Sunday, August 4, 2019

Rolex Fastnet Race Preview

Rolex Fastnet Race start
(Cowes, England)- For the previous four editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the elation of overall victory has been enjoyed by a team racing a yacht in the 35 to 42 foot range. In the 2013 and 2015 editions of the 605.0nm offshore race, the top three boats overall came from IRC Three and Four. This year, currently 340 teams will race under IRC for the overall win and over half of them will be competing in IRC Three and Four. The vast majority of the 3,000-strong competitors in the 400-boat fleet are passionate amateurs, racing on a huge variety of boats, with 88 different designs found in these two classes. A majority of the J/Teams participating in the race are in the IRC Two, Three, and Four classes.

For all of those J/Crews, the big decision everyone has been strategizing for the past week is weather routing decisions up and down the track.

Whether to go inshore or offshore, how long will it take, will it be a ‘big boat or small boat’ race, how to handle the powerful tides and will I need an anchor and an umbrella?

The answers for this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race are profoundly different according to whether you are on an monster 130 ft trimaran or one of the vast armada of J/109s.

In essence, the forecast for this year’s race is starting Saturday at the beginning of the ebb tide in an unusual southeasterly breeze (rather than upwind in the normal prevailing southwesterly).
Fastnet Race weather routing
According to Rolex Fastnet Race meteorologist Libby Greenhalgh, overnight for the leaders, or well into Sunday for the tail-enders, the crews will have to negotiate a “transition zone” that will see the wind drop before filling in from the southwest, a scenario that may benefit being north (in search of thermal breeze close to the coast) or offshore and south (to get to the new gradient pressure first), as always, also dependent on the state of the tide.

“Faster boats will tend to dig further south towards the Casquets TSS (Transportation Separation Scheme- a ‘no-go’ zone) and will be the most southerly,” continues Greenhalgh. “For everyone else it will be of more rhumb line or just south of the rhumb line route.”

In a “typical” Fastnet Race, the choice between going west or east of the TSS off Land’s End is significant. However, earlier in the week the only way to go was west, maintained Greenhalgh. However, this has since changed with the easterly route opening up for the slower boats.

The good news is that after this the scenario becomes more straightforward with a reach across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock and back to the Scilly Isles, in southwesterly or WSWerly winds and in pressure that will vary between 15-25 knots according to the timing. At present, it seems very unclear if the overall prize will go to the smallest boat in the race, which will get held up least in the transition zone or one of the bigger boats.

One IRC Doublehanded navigator, Henry Bomby, had some thoughtful perspectives on race strategy. “I did quite a bit of pre-race analysis and whenever an IRC Three or Four boat does well it is because they just make it through the tidal gate at Portland Bill,” says Bomby. “Normally you are upwind through there, but we’ll be straight line sailing. There appears to be more wind in the south where the transition is also shorter, but then you end up more upwind anyway. So, our route will take us quite close to the Casquets and we’ll be offshore for the transition, then tacking and getting lifted.

After the transition, we’ll be fully upwind, pointing at Penzance, but then eventually getting lifted. That will be quite a tricky thing– when you start getting the new breeze filling in. The more west you get, the quicker you’ll get through it, but the chance of sailing extra miles because you overlay is quite high. That will be a critical part of the race. For boats in this size range the crossing of the Celtic Sea will still be a reach but in a more moderate 12-14 knots, routing suggests a time of 3 days 12 hours.”
J/121 sailing offshore with triple-slots
IRC One Division
The massive 64-boat IRC One fleet has boats that range from the high-rating boats of custom Ker 46 to low-raters of a First 40- a pretty extreme range. As the lower-rating boats, the trio of J/121s will certainly enjoy the challenges associated with the current weather forecasts as outlined above with winds forcing sailing a variety of sailing angles. Those three 121s include the recent Class and Overall Winner of the recent RORC Channel Race- Mike O’Donnell’s Irish team on DARKWOOD. Joining them to press their class hard will be Nick Angel’s ROCK LOBSTER and Andrew & Sam Hall’s JACKHAMMER.

J/122E AJETO sailing Fastnet RaceIRC Two Division
The 60-boat IRC Two class has a number of highly competitive J/Crews, all proven offshore champions in recent years.  For starters, there is the J/122E AJETO that is also qualified to sail in the IRC Doublehander class, she will be sailed by joint owner-skippers- Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre- from the Netherlands. The engineer and dentist from The Hague have been Dutch IRC champions four times, and were European J/111 champions in 2015 with a previous boat, Xcentric Ripper, with which they won class in the 2015 Fastnet. It's the fourth Fastnet for another the J/122 JUNIQUE RAYMARINE Sailing Team, especially adapted for shorthanded sailing and a proven performer in the hands of Chris Revelman and Pascal Bakker who took 3rd in class at the 2018 Round Britain and Ireland race.

