Rolex Fastnet Race attracts strong IMOCA line-up
Starting in Cowes on July 22, this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race looks set to feature over half of the entrants for next year’s Vendee Globe.
IMOCA 60s in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race; Photo: Paul Wyeth
Many of the IMOCA 60s due to compete in the next Vendée Globe starting in November 2024 will compete in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, now part of the IMOCA calendar and counting as qualifying miles for next year’s singlehanded non-stop round-the-world race.
In the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the IMOCAs will race doublehanded (with an extra media crewman). The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s flagship event starts in Cowes on July 22, with competitors sailing around the Fastnet Rock before finishing in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin in the north of France.
The IMOCA line-up includes at least eight brand-new boats, some of which will be racing for the first time, while a dozen of the 33 competitors from the last Vendée Globe – including all the podium finishers – have signed up. Organisers believe that the level of competition in the IMOCA class is so high that arguably half of the fleet could win the division.
Following a start-line collision that put him out of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, Vendée Globe winner Yannick Bestaven returns with his new Maître CoQ V, a Verdier design built from 11th Hour Racing’s moulds.
Since finishing third in the last Vendée Globe, Louis Burton has acquired the Manuard-designed former L’Occitane en Provence, the most scow-bowed of the last-generation IMOCAs. This he has rechristened Bureau Vallée, as all his boats have been since he was youngest skipper in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe.
Charlie Dalin won the IMOCA class in 2021, but will compete on MACIF this year; Photo: Kurt Arrigo / Rolex
Charlie Dalin returns to the Rolex Fastnet Race, having been first home in the last Vendée Globe, but relegated to second place after Bestaven received time compensation. In 2021, he demolished the IMOCA competition – his Apivia finished six hours ahead in this evenly matched class – and his 60-footer was even close to the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios at the Scilly Isles.
“After that the wind dropped and went right a bit, so we couldn’t foil any more,” Dalin recalled. “It was a regret, because if it hadn’t, I think we would have been able to pass them. In foiling mode, we were faster.”
This time Dalin is back with a new IMOCA, the Verdier-design MACIF, due to launch in June. “We’ve identified a few points of sail we wanted to improve, like downwind sailing in moderate-heavy seas and also to optimise the ergonomics of the boat using our experience of the last four years.”
The Rolex Fastnet Race will be the first race for the new MACIF. Dalin is a big fan of the event in which he holds an impressive track record. Aside from his 2021 victory, he won the Figaro doublehanded class in 2013 and came third in the IMOCA class in 2015.
“It will be exciting to start with the Fastnet. I am looking forward to exiting the Solent on the new boat with hundreds of other boats around.”
Sam Davies returns on the new Initiatives Coeur; Photo: Paul Wyeth
Britain has some strong IMOCA entries. All eyes will be on class veteran Sam Davies and her new Initiatives Coeur. Launched last year, Davies’ first new-build IMOCA is a Sam Manuard design, constructed from the moulds of L’Occitane en Provence. As ever, her campaign will use social media to raise funds for Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, a charity which undertakes heart operations for third-world children.
Britain’s Sam Goodchild and Thomas Ruyant recently launched the IMOCA class’s first two-boat campaign, a winning approach previously used in the America’s Cup and Whitbread Round the World Race. Their joint ‘For People and Planet’ campaign is backed by their respective sponsors Leyton and Advens, and both sailors will be on the start line in July.
Ruyant will skipper For People, a brand-new IMOCA designed by Finot-Conq and Antoine Koch, while Goodchild has inherited Ruyant’s former LinkedOut, a 2019 Persico-built Verdier design, now called For The Planet. LinkedOut won both the last Transat Jacques Vabre and last year’s Route du Rhum, and was sixth in the last Vendée Globe.
The Rolex Fastnet Race will be Goodchild’s first official IMOCA event in his new boat. For Goodchild, who comes from the Ocean Fifty class and most recently has been crewing on the Ocean Race leader Holcim – PRB, his IMOCA campaign has been a long time in the making since 2011 when he was the first Artemis Offshore Academy graduate to receive backing for a Figaro campaign.
Sam Goodchild will race on For The Planet; Photo: Pierre Bouras
“We took our time! I always wanted to do it well. I am happy to do it later and better,” said Goodchild, who has since competed in most major offshore events and won the Pro Sailing Tour with Leyton in his first season as skipper in 2021.
Goodchild has competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race many times, first on the Artemis IMOCA 60 in 2009 and subsequently in the Class40, then on the MOD70 Phaedo and the Ultime Sodebo, although he has yet to win it.
“It is a great race, a great course. Going back to the Solent is always fun, as I spend a lot of time in France. We go further down the Channel coming back now, so we get more for our money this time. I always like the big races which mix pros and amateurs, with everyone on the same race course. It’s good fun.”
Goodchild is also looking forward to finishing in Cherbourg. “It is a great port with a lot of space and a lot of current, which you need to be careful with.”
Pip Hare will compete on Medallia
Meanwhile, Pip Hare is upping the ante with her new-to-her IMOCA Medallia, formerly Armel le Cléac’h’s 2016-17 Vendée Globe winner (raced to third place by Louis Burton in the last edition).
Since finishing 12th in last year’s Route du Rhum, Medallia has been undergoing major surgery at Jason Carrington’s yard in Hythe, including a bow modification to raise the stem, but most significantly fitting new Verdier foils double the size of her old ones, so requiring major structural modifications. They have good pedigree, being identical to those currently winning The Ocean Race on Holcim-PRB.
