by Louay Habib
Royal Ocean Racing Club's iconic 608-mile race around the Fastnet Rock has captured the hearts and souls of millions of people since 1925. This August, The Rolex Fastnet Race will have the largest number of participants in its 89-year history. Over 350 yachts, and as many as 380 yachts, from five continents and over 22 different countries will be taking part.
Celebrating her centenary, the winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925, Pilot Cutter, Jolie Brise now sailed by pupils from Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire.
The diversity of the yachts and participants is truly extraordinary. The maxi trimaran Spindrift two is the holder of the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation, sailing around the world in just over 45 days. Internet entrepreneur Niklas Zennström's 72' mini maxi Rán two is hoping to win the Rolex Fastnet Race for an unprecedented third time in a row. Plus the original winner of the first race in 1925, the Pilot Cutter Jolie Brise, celebrating her centenary, is also competing and this diversity is the reason why the Rolex Fastnet Race is so special.
Built in 1913, Jolie Brise has participated in the Fastnet race four times, winning three races including the inaugural race in 1925. Her career as a pilot boat was short-lived, owing to steam replacing sail, she became a fishing boat for a time before being bought by E.G Martin in 1923, a founder member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Evelyn George Martin met with a group of distinguished sailors, including Algernon Maudsley, to discuss an ocean race. Martin pulled a ten shilling note from his pocket, placed it on the desk and asked Maudsley if he would do the same. In that moment, the Ocean Racing Club was formed. After some discussion a race 'from Cowes round the Fastnet and back to Plymouth' was announced for yachts not exceeding a waterline length of 50ft. Jolie Brise won the first race and also won in 1929 and 1930 and to this day, she is the only yacht to have won the race three times.
Since 1977, Dauntsey's School Sailing Club has sailed and maintained Jolie Brise, as skipper Toby Marris explains:
'Since Dauntsey's School started to sail Jolie Brise, over 9000 pupils have sailed on her. She sails about 220 days each year, clocking up about 10,000 miles. We have raced across the Atlantic with The Tall Ships Race, as far north as inside the Arctic Circle, east as far as Russia and south as far as The Cape Verde Islands. Jolie Brise is available for charter but during Dauntsey's School's holidays, the pupils have priority. For the Fastnet, we will have seven girls and boys from Dauntsey's School, all under 18 and two crew selected by The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. This year's race will be a once in a lifetime experience. Our goal is always to enjoy sailing her, but this race will become part of her history, so it is very special.'
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Since 1930, four yachts have come close to equalling Jolie Brise's three overall victories, but none have yet to succeed. Olin Stephens' Dorade (1931 and 1933), Capt. J.H.Illingworth's Myth of Malham (1947 and 1949), Dick Nye's Carina (1955 and 1957) and Niklas Zennström's Rán 2 (2009 and 2011). This year, the mini maxi Rán two will be attempting to win the trophy for an unprecedented third consecutive year.
Tim Powell, Rán two's Team Manager, has competed in four round the world races and spoke about the Rolex Fastnet Race:
'Having the chance to win the race for a third time in a row is amazing. It is always tough just to win your class, but to win overall you also need to have the weather conditions in your favour and I have to say that we have had our share of luck in the last two races. This year, Bella Mente (Hap Fauth's American Mini Maxi) will be a big threat. Rán two is now four years old and I think it would be fair to describe Bella Mente as a more modern version of Rán two. If we have a 25-knot reach to the Rock and back, we should be the slower boat. If we have a more tactical race then perhaps that will be in our favour. Bella Mente has an excellent crew but then we know the Fastnet Race really well and maybe that is an advantage.'
Experiencing the start of the Fastnet is unlike any other offshore race and this year with a record entry it will be a special moment for everybody in the race. I would especially like to wish the young crew of Jolie Brise a great race. I started racing offshore with The Youth Challenge and if you told me then that I would have the chance of winning it three times, I wouldn't have believed you. For me, The Fastnet will always be a very special race.'