J/133 PINTIA sailing Fastnet RaceUp to the challenge will most certainly be the two J/133s from France- JIVARO and PINTIA.  Gilles Fournier & Corinne Migraine have sailed PINTIA to the RORC Overall Seasons Points Championship last year and are a contender again in 2019.  Plus, PINTIA has won and podiumed on a number of RORC season races criss-crossing southern England and the Channel over to France.  Yves Grosjean’s JIVARO has also podiumed in a number of French events like the SPI OUEST France Regatta in La Trinite sur Mer, France and winning IRC 1 Class in the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race.

Four other J/122s are joining this incredibly talented group. Moving fast up the “tune-up/ training” program on the Solent and a few RORC offshore races have been Chris Daniel’s JUNO, Clive Miles’ JANGLE, Alain & Marie Catherineau’s LORELEI, and David Richards’ Russian team on JOLLY JELLYFISH.

Joining the battle are two J/111s- Sebastien de Liedekerke’s DJINN from Belgium and Simon Grier-Jones’ SNOW LEOPARD. Additionally, Andy Middleton & Alex Fisher’s J/120 SUNSET from the USA will be well-sailed by a veteran offshore team.

J/109s sailing Rolex Fastnet RaceIRC Three Division
A massive number of boats are sailing IRC Three class- eighty-five yachts on the starting line! 46 from Great Britain, 18 from France and also Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, and the USA.

Sailing their hearts out off the start to gain early advantage will be Philippe Baetz’s J/112E MUSIX from France, Philippe Girardin’s J/120 HEY JUDE from France, and a veritable armada of J/109s.

Sixteen J/109s will be competing in IRC Three and IRC Four. The 35ft bowsprit design has its own prize, the J/109 RORC Trophy!! The leading J/109 for the RORC season is David McGough's JUST SO, overall winner of the 2019 Morgan Cup with 85 teams racing under IRC. JUST SO won the J/109 RORC Trophy in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race.

The British Armed Forces have a long history in the race and this year, four teams from Her Majesty's Armed Forces will be racing in the J/109 fleet. The RAF with RED ARROW, the Royal Naval with JOLLY JACK TAR, the Royal Engineers with TROJAN, and the Royal Armoured Corps with AJAX.

JOLLY JACK TAR’s skipper- Lt Tom Thicknesse RN- started yacht racing with the Royal Navy; this will be his second race, and first as skipper. "Whatever the weather, we are expecting a mentally and physically draining race that demands everything from the crew. We have our sights set on the Inter-Regimental Trophy for the best service yacht and aim to be in the top five J/109s overall," says Thicknesse. "Offshore sailing has been a key element of Royal Navy sport and adventurous training for many years as the mental and physical challenge gives the opportunity to develop the endurance, leadership, teamwork and courage of our crew. The race epitomizes this challenge," continued Thicknesse.

IRC Four Division
This giant 87-boat class not only has the aforementioned J/109s, it also has Jerry Freeman’s J/105 JUILETTE and Chris Miles & Mike Sellers’ J/97 HIGH JINKS.

IRC Doublehanded Division
Over the last few editions of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the IRC Doublehanded class has shown steady growth from 45 entries in 2013, to 53 in 2015, and 57 in in the last race. At the time of writing, 63 doublehanded competitors were entered this year.

Back again are the other podium placers from the IRC Doublehanded class in the last race, including Dutch aces Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre once again on AJETO. “We have more experience with the boat and her performance since the last Fastnet and we are really looking forward to another tough and good competition, especially after becoming Dutch Two-Handed champions for a fifth time in a row,” says van der Starre. “The RORC North Sea Race went very well for us, beating the famous Frenchman Gery Trentesaux with his new, IRC-optimized JPK 11.80 in IRC 2. We won both IRC and ORC Doublehanded Divisions!”

For Christopher Preston, sailing with Austrian yacht design student Felix Trattner on the J/109 JUBILEE, this will be his tenth Rolex Fastnet Race, but his first double-handed. “I did the Round Britain and Ireland non-stop in 2000 doublehanded and absolutely loved it,” he says. “It was a challenging and interesting race. I loved the combination of helming and tactics and organization.” Having sailed Jubilee fully crewed with his old Clipper crew in 2017, racing it doublehanded is something of a bucket list affair. Over the winter he and Trattner has been optimizing the J/109 for double-handing in terms of the sail set-up and internal ballasting.

The biggest competitors to these two top teams will be Revelman & Bakker’s J/122 JUNIQUE RAYMARINE Sailing Team, Kees Mijs’ J/109 ARETHUSA, Joppe Schepers & Jasper Heike’s J/109 JOMALIJA, Alistair Doughty’s J/109 JELENKO, David & William McGough’s J/109 JUST SO, Jerry Freeman’s J/105 JULIETTE, and the Miles/ Sellers duo on the J/97 HIGH JINKS. Not surprisingly, given the state-of-the-art in technology and boat-handling equipment in offshore double-handed racing, do NOT be surprised if a number of these experienced J/Duets produce good results!  For more Rolex Fastnet Race sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.