Meet the Rolex Fastnet’s youngest entrant
Zoë d’Ornano – the 12-year-old daughter of Malaysia-born Lay Koon Tan – is set to become the Rolex Fastnet Race’s youngest competitor in August when she competes with her parents on one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s two Challenger 72s in a record 450-plus entry list.
Zoë d’Ornano is helping raise funds for the Tall Ships Youth Trust
Just 12 years of age, Zoë d’Ornano is so far the youngest competitor entered in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, with organisers stating she would become the youngest-ever entrant in the biennial race, which was first held in 1925 with seven boats. Zoë will sail with her parents in a 16-strong crew on one of the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s two Challenger 72s entered in this year’s race.
This year’s edition is set to break the record for entries, with over 450 boats already signed up for the 695nm race that will start from Cowes off England south coast on August 8, round the Fastnet Rock in Irish waters, and finish for the first time in Cherbourg on France’s north coast.
Zoë holds both British and French passports, but has Asian parentage on her mother’s side. Lay Koon Tan is the co-founder of Nature Squared, a London-based company founded in 2000 that specialises in bespoke luxury surfaces made with sustainable materials such as egg shells, bamboo, mother of pearl, tobacco leaves and reeds, with superyachts among the most significant clients.
Zoë is the daughter of Malaysia-born Lay Koon Tan
Tan was born and raised in Malaysia and educated in Singapore, moving to the UK at the age of 12 to attend boarding school before developing a career in the finance industry. She met Philippe d’Ornano in London while they were colleagues at Arthur Andersen and the pair married in 2000.
Philippe, now Partner, Global Financial Services at EY (Ernst & Young), is an experienced sailor and in late 2019 became a Trustee on the Tall Ships Youth Trust Board. Zoë is now helping to raise funds for the Tall Ships Youth Trust after her father confirmed with race organiser Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) that his 12-year-old daughter would be allowed to join him on a 72ft Challenger this year.
Zoë, a keen dinghy sailor with experience of crewing while cruising with family and friends, will use the race to help raise funds for a Trust that since 1956 has provided life-changing experiences at sea for disadvantaged young people from the ages of 12 to 25.
Zoë will be among 16 crew on the 72ft Challenger
Philippe is excited that Zoë will sail with both her parents in a diverse crew led by Sue Geary, a skipper on Tall Ships’ sailing staff, and featuring several notable yacht designers.
“It will be a great adventure for her. Zoë is the same age as the youngest kids who sail on these boats with the Tall Ships Youth Trust and the Challenger 72 is a strong ocean-going vessel built in steel,” said Philippe, a rock climber, RYA yacht master, PADI scuba diving instructor and qualified Swiss skiing instructor.
“Sailing in a large team at sea builds character, as we’ve seen with the Trust. Zoë is a qualified PADI diver and a competitive, county-level swimmer and we’ll be doing some training and races before the Fastnet.”
The Tall Ships Youth Trust is the UK’s oldest and largest sail training charity, having sailed over 2 million nm with over 120,000 trainees in the past six decades and is “dedicated to enabling young people to fulfil their life potential through adventures at sea”.
Zoë is an experienced dinghy sailor, swimmer and scuba diver
The trainees are typically given responsibility for a wide range of activities on board including cooking, cleaning, setting the sails, taking the helm and learning to read charts. While on board, they are assigned to watches, working in shifts to complete duties through the day and night.
Zoë’s fundraising aim is to help at least 12 disadvantaged young people take part in a potentially life-changing voyage with the Tall Ships Youth Trust.
“I love the water. Swimming, sailing and diving have taught me independence and to respond to natural conditions. I’ve been extremely lucky in having already had many experiences at my age and I realise that many kids have never had these opportunities,” Zoë states on her fundraising page (CLICK HERE).
“My family and I hope to give young people a chance to enjoy sailing as much as I do and learn important life skills from the experience. I’m excited by the challenge of being the youngest-ever person to take part in such an iconic sailing race as the Rolex Fastnet Race. I’m also excited to support Tall Ships Youth Trust with their important work at the same time.”
The course will again round the Fastnet Rock (pictured) before finishing in Cherbourg for the first time; Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon – a multiple Rolex Fastnet competitor – is among recent supporters of the charitable organisation, sailing and teaching on a 72ft Challenger after the yacht completed its six-leg Round UK Sailing Challenge in 2018.
TV historian Dan Snow is another high-profile supporter, publicly helping with fundraising last year having sailed with the organisation when he was a teenager.
Many other yachts and competitors are using the event to raise awareness for charities and causes including British Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies, who has entered her Initiatives Coeur in the
13-strong IMOCA class.
Sam Davies will raise funds for Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque; Photo: Initiatives Coeur
Davies will be continuing her extraordinary fundraising efforts supporting the French charity Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque either through direct donations or from her three sponsors, each of whom donates €1 whenever a member of the public clicks ‘Like’ on the Initiatives Coeur Facebook or Instagram pages.
The charity saves children from poor countries who are born with heart defects by bringing them to France to be operated on. Every €12,000 raised saves one child’s life. During her Vendée Globe, Sam’s fundraising efforts saved an incredible 103 children.
“Every time I look up and I’m having a bad day, it reminds me what I am really out there doing this for,” Davies says. “It is pretty motivating.”
Dee Caffari and James Harayda will sail on his Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, Gentoo; Photo: Paul Wyeth / PWPictures.com
Meanwhile, the race features a record number of entries in the IRC Two Handed class including two of Britain’s most famous female sailors. Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions, will sail with James Harayda on his Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 Gentoo, winner of last year’s IRC Two Handed Nationals.
Shirley Robertson, the double Olympic gold medallist turned TV presenter, will compete with Henry Bomby, the Volvo Ocean Race and Figaro sailor who finished second in IRC Two Handed in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race when he sailed with Hannah Diamond. Robertson will race with Bomby on a new Sun Fast 3300, having only taken up double-handed offshore racing last season.
“I really enjoy it,” Robertson said. “It came at the right time as I was ready for something ‘different but similar’. I was a bit undecided what to do and where to go, so this really fitted the bill. I’m impressed by Henry. We get on well and I enjoyed the boat from the get-go. It was small enough that I could do everything physically on it. I instantly felt I could make the boat go fast.”
Shirley Robertson will sail with Henry Bomby on a Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300; Photo: Tim Butt / Vertigo Films
This will be Robertson’s third Rolex Fastnet Race, having previously competed on Ludde Ingvall’s maxi Nicorette and with fellow Olympian Ian Walker on Eamonn Conneely’s TP52 Patches.
“I’d done a bit of offshore, but generally I steered or trimmed the main, but on this [Sun Fast 3300] I’m busy all the time. Even when you sleep, you’re listening out for the call to come and help up on deck. And there are periods when you’re on your own – or sort of on your own – at night on deck, looking for ships, trying to keep your numbers up and keeping the big idea of where you’re going next.
“I enjoy the intensity of it and the real partnership. We have to look after each other and work together and be honest if the boat isn’t going well or if you feel nervous about something.”
Despite winning the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, Didier Gaudoux admits he’s struggling to plan his preparation for this year’s edition, which has over 400 entries.