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Rolex Fastnet Race - The desire to succeed

by Quinag Communication on 12 Aug 2017
Lann Ael 2, Sail No: FRA 346, Class: IRC One, Owner: Didier Gaudoux, Type: JNA 39 - 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
Success in sport requires considerable determination and perseverance; they in turn require a goal to fuel them. In the case of French yachtsman, Didier Gaudoux, his dream was to win the Rolex Fastnet Race. It was an ambition conceived in the late 1970s, when he made his first forays as an offshore sailor, and nurtured during the subsequent four decades. It was one which eventually inspired him to ask the design studio Joubert-Nivelt to build a yacht to ‘win the Rolex Fastnet Race’. Ambition became reality earlier today when Gaudoux’s JND 39 Lann Ael 2 was confirmed as the overall winner of the 47th Rolex Fastnet. Reward for this momentous success came in the form of the Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex timepiece awarded during today’s final prize giving in Plymouth.

Lann Ael 2 becomes the third French yacht in as many editions of the biennial race, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and partnered by Rolex since 2001, to claim outright victory on IRC handicap. Not since the 1950s has a single country enjoyed such an impressive run of success at this legendary, punishing offshore challenge. Ahead of this year’s edition – one which welcomed a record-breaking 362 yachts from 29 countries – Gaudoux left no stone unturned in his pursuit of success; from commissioning important modifications to his yacht to seeking the advice of a certain Géry Trentesaux, a friend and the triumphant skipper of the 2015 race.

“Winning this race is the fulfilment of a dream since I was a child. The Rolex Fastnet is the offshore race par excellence. To win overall is incredible,” explains Gaudoux. “Before the race we were positive but not confident. We have been lucky. The conditions suited the boat. We were well-prepared, rigorous in our organisation, attentive and, as a team that sails together a lot, have great solidarity.” Tactical intelligence, excellent teamwork and making the most of the prevailing meteorological conditions are all factors which unite Rolex Fastnet winners.

Gaudoux began to afford himself a few fleeting thoughts about winning the race when his yacht approached the Isles of Scilly following an excellent downwind leg from the Fastnet Rock, the race’s emblematic landmark and psychological halfway mark, recalling: “We were surprised to have big boats around us, a good sign.”

Gaudoux’s crew is comprised of amateur sailors including his son Thomas and daughter Coralie as well as experienced offshore yachtsmen like navigator Frederic Duthil and tactician Christian Ponthieu. “I was very demanding of the crew and they responded perfectly. It was an intense race.” Having won the Rolex Fastnet, Gaudoux, 59, has already set his sights on one day sailing another legendary 600-nm offshore race, the Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Fantastic, Diverse Fleet

When the international fleet at the Rolex Fastnet Race set off from Cowes on Sunday 6 August, a new record was set. 362 yachts represented a record number of entrants for the 92-year old race. Impressive in size, stunning in diversity.

Concise 10, a MOD70, skippered by emerging British sailor Ned Collier Wakefield and including Olympian Giles Scott as crew, was the race’s fastest yacht claiming multihull line honours in 42 hours, 55 minutes. The start in Cowes and passage along the Solent made a lasting impression on Collier Wakefield, sailing in his home waters. “It was the best start I’ve ever seen. We’ll definitely be back for more editions of the race.”

Monohull line honours was a contest between three yachts of very contrasting designs. Leading from the start, George David’s potent, all-out racer, Rambler 88 prevailed in an elapsed time of 57 hours, 34 minutes but 15 hours outside the race record set in the blustery 2011 edition. That same race witnessed David’s previous yacht, Rambler 100, lead the monohull fleet until she capsized in the Celtic Sea. Thanks to the presence of a photo boat and the efforts of the Irish coastal services all 21-crew were rescued safely. His other two attempts at the race were defined by gallant second place finishes. Like Gaudoux, David has fulfilled a long-held ambition. “We have wanted line honours since 2007 and have been bridesmaids three times. I thought we had a good chance at the start of the race and this time we did it.”

Finishing nearly five hours behind Rambler was Ludde Ingvall’s cutting-edge and hugely experimental 100-ft Australian Maxi CQS. The imperious 88-tonne Supermaxi Nikata, third fastest monohull, set a record of her own. At 115-ft she became the largest yacht of her kind to feature in the race. Her crew included Peter Burling, winning skipper at the recent America’s Cup and curious to experience this legendary race for the first time. “It was cool going around the Fastnet Rock in the dawn,” a personal highlight for the New Zealander.

The Rolex Fastnet Race is also defined by ‘races within the race’. A fleet of seven Volvo 65s engaged in Leg Zero of their upcoming round the world race. These one-design boats shadowed each other throughout with Dongfeng Racing Team from China eventually defeating Mapfre of Spain by a mere 54 seconds. SMA was the best performing of the nine double-handed IMOCA 60s and amongst the various IRC division winners was the father and son duo of Pascal and Alexis Loison on Night and Day who took their class, ahead of many fully-crewed yachts, along with the double-handed trophy. Historic yet unexpected overall race winners in 2013, the Loisons returned this year with a score to settle, particularly, in the double-handed division. “Two years ago (in 2015) we lost by 14 seconds. This year we were determined to win,” explains Alexis Loison.

Crews competing in the event for the first time included those from as far a field as Chile and China as well as several teenagers from the Greig City Academy, an inner-city London school. Sailing onboard Scaramouche, they have been given the chance to make their first steps in sailing as part of their educational curriculum. Reflecting on the experience, 17-year old Camilo Orobio reveals: “During school time, they tend to teach you things you need in further life. But with sailing, we've learnt that those things you actually learn can come into practice in real life.”

Coming from further afield were an experienced crew who lovingly reintroduced the Sparkman & Stephens designed Kialoa II, a thoroughbred yacht in its time, back to offshore racing after a four-decade absence. “We’ve sailed halfway round the world since we’ve had the boat,” explained Patrick Broughton, co-owner. “All that time I have been looking forward to the Rolex Fastnet Race and rounding the rock and coming back into Plymouth.” The crew of Kialoa II counts sailors with vast offshore racing experience including some 162 Rolex Sydney Hobarts between them. “As far as rounding the rock was concerned we were both lucky and unlucky,” added Broughton. “We were lucky because we ended up sailing around the rock in daylight, but unlucky as we were hoping to be there a bit earlier, in the dark. The scene was spectacular with the moon still up.”

By the final prizegiving at 18:30 BST, 299 of the 362-strong fleet had finished the race, 27 had retired and 36 were still attempting to finish.

Participating in the Rolex Fastnet is a significant undertaking, requiring considerable organisation, preparation and commitment together with profound personal sacrifices. This, even before the race starts. The Rolex Fastnet itself is an unpredictable challenge, each edition unique and defined by its own complex weather patterns, fleet make-up and evolution of the contest. As Gaudoux, the winning skipper of the 2017 race, explains: “Before the race I told my crew: ‘Who wins is not the best, but who has the most desire to win’. We had a great desire to win.” Whether aiming to win the race or simply to cross the finish line in Plymouth, this unrelenting and single-minded desire to confront one of the world’s most renowned and compelling offshore races was shared by the 2,700 sailors, Corinthian and professional, who started the 47th edition

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