marc Guillemot.

Jourdain, best known for his two IMOCA class victories in the Route du Rhum, will be racing the customised Outremer 59 We Explore. He set up the Explore Foundation to back maritime projects helping in the transition towards a more sustainable future, including an expedition in the wake of Charles Darwin, comparing biodiversity today to 200 years ago and another developing plastic collection and recycling. While Jourdain's catamaran has been built from the moulds of an Outremer 59 catamaran, it is groundbreaking in that 50% of its laminate is flax fibre (linseed).

"The first step is to show that natural fibres can be accepted technology for sailing, so our goal was not to make a real racing boat. It was a step to use a big boatyard to show that it is possible," explains Jourdain. Aboard We Explore he finished second in last autumn's Route du Rhum, but apart from racing he uses the catamaran as a platform to take sailing those to whom he hopes to spread his message. Among his Rolex Fastnet Race crew for example will be five French youth sailors whom he will introduce to offshore racing as well as sustainability.

As to the Rolex Fastnet Race, he says the attraction is the sheer scale of the event. "It is so cool to participate. It is part of our life. It is a big pleasure and I have less pressure than I used to have!" Jourdain admits his first participation in the race came late. "After 1979, my parents forbade me to do it, even though I had several offers. They were very afraid." His first were in the 2000s in the IMOCA and MOD70 classes - this year's race, he reckons, will be his fifth or sixth.

By coincidence We Explore's closest competition is likely to be American Ken Howery's Gunboat 68 Tosca, on which another former IMOCA skipper is racing in Britain's Alex Thomson, along with former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Neal McDonald. 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of Thomson finishing second in the Transat Jacques Vabre with Jourdain aboard the latter's Sill.

Another French offshore racing legend, who was third behind Jourdain in last year's Route du Rhum, is former Safran skipper Marc Guillemot, campaigning the 52ft catamaran Wellness Training/MG5. Wellness Training use the boat for management training purposes or business seminars, but the boat also carries a sustainability message, having been constructed using some recycled parts like the mast, rudders and daggerboards from former IMOCAs belonging to Jean le Cam, Jérémie Beyou and Damien Seguin; the trampoline from Spindrift; the running and standing rigging from Gitana, Maserati and the Safran IMOCA; and electronics from a Figaro 3.

Racing against these two will be German Gorm Iver Gondersen on his electric lime green 57ft Roger Hill-designed catamaran Nica, launched last year as the replacement for his electric lime green 63ft Finot monohull of the same name.

Also racing 50-footers are Loïc Escoffier on Lodigroup, Gwen Chapalain on Guyader Saveol and Timo Tavio on Calamity - all three lightweight, high performance ORC50 catamarans from manufacturer Marsaudon Composites. Notably, Escoffier won this class ahead of Jourdain in last autumn's Route du Rhum, continuing his family's dynasty - his father Franck-Yves enjoyed similar success as skipper of the Multi50 trimaran Crepes Whaou!

Pharmacist Jean-François Lilti is racing a carbon fibre KKG Novara catamaran Victorinox, today based in Cherbourg. Built in 2007 this is an older catamaran that once raced as a Multi50. In 2020 her bows were replaced, extending her to 58ft LOA. Another former Multi50, a trimaran from 2002, is the Pulsar 50, Rayon Vert, skippered by Oren Nataf. Despite her age, Rayon Vert is still notching up strong results - first home in the RORC Transatlantic Race in 2021 and second in the MOCRA class in the last Rolex Fastnet Race.

In fact the Rolex Fastnet Race MOCRA podium from 2021 is back, including Vincent Willemart's TS42 Banzai, which was third last time. Also from Marsaudon Composites, the TS42 is smaller brother to the ORC 50.

However all eyes will be on the largest MOCRA class entry, Adrian Keller's 82ft Irens catamaran, Allegra, back to defend her MOCRA class title from 2021, again with an all-star cast led by the fastest sailor on the planet, Australian Paul Larsen.

Allegra's bread and butter are the world's leading offshore races and she has recently arrived in the UK fresh from having competed in the Round Gotland, during which she set a new personal best top speed of 35.5 knots. "The Rolex Fastnet Race is the big one - I'd say out of all the 600s it is the one he places most weight on," says Larsen of Adrian Keller's race programme. "Allegra is constantly improving and being upgraded. She has a new set of sails which are an improvement. The boat is sailed very well and cleanly and we are getting to the point where we're only making small gains." For example, Allegra's centreboards now can be raised flush with the hull and they have removed weight by only using day tanks.

Those believing Allegra may be a stripped-out cruising boat, will need to reappraise. Responding to this Larsen usually invites people to inspect the fully stocked 'sauce drawer' in Allegra's well-appointed galley. "While you are surfing down waves at 30 knots, you are literally sitting on a couch looking at it through a window - a pretty edgy couch admittedly! It is like watching a tornado about to envelope your house!"

Despite her size and 30 tonne weight, Allegra's crew is not afraid of driving hard. The day before the big breeze start of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, Allegra was one of the few boats walking the course. Come start time this enabled her to blast out past the Needles in the near gale force conditions. She has since raced in worse conditions. As to this year's race, Larsen reckons they will have a good battle with Tosca as well as some of the IMOCAs, as they did last time.

Three smaller trimarans are racing. No major offshore race is complete without a small yellow trimaran with banana-shaped hulls. Very much akin to Charlie Capelle with his Acapella trimaran, this year French boat builder and Class40 pioneer Thierry Roger has entered his 39ft Newick, BlackCap. Unlike the original Dick Newick trimarans, she is relatively new, having been built in 2006. While they were typically built in wood using the WEST System, BlackJack was built in carbon/foam sandwich. She will be racing two Shuttleworth trimarans, Andrew Fennell's 2018 all-carbon 39-footer Morpheus, winner of the Royal Western YC's doublehanded Round Britain and Ireland Race last year, and Jonathan McColl's 34ft Shockwave.

Meanwhile RORC race regular James Holder returns for his third Rolex Fastnet Race since launching in 2017 his Dazcat 1295 catamaran Slinky Malinki (named after the cartoon cat in a series of children's books). "We enjoy it, it is a real favourite of the crew," says Holder of the Rolex Fastnet Race. "It is a classic and the new finish to Cherbourg is great. Last year we had a blast - we covered 170 miles in 10 hours." Respectable for a 42ft cruiser-racer. "We are really strong in 8-14 knots, but when it starts to get really breezy the big boats do well. The reason we do this is that sense of satisfaction and achievement of completing a Rolex Fastnet Race, especially on a multihull."

Slinky Malinki is one of cluster of multihulls based close to Cowes in Fishbourne, location of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, where, appropriately, the start was given for the first Fastnet Race back in 1925.

The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race starts from Cowes, Isle of Wight on Saturday 22nd July. For further information, please go to the Rolex Fastnet Race website:

Race entry list here.

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