(Cherbourg, France)- The granddaddy of all offshore races in Europe saw a record number of 400+ boats point their bows across the famous Royal Yacht Squadron starting line off Cowes, Isle of Wight, headed for Fastnet Rock, then back across the Channel to Cherbourg, France after 695.0nm of sailing. The race turned into more of a lottery than anyone could imagine at the start of the race.
The forecast for the first 24 hours was accurate enough, reminding Fastnet Race veterans of how nasty conditions can get when wind against tide turns the tables on even the most experienced race teams. The exit out of the western reaches of the Solent, going past The Needles, was brutal, with an outgoing tide of 3-5 kts and Southwest winds gusting to 40 kts. Most boats had reefed mains and #4 jibs. The war of attrition began early, with man and machine losing the battle with Mother Nature as boats flew off the tops of steep breaking waves that had no “backs” to them….broken boats, broken bulkheads, ripped sails, and broken masts started to accumulate rapidly in the first 12 hours of the race. In the end, nearly one-third of the fleet ended up dropping out for one reason or another. For those that made it past Portland Bill with breeze halfway to Land’s End, the big decision was going east or west of the first large TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme- exclusion zone) going past the Casquets; for many of the top teams that was the “make or break” decision. Thereafter, a High Pressure ridge started to move over the race track on Monday, capturing most of the fleet from IRC 1 to IRC 4, south of the Scilly Isles, creating a massive “park up” and “glass out” for at least 6 to 8 hours for many boats.
According to J/121 ROCK LOBSTER owner Nick Angel, “it was a strange race with a complete reset in the Isles of Scilly for much of the fleet caused by a wind shut down. This really meant the race split into two because the bigger faster classes were quick enough to avoid the shutdown.
The 121s were, as you would expect, very competitive. For much of the race I think the three of us were swapping 9th, 10th, and 11th positions in IRC 1 Class. We all made very different navigation choices at critical stages. The doublehanded Swede team on JOLENE got the first choice right and we called the next two. But, it was still cat-n-mouse with DARKWOOD all the way to the finish.
In the 27-boat IRC 1A Class, Robert Tan’s J/125 MAGIC WIND took 8th place.
In the 23-boat IRC 1B Class, Nick Angel’s J/121 ROCK LOBSTER took silver while the Doublehanded Swedish J/121 team on JOLENE (Fredrik Rydin & Johan Tuvstedt) took the bronze! Mike O’Donnell’s J/121 DARKWOOD finished in 6th place.
The 23-boat IRC 2A Class saw Chris Daniel’s J/122E JUNO take the bronze, with sistership SAILMON JR (Ronald Prins) finishing fourth. Meanwhile, Laurent Charmy’s J/111 SI ENERGIES GROUPE_FASTWAVE took 6th position.
In the 29-boat IRC 2B Class, the top J/Crew was Frans van Cappelle’s Dutch team on the J/122E MOANA, finishing 6th.
The 36-boat IRC 3A Class saw an early class leader fade a little bit, but Philippe Girardin’s J/120 HEY JUDE took hard-earned 4th place, while Bruce Huber’s J/112E XANABOO finishing 11th.
IRC 3B Class- 36 boats- Phillippe Guennal’s J/99 JIN MOTION from France took the silver, with Tom Reed’s Royal Navy Sailing Association team on the J/109 JOLLY JACK TAR took the bronze medal! Just after them, it was lady-helm Maxime Mesnil’s J/99 AXE SAIL that finished 4th place. Also, taking 10th place was the Doublehanded team- Joppe Schepers & Jasper Heikens- on their J/109 JOMALIJA.