Europe’s oldest and greatest offshore contest, the Rolex Fastnet Race is legendary within the world of ocean racing. First run in 1925 and held once every two years since the 1930s, the event was one of the earliest true tests of offshore sailing. It has performed a paramount role in the growth and evolution of the sport throughout its history and this year it celebrates its 90th anniversary. Rolex has been a partner of the organizers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), for over 20 years and in 2001 became the first ever title sponsor of the race. The Rolex Fastnet sits alongside the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as one of the foundations of the Swiss watchmaker’s involvement in yachting. The 46th edition will be held from 16 to 21 August 2015, and is set to welcome an impressive international fleet of over 350 yachts.

A compelling challenge

The Rolex Fastnet is an arduous yet absorbing adventure. In August the Atlantic shores of northern Europe, and particularly the British Isles, regularly witness westerly winds reaching gale force; harsh conditions are almost guaranteed for one or more stages of the race. The event’s history pays stark testament to these challenges. During the 1979 edition, a ferocious storm cost the lives of 15 sailors. The RORC reacted effectively promoting significant advancements in yacht design, safety equipment and stricter qualification requirements for all those entering the race.

The wide-ranging appeal of the contest is portrayed by the diversity of the competing yachts and sailors. Cutting-edge multihulls and professionally crewed monohull maxis share the course with much smaller boats crewed by passionate Corinthians. It is a democratic competition in every sense. The rating system applied to the main body of the fleet means the overall winner can spring from any size of boat. Flawless decision-making, determination and total commitment – values shared by title sponsor Rolex – are the essential requirements as crews manage and anticipate the changing tidal and meteorological conditions imposed. The race’s reputation has transcended the traditional boundaries of sailing with participants ranging from statesman such as former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, to business tycoons, media moguls, Olympians and famous figures from popular culture.

Famous course

Historic and compelling, the 603-nautical mile Rolex Fastnet course is etched
in the consciousness of every self-respecting yachtsman and woman. Starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, the Isle of Wight, it passes noted landmarks in the English Channel including The Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard and Land’s End, ahead of the open water passage across the Celtic Sea and the symbolic turn around the Fastnet Rock off the southern coast of Ireland; a rounding that heralds the race’s emblematic halfway juncture as the fleet embark on the long return leg and the finish in Plymouth.

An international reputation

The Rolex Fastnet Race is a truly global race with yachts and sailors regularly representing five continents. In the seven editions sponsored by Rolex, there have been five different nationalities of monohull line honours winner, and four different countries represented on the Rolex Fastnet Challenge Trophy awarded to the overall race winner. Fittingly, this includes boats from Ireland, which provides the iconic turning mark of the Fastnet Rock, and France, the country that regularly provides the largest number of overseas entries. Further back in the history of the race, boats from Australia (Ragamuffin, 1971), Brazil (Saga, 1973) and 11 entries from the United States, such as two-time winner, Dorade(1931 & 33), have won the overall prize.

Offshore leadership

The RORC’s history is inextricably entwined with that of the race. The RORC was formed immediately after the first Fastnet Race in 1925, with the objective “to encourage long-distance yacht racing and the design, building and navigation in which speed and seaworthiness are combined”. The Rolex Fastnet Race spearheads the fulfilment of that mission and has become an institution in the sporting calendar. The club has long been a pioneer, not only organizing and promoting offshore racing activities, but also in developing standards of excellence, particularly in issues of safety.

Since the beginning of its partnership in the 1990s, Rolex has been an uncompromising supporter of the RORC’s activities to further the ideals of offshore racing. The RORC’s contribution to this segment of yachting is widely admired both inside and outside the sport, and Rolex is proud to enjoy a privileged relationship with one of the sport’s true leaders.

Starting life as the Ocean Racing Club, it was King George V, an active yachtsman, who granted the club’s ‘Royal’ application in 1931. Its principal clubhouse is located in St James’s Place, London, which it moved into in 1942, after its previous premises in London had been destroyed.

Joining the RORC is not a simple case of applying. To qualify, prospective candidates must have completed no less than 500 offshore racing miles, and have spent at least two nights at sea while racing. There are no exceptions. Completing the Rolex Fastnet Race confers an automatic right to apply.

In 2014 the RORC further enhanced its position within the sport by merging with the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. In doing so, it expanded not simply its membership, but also its sphere of influence by establishing a permanent clubhouse in Cowes from where its most famous race starts. With 90 years of proud history, approximately 4,000 members spread across 54 countries and a global span of activities, the RORC is a truly international yacht club.

The Squadron Line

The first warning signal for the 2015 race is set for 11:50 BST on Sunday, 16 August. As is tradition, the starting gun will be fired from the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the world’s most revered yacht clubs, which celebrates its bicentennial in 2015.

The Royal Yacht Squadron – which began life in 1815 as The Yacht Club before being renamed in 1833 by King William IV – is another longstanding pioneer in the sport of yachting. Its initial steps were decidedly low key with the 42 original members agreeing to meet in London and in Cowes twice a year to discuss yachting over dinner, and, membership was restricted to those who owned a vessel not under 10 tons. Such was the infectious spirit of those early protagonists that even without a permanent home the new club rapidly proved a focal point for yachtsmen.

The Squadron, as it is universally known, is today regarded as one of the preeminent clubs in the world. Its pedigree within yachting is considerable, and founded on a mix of exclusivity, tradition and active, influential organization. The Royal in the club’s name was conferred in 1820, and links with the British royal family have extended throughout its history. Its current patron is Queen Elizabeth II while the club’s Admiral is Prince Philip.

