Sunday 11 August, will see the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race, a legendary sprint that first set sail in 1925 between Cowes and Plymouth via the no less famous Irish lighthouse at Fastnet Rock.
The fleet of multihulls, which the MOD70 Edmond de Rothschild is part of, will be the first to set sail at 1100 GMT, when it will have the honour of leading the way for the record 347 craft competing in the 2013 edition. The weather conditions forecast over the 611-mile course will provide the crews with great variety. Although there are unlikely to be any new speed records this year, forecasts suggest that conditions will be perfect for Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier, who will be racing together double-handed for the very first time and are hoping to use the Rolex Fastnet Race as a qualifier for the Transat Jacques Vabre.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier have been preparing for the Transat Jacques Vabre event. However, since the relaunch of the one-design trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild a few days ago in Lorient, and with three months to go until the start, the pace has picked up considerably for the Edmond de Rothschild pairing. Tomorrow, the two sailors will set off on their first double-handed race at the helm of the MOD Gitana XV and they won’t be doing things by halves as they line-up for the Rolex Fastnet Race. Their participation will take the form of a full-scale sea trial, which is sure to be a lot more educational than their daily sessions offshore of Gitana Team’s technical base. This test run will enable Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier to amass some precious data with regard the boat’s trim and management in double-handed configuration, on a craft that is essentially built for a six-person crew.
Having been watching how the grib files are evolving over the past few days, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild explained the general situation this morning, before going on to detail the outlines of the course which awaits them: 'Right now there is a zone of high pressure which has settled into position off the North-West tip of Brittany. Over the course of this race, we’re going to be playing around to the North-East of this system with north-westerly winds, both on the outward and inward journey. We’ll have the wind on the nose throughout the hike up towards the Fastnet so we’ll have to put in a series of tacks before heading back towards the English coast under gennaker. Here too though, we’ll have to weave our way along to make the Scillies. The wind is set to ease as we make for Plymouth. The general situation is fairly easy to get a grasp of because it’s pretty stable. In short, the race will be split into three major sections.'
'The exit from the Solent – around 25 miles between the start line off Cowes and the Needles to the far West of the island – is sure to be lively. This sound between the mainland and the Isle of Wight is renowned for its strong currents. The Solent is narrow and there will be at least five or six changes of tack to be performed in order to exit the zone and we’re assured of seeing a slight increase in the wind near Yarmouth. Added to that we’ll need to keep an eye out for a great many channel markers and we mustn’t forget that it’s the Rolex Fastnet Race, so we can expect a great many yachts on the water too. At the Needles, Charles, who will be more focused on manœuvring over the first few miles, will have already dug deep into his energy capital by that point and will be the first to tackle our watch system so as to get in some good rest. For now the forecasts are indicating 10-12 knots at the start and hence some very manageable conditions, but there will be a lot of effects from the thermal breeze coming into play here and the wind may pick up fairly quickly. We’ll adapt our navigation according to how things evolve with the weather, especially given the fact that we haven’t yet sailed our boats double-handed in areas as demanding as this. The first 160 miles as far as The Lizard will see us sailing close-hauled and we’ll have to play the effects of the sites in the different bays we leave to starboard, particularly as we make our way around the numerous headlands that punctuate the course. We’ll be beating in 10-15 knots of breeze, perhaps with an increase in the wind to around 20 knots around the headlands. Along this first section, which involves coastal navigation, there shouldn’t be too many sail changes.'
'Here too we’ll be sailing close-hauled in 15 knots of breeze, which may strengthen to 20 knots as we approach the tip of Ireland. Over these 170 miles, we’re going to have to sail as close to the wind as possible whilst trying to stay in some pressure. We’re likely to have heavy seas in this more oceanic section of the course. There won’t be big waves as we’ll be under the influence of a zone of high pressure, but there could be some fairly short seas, the likes of which you get in the Mediterranean, as there isn’t any swell, but the sea is picked up by the wind. Despite that though, things should be more than comfortable.'
'For now the routing software is indicating that we’ll reach the Fastnet on Monday 12 at around 1700 GMT. After the Fastnet, we have to round a windward mark seven miles to the West of the rock. This course mark was created to prevent the different fleets from crossing tacks in what is already a tricky zone to negotiate with the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme). Once the windward mark is in our wake, we’ll be running under gennaker as we drop back towards the Scillies. The boat speeds will pick up considerably – between 25 and 30 knots – and it will be an excellent training session for the upcoming transatlantic race that awaits us, especially as conditions will be reminiscent of the tradewinds. This will be the first time in double-handed configuration on the MOD, that we will have to keep up this kind of pace over the long term. However, we won’t really be able to sail a direct course and we’ll still have to put in a series of tacks to make the South-West tip of England. After that, the wind is supposed to ease to between six and 10 knots, and it may completely die away towards the finish. As far as that’s concerned though, the models are still undecided about the end of the course, which means we can’t give a precise ETA. If the zone of calm moves into play, we’ll take up to two and a half days to complete the course, but if the wind holds, we could cross the line in the early hours of Tuesday 13 August.'
It is worth noting that Sébastien Josse has already compelled recognition in this race on three previous occasions in the 60’ IMOCA monohull category and always in double-handed configuration.
by Kate Jennings
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8:29 PM Sat 10 Aug 2013GMT
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