“It has been really nice to watch everyone go through the Southern Ocean and hear how they got on with the big foils,” Hare said. “It has reassured me we’re making the right decision and keeping the boat relevant. With the new foils, we will take off earlier, in less wind, and should be flying much higher as well.”
While this will only be Hare’s third Rolex Fastnet Race, her last in 2019 was memorable when the ancient IMOCA she was skippering found itself leading the entire monohull fleet on the first night. This time on a competitive boat, it will be a different experience, a much-needed opportunity to gauge performance against the opposition.
“It’s a hard race,” Hare said. “The course is short and geographically constrained, so everyone will constantly be up against everyone else. A race that takes in a classic start out of the Solent, all the tidal gates, the Celtic Sea and so on, is likely to serve you up anything at all. It’s as serious as races get – an interesting length and really technical.”
Another to watch is James Harayda on Gentoo, the 2007 vintage former Hugo Boss. At 25, Harayda will be the youngest skipper in the IMOCA class, but has already shown his potential coming 14th out of 34 finishers in last year’s Route du Rhum.
Other French ultra-heavyweight contestants include Jérémie Beyou with his new latest-generation Manuard design Charal. Beyou won the race’s IMOCA class in 2019 and was second home in 2021 and aboard his new boat was third in last year’s Route du Rhum.
Yoann Richomme will compete on the new Paprec Arkéa; Photo: Polaryse
Newly launched in February was the latest Paprec Arkéa for Yoann Richomme. Like Ruyant’s For People, this is a new design by Finot-Conq and Antoine Koch. Between them, Richomme and Beyou have five Solitaire du Figaro wins – Beyou in 2005, 2011 and 2014, Richomme in 2016 and 2019.
Maxime Sorel finished the last Vendée Globe in 10th place, but launched his latest boat last year. His new V and B – Monbana – Mayenne is a Verdier design, built from Apivia’s moulds but with a new bow design and latest-generation foils. Sorel came fifth aboard her in last year’s Route du Rhum.
Also fielding a 2022 boat is Eric Bellion, first rookie in the 2016 Vendée Globe, who’s new Persico-built Commeunseulhomme powered by Altavia is from successful Mini designer David Raison.
Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi will compete on DMG Mori Global One
While French teams again make up the majority of the IMOCA class, international representation remains strong. Aside from the British competitors, Kojiro Shiraishi from Japan returns with DMG Mori Global One, a 2019 VPLP design aboard which he was 16th in the last Vendée Globe.
Also on the start line will be Canadian Scott Shawyer aboard Canada Ocean Racing, the 2011 vintage Owen Clarke design (originally Acciona), while Szabolcs Weöres from Hungary is aboard Szabi Racing, originally Dee Caffari’s Aviva.
Belgian Denis van Weynbergh is racing one of the few Hungary-built IMOCAs, originally Nandor Fa’s Spirit of Hungary, now called D’Ieteren Group. Flying the flag for Germany as well as France will be Isabelle Joschke on MACSF, the 2007 vintage VPLP-Verdier that was originally Safran.
There are currently two Rolex Fastnet Race competitors from Switzerland. Alan Roura became the Vendée Globe’s youngest competitor when he finished 12th in the 2016-17 race aged 23. Now on his third attempt, Roura is campaigning a competitive boat in Alex Thomson’s latest Hugo Boss.
Justine Mettraux will compete on Teamwork
Meanwhile Justine Mettraux, one of four female skippers, is becoming one of her nation’s most accomplished offshore racers, having finished second in the Mini Transat and competed in three Volvo Ocean Races/Ocean Races, winning with Dongfeng Race Team and currently with 11th Hour Racing. She’s campaigning the 2018 VPLP design Teamwork, formerly Jérémie Beyou’s previous Charal.
Romain Attanasio has a new-to-him Fortinet – Best Western, originally Seb Josse’s Edmond de Rothschild, which, in much modified form, finished fifth in the last Vendée Globe as Boris Herrmann’s Seaexplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco.
Benjamin Ferre’s Monnoyeur – Duo For A Job was originally François Gabart’s MACIF, which won the 2012-13 Vendée Globe and 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race before being raced by Clarisse Crémer as Banque Populaire to 12th place and first woman home in the last Vendée Globe.
Meanwhile, three others are racing 2008-09 Vendée Globe vintage boats. Pro sailor Sébastien Marsset on Foussier – Mon Courtier Energie, won the Volvo Ocean Race with Groupama and was 11th in the last Vendée Globe.
Freelance.com is skippered by Guirec Soudée, an adventurer who previously spent five years sailing round the world, was the youngest sailor to traverse the North West Passage and has rowed both west to east and east to west across the Atlantic. Groupe Setin’s Manuel Cousin is an ex-Class40 sailor who upgraded to the IMOCA class in 2017 and finished 23rd in the last Vendée Globe.
Double-handed sailing has come a long way since 20 boats that raced in the class when it was introduced to the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2005. Even excluding this year’s 20-plus IMOCA entries, over a quarter of the record IRC fleet (exceeding 400 entries) will be racing in the IRC Two-Handed class for the Brunskill Trophy, mostly competing in IRC Two or IRC Three.
– James Boyd / RORC