As a result of close ties with the British Navy it is the only yacht club with permission for its members’ yachts to fly the Royal Navy’s distinctive White Ensign. Most other Royal yacht clubs, including the RORC, fly a Blue Ensign.

The first club race, held in 1826 during Cowes Regatta, was the catalyst for what would become Cowes Week. The club’s present home at Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight is a landmark, and “The Squadron Line”, an imaginary line stretching from the Castle northwards across the Solent towards the mainland shore, is used for the start of major races such as the Rolex Fastnet.

After nearly 200 years, the Royal Yacht Squadron remains a force in yachting. Its respect for the ideals and traditions of the sport offering a beacon for others to follow. In recognition of its privileged relationship, which began over 30 years ago in 1983, Rolex is making a special contribution to the Squadron’s celebrations presenting the club with unique clock that does more than simply tell the time - giving details about the state of the tide and barometric pressure: essential information for race officers and sailors alike.

2015 Rolex Fastnet Race: An Exceptional Prospect

Remarkably the entry list for the 2015 Rolex Fastnet was filled within 24 minutes of opening (it took 24 hours to do the same in 2013) and includes yachts from Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States. More than a third of the boats will be overseas entries, confirmation of the international reputation and appeal.

The roster of entrants includes some mouth-watering competition. The maxi multihull Spindrift is back to make an attempt on the multihull course record. The 100-ft Comanche from the USA, which came so close to scoring a line honours win in her inaugural race – the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart – is set to take on former course record holder Leopard 3 and the latest iteration ofRambler in the quest to be first monohull home. Rambler’s owner George David has experienced the highs and lows of offshore racing. In 2007, his then yacht led the larger Leopard 3 around the Fastnet Rock, before being passed on the return leg and crossing the finish line second. In the 2011, while leading the race in Rambler 100, David and four of his crew spent two and a half hours in the water before being rescued after his yacht lost its keel just after rounding the Fastnet Rock.

Following on from the Giraglia Rolex Cup in June, the Rolex Fastnet Race will be the second major European event in the 2015 Rolex Yachting calendar. It will be followed by a number of other renowned competitions, including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in September, the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship in October and the Rolex Sydney Hobart in December.

History Makers

The 45th edition of the Rolex Fastnet, in 2013, had everything: professional and Corinthian sailors; some of the world’s fastest, most technologically sophisticated yachts; 30-foot yachts with family crews; participants from as far afield as Australia, Oman and the United States. A record fleet of 336 yachts demonstrated the scale and spectrum of the event.

The race was characterized by light winds for the frontrunners curtailing any possibility for a repeat of the record-breaking pace set in 2011. In the race for overall victory, the fickle conditions suited the smaller yachts from where most remarkable story of the week would emerge.

Previously, no double-handed crew had ever won the Rolex Fastnet Race or any other 600 nm race of note where the competition included fully crewed yachts. The French father and son crew of Pascal and Alexis Loison, sailing the 33-ft Cole Porter-inspired Night and Day arrived at the start with the ambition of winning their class. They sailed home after the finish with the Rolex Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex timepiece as the overall winners of the biggest offshore yacht race in the world. “If you compete in offshore sailing, winning the Rolex Fastnet is really the pinnacle of success. It’s nice, it was not expected, I don’t know how to describe it,” said an overwhelmed Pascal.

The Loisons proved emphatically that for the large number of small yachts and Corinthian competitors drawn to the legend of the event it is far from simply a question of making up the numbers. Crews that embody the spirit of endeavour and determination that typifies sailing have the real possibility of victory. “The most important thing is that the race can be won by anyone,” says the RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen. “Everyone thinks the professional, big boats are going to have an advantage but the 2013 race proved what the appeal of the Rolex Fastnet is all about. They are all here because they know they have a chance of winning.”


Thursday 13 August
Press Conference (Time TBC)

Saturday 15 August                      
Weather & Skipper’s briefing, Cowes Yacht Haven Events Centre, 16:00 BST

Sunday 16 August              
Race start, Cowes (Isle of Wight)
Warning signal at 11:50 BST

Tuesday 18 August
Approximate time for monohull record: 06.49 BST (based on 12.00 BST start time)

Friday 21 August                
Final prizegiving, Plymouth, 17:00 BST

RACE WINNERS SINCE 2001           

Current Monohull Race Record: 42 hours, 39 minutes set by the Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing from the United Arab Emirates in 2011

Year      Fleet Size     Line Honours Overall Winner
2013 336 Esimit Europa 2 (SLO)
Igor Simcic

Night and Day (FRA)        
Pascal & Alexis Loison

2011 315

Abu Dhabi (UAE)
Ian Walker

Rán 2 (GBR)
Niklas Zennström

2009 300

ICAP Leopard (GBR)
Mike Slade

Rán 2 (GBR)
Niklas Zennström

2007 271

ICAP Leopard (GBR)
Mike Slade    

Chieftain (IRL)
Ger O’Rourke

2005 283

ICAP Maximus (NZL)
Charles St. Clair/ Bill Buckley

Iromiguy (FRA)
Jean-Yves Chateau

2003 245

Alfa Romeo (NZL)
Neville Crichton  

Nokia Connecting People (GBR)
Charles Dunstone

2001 233

Stealth (ITA)
Giovanni Agnelli 

Tonnerre de Breskens (NED)
Piet Vroon


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