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2023 Rolex Fastnet Race: 50th edition grows the legacy

by Quinag 29 Jul 01:47 PDT
2023 Rolex Fastnet Race © Carlo Borlenghi

The 50th edition of a contest as legendary as the Rolex Fastnet Race deserved to be special.

The largest ever fleet in the history of offshore racing spanning fully professional ocean racing greyhounds as well as more Corinthian entries combined with conditions that tested preparation, determination and expertise. The result, an epic that will be remembered not just for the celebratory element, but its contribution to a near 100 year legacy.

First held in 1925 and organized by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the Rolex Fastnet Race sits alongside the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as a pillar of Rolex's longstanding and privileged relationship with yachting, and as one of the most revered and challenging ocean races in the world.

Setting off from Cowes, England, on 22 July, into winds gusting 40 knots, crews were set an immediate and extreme examination of boat-handling and resilience. When those who completed the course crossed the finish line in Cherbourg, France, fatigue from their exertions was matched by pride at passing the test. The sense of accomplishment was evident throughout. In terms of prize winners, Max Klink's 52 foot (15.85 metre) Caro from Switzerland secured the Fastnet Challenge Cup for overall victory under IRC time correction, adding a new name and country to the honour roll on the coveted trophy. Two records were set: first home across the entire fleet, the 105ft (32m) French trimaran SVR Lazartigue skippered by François Gabart, established a new benchmark time for the 695-nautical mile (1,287 kilometre) course, while Charlie Dalin's 60ft (18.29m) Macif Santé Prévoyance beat the previous best for a monohull.

Overall winner

Caro's battle was against the main body of yachts, 358, spread across five classes. Diverse entries ranging from the 88ft (27m) carbon-fibre canting-keeled racing maxi, Lucky, from the United States with 20 crew, down to Maluka, sailed by five. The 90-year-old design is built of pine, a mere 30ft (9m) in length and gaff-rigged like the winner of the first Fastnet, Jolie Brise. Its Australian owner is a 30-race veteran of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Such is the heritage and status of the northern hemisphere's premier offshore competition, that Sean Langman, who has raced immensely powerful skiffs, trimarans and maxis over a long career, chose to compete in his first Rolex Fastnet Race in yacht almost the same age as the race itself. Langman commented:

"Racing offshore [in Maluka] is, for our team, a connection with the purity of the sport."

The win for Caro was a source of immense satisfaction although anything but straight-forward. The navigational and technical skills, as well as the courage, determination and fortitude, required to succeed in this type of competition reflect the quest for excellence inherent in the sport from its earliest days, attributes which drew Rolex to begin its support in the late 1950s. According to Klink:

"The first hours we were just in survival mode, trying to keep the boat at 100 per cent. I wasn't thinking about any title or trophy, it was just about getting through the conditions. Winning the Rolex Fastnet is any sailor's dream, It's all the more special that this is the 50th edition of such an iconic race."

This was a victory born of exemplary planning as much as performance on the course. Klink is a committed ocean racer. His latest Caro first went offshore at the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart, where it finished third overall only 17 minutes behind the winner.

"The boat is meant to do well in all these Rolex 600 milers, the Fastnet, the Middle Sea Race, the Hobart..."

Armed with a boat clearly suited to challenge, the crew also needed to play their part. British sailor and tactician Adrian Stead, already a two-time winner in 2009 and 2011, blended his substantial experience of the course area with the acumen of Andy Green, the navigator, remarkably on his first Rolex Fastnet Race. Stead felt their work ahead of the start was key to managing the early conditions and being able to press at the end:

"The practice run we did before, out in the Solent in 25 knots of breeze, was useful preparation for everyone on the team. Practising starting and then a full circuit of the Isle of Wight, a good seven-hour shakedown for all of us and the boat."

"It was very tough, particularly the first eight hours with the front coming over. Our goal was to survive that and then race hard. The Volvo 65s and Lucky had got away from us at the rock, but we had a good run to Scillies. Over the last 180nm we saw the boats in front slowing, so we worked extra hard."

Fortune with the weather is always a component in any offshore win, but for Stead there are more significant factors:

"An owner who is passionate for the sport, great preparation, a great team. Those are the ingredients it takes to win a Rolex Fastnet Race."

Line Honours

Technology and innovation play a critical part in being the fastest over the course. Both the multihull and monohull line honours boats proved their cutting-edge credentials, surpassing their closest rivals in tactics and speed, and outwitting the weather.

Although few in number, the multihulls always make a huge impression. Particularly the grand prix foiling trimarans, whose immense power was plainly demonstrated. SVR Lazartigue crossed the line at 21:38:27 BST on 23 July beating Banque Populaire by just under an hour. By contrast, at the same time, the leading monohulls were reaching the Fastnet Rock, half the racetrack in arrears. Gabart's time of one day, eight hours, 38 minutes and 27 seconds set a new outright race record, beating the 2021 time by just over 36 minutes.

A class winner in 2013 and cruelly beaten on the line in 2019, Gabart was thrilled with his team's achievement:

"The start was not easy with strong winds for the first six or eight hours. The Rolex Fastnet is an incredible, mythical event. I have been looking for a win for a long time now, so I am very proud to do so with this beautiful boat and crew."

Racing with just two crew, Macif was launched in June 2023. Dalin carries great experience of both the race and competing at the highest level. A class winner here in 2013, he finished second in a solo round the world race in 2021. Macif is equipped with the latest offshore foils, which were used to good effect to overhaul the larger Lucky en route to the Scillies. Finishing in two days, seven hours, 16 minutes and 26 seconds, Dalin improved the previous monohull record, also set in 2021 and by a yacht twice the length of Macif, by one hour, 15 minutes.

One of the highest profile yachting events in its portfolio, Rolex is proud to be associated with the Rolex Fastnet Race, a course that demands the highest level of performance from its competitors. The Swiss watchmaker stands for precision and Perpetual Excellence in everything that it does. The 50th edition of one of the most complete and demanding of the offshore classics emphatically demonstrated once more that these are the values required to be an offshore racing sailor.

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