In one year’s time a new era will begin for the world’s largest offshore yacht race. On 8 August 2021, the Rolex Fastnet Race will set sail from Cowes bound for the Fastnet Rock as usual, but then, once the boats have rounded Bishop Rock, they will, for the first time in the race’s 96 year history, point their bows towards Cherbourg, the new finish for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s premier event.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), organisers of the Rolex Fastnet Race, announced at a press conference today that the City of Cherbourg will host the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race for the 2021 and 2023 editions of the biennial race. The move encourages and secures the future development of the race and will open it to more competitors; in 2019 the race had a waiting list of 150 boats.
While the toughest competition in the Rolex Fastnet Race will be within the individual classes, the ultimate kudos comes from winning the Fastnet Challenge Cup, the outright prize for IRC corrected time for the world's largest offshore yacht race. The challenge will be all the harder for this year's race has an immense fleet of 336 boats (excluding the 60 racing in the non-IRC fleet).
The weather will play a significant outcome in determining the overall results of the Rolex Fastnet Race. Winning your division is more within each team's control, and here we'll look at the top three IRC handicap categories in terms of size and speed. IRC Zero is where the biggest boats congregate and is likely to produce the monohull line honours winner. However, you have to go back to the 2009 and 2011 editions of the race to find the last Maxi to win overall - on both occasions the impeccably sailed Rán 2.
Perhaps it is because people are becoming increasingly time poor, or because it neatly side-steps the problem of keeping a large crew together, but one area of offshore racing undeniably gaining popularity is doublehanding.
While crew lists for August's Rolex Fastnet Race are far from finalised, currently just over 10% of those competing in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial voyage from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock will be women. While this is a long way from parity between the sexes, it is at least a step up from races say 20 years ago when the equivalent figure had yet to reach 5%.
Among the 300-350 boats in this August's record-sized Rolex Fastnet Race fleet, many of the 3,000 crew members are competing to fulfill a personal challenge or to tick the world's largest offshore race off their 'bucket list', but several crews are also using the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premier event to convey a special message, or support a chosen charity.
Unless there is a flat calm, it is very likely that the outright record will fall in this August's edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's premium event, the Rolex Fastnet Race. For leading the charge in the world's biggest offshore yacht race, with a fleet of 300-350 competing, will be the world's fastest offshore boats - the Ultimes.
While the main kudos in the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from class wins or ultimately the Fastnet Challenge Cup for the overall IRC winner, who will simply be first home to Plymouth often turns into an engaging, heavyweight bout.