Each edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race deserves its own chapter in the event’s proud annals so rich are the stories that emanate every time the offshore classic is held. Yet, in its 88 years of existence, few Rolex Fastnet Races have captured the values intrinsic in making the competition an international icon in quite the same way as 2013.
336 yachts began the 45th edition of the world’s largest ocean race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight; a race record. The fastest boats in the world both multihull or monohull provided an eye-catching spectacle. Corinthian crews sailing the smallest yachts competed valiantly against cutting-edge rivals, crewed by professional sailing talent.
There was no shortage of gripping story lines. The 611 nm race’s first ever winner back in 1925, the 100-year old gaff-rigged pilot cutter Jolie Brise, was sailed by a team of students, crossing the finish line in Plymouth to mass applause just as the final prizegiving was about to commence. Contrasting Jolie Brise’s youthful crew were two skippers in their 80s whose passion for the nautical pilgrimage is undiminished: Ken Newman, 28 Rolex Fastnets, 84 years young and sailing Marinero, a Swan 46. Dutchman Piet Vroon, a year younger, has completed 25 Rolex Fastnets and skippered Tonnerre de Breskens 3.
A week bursting in plot points reached its dramatic climax with the compelling narrative behind the race winner. In sailing the 33-ft JPK 1010 Night And Day to overall success, Pascal and Alexis Loison – a father and son team – incredibly became the first ever double-handed crew to win the Rolex Fastnet.
History makers, French domination
Night And Day is named after the 1932 Cole Porter song. The track is a favourite of Pascal Loison, who explained: “You can’t work night and day or you would collapse, you can’t keep walking night and day, but offshore sailing shorthanded is something that you have to do day and night, night and day without stopping, even when you’re sleeping, the race doesn’t stop.”
Double-handed crews aren’t supposed to outmanoeuvre fully crewed yachts in offshore races. They are too long, too tough, and require intense levels of concentration and energy. The achievement of the duo from Cherbourg needs to be placed into its rightful context.
The Loisons sail and manage their resources instinctively, a skill derived from years spent together on the water. They possess intimate knowledge and vast experience of the English Channel and Alexis is an emerging professional solo sailor in his own right.
“The playing field is complicated, the journey along the southern coast of England is fascinating, there is something happening at each headland. At each point, at each bay, you reshuffle the cards and it is really amazing,” is how Pascal, a surgeon ashore, defined the tactical challenge. “We are a small boat, two handed and we have managed to win this race, beating all these large professional boats and crews. It’s my day, a nice surprise and I will remember this victory all my life,” said Alexis as the stunning achievement began to sink in.
The Frenchmen only acquired the Night And Day in February, making its transition into international offshore race winner even more impressive. A well-prepared boat and a skilled crew make up most of the story, but in offshore sailing, an element of luck is always welcome. The 2013 Rolex Fastnet was a light air race with wind speeds only picking up as the smaller, slower boats passed the iconic halfway mark – the Fastnet Rock on the south west tip of Ireland.
Night And Day was in the pack of boats to benefit from the upsurge in breeze and in the frame to win the overall title awarded for the best performing yacht on corrected time. In doing so she saw off tough competition, notably from fellow French crews Foggy Dew and Rhapsodie. The French enjoyed a vintage year. The top five boats and indeed all but two of the top fourteen were from across the English Channel.
The only small regret for Night And Day crew was that they didn’t enjoy a more scenic passage of the Fastnet Rock. “We didn’t see it,” admitted Pascal. “We just saw the beam of the lighthouse turning in the clouds, it was raining and there was 300 metres of visibility, with boats everywhere. It wasn’t exactly good publicity for the Irish Tourist Board but in hindsight, it was an extraordinary, surreal experience. It was like being in cotton wool.”
Night And Day was rewarded for her success with the Rolex Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex timepiece presented to them during a emotive prizegiving on Mount Batten, Plymouth. In true Corinthian style, and after treating themselves to a dinner of champagne and fish and chips, the Loisons sailed their yacht back to Cherbourg the following day.
An international festival
Twenty countries from four continents formed the record-breaking fleet. This included crews from Australia, Oman, Russia and the United States. Peppered among the fleet were many interesting stories and human challenges: from the predominantly female crew on Team SCA to the youthful programme undertaken by theArtemis Offshore Racing boats and the commendable project behind Team Jolokia promoting the ‘strength of diversity’.
Travelling furthest afield, some 16,000 miles from Adelaide, Australia, to join the race was Geoff Boettcher’s Secret Men’s Business 3.5. The 2010 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner was not content with simply making up the numbers. “We’ve come over to represent Australia. We’re looking for a podium finish,” said Boettcher on the eve of the race. Secret Men’s Business enjoyed the experience although the light airs (a far cry from the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s regularly punishing Bass Strait) did not suit the boat’s set-up for heavier conditions. She finished third in class, but 95th overall.
Representing the Middle East were the MOD70 Oman Air Musandam, whose crew included pioneering young female Omani sailor Raiya al Habsi, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Rolex Fastnet monohull line honours and race record holder going into the event.
There was no repeat success for Ian Walker’s crew on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. At the front of the monohull fleet, the light airs best suited Igor Simcic’s all-conquering 100-ft Maxi Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), who having dominated the Mediterranean sailing scene has now extended its geographical supremacy. Quickly filtering through the fleet after starting in the final group, Esimit Europa 2 led the monohull fleet to the Fastnet Rock. As the winds dropped following her rounding she then left her nearest rivals, notably Mike Slade’s heavier 100-ft Maxi ICAP Leopard (GBR), in her wake. "The Rolex Fastnet Race is a very important race, a very long race - it is a test of many things, not only a boat and crew. It wasn’t a classic Rolex Fastnet with a lot of wind but this doesn’t mean it was any easier,” confirmed Simcic. 60 hours, 27 minutes, 49 seconds, Esimit Europa 2’s elapsed time.
There was no unique place in history for Rán 2(GBR). Niklas Zennström’s Mini Maxi had won the previous two Rolex Fastnets and was seeking a record-breaking third straight win. In the end, she endured a frustrating race although her tussle with new foe – Hap Fauth’s United States entry Bella Mente – made for fascinating viewing. “We had a really great race with Rán. For a moderate air race it was lots of work! It was a test for the equipment and the stamina of the crew,” said Fauth, on completing his first Rolex Fastnet. Bella Mente arrived in Plymouth just minutes ahead of Rán and with five other monohulls for company in an exciting 13-minute period.
Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s 131-ft Maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 from Switzerland was the largest boat in attendance. She was also to prove the fastest. Completing the course in 38 hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds, she sealed multihull line honours although six hours short of the record time set two years earlier by the same boat under the name Banque Populaire V. "We're very pleased, very happy to be here because the outcome was not certain," said Bertarelli on arrival in Plymouth. "We knew it would be difficult, especially with the light conditions, but we managed to manoeuvre well, keep good speed and have the right sails up to stay ahead."
However it was Night And Day, one of the smallest boats in the fleet that stole the headlines and plaudits. It was a triumph that fully captured the spirit and ethos of the race and of title sponsors Rolex, a partner to the event since 2001. “The most important thing is that the race can be won by anyone,” said the Royal Ocean Racing Club CEO Eddie Warden Owen. “Everyone thinks the professional, big boats are going to have an advantage but the 2013 race has just proved what the appeal of the Rolex Fastnet is all about. They are all here because they know they have a chance of winning.”
The 46th edition of the biennial Rolex Fastnet will take place in August 2015.
PR SERVICES FOR ROYAL OCEAN RACING CLUB
RORC Acting Event Press Officer
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