Westerly winds could give a record fleet in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race a tough beat out to the Scilly Isles and may favour the larger yachts with a fast run back to Plymouth

A record entry for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race is getting ready for the start tomorrow in what could be one of the most interesting tactical races in recent years.

There are 368 yachts taking part in the 605-mile race, and some 2,700 crews.

The forecast for the race is benign yet challenging. There are likely to be moderate westerlies for the first 24 hours or so mean that the fleet will face a long beat out to the Scilly Isles, and records are unlikely to be broken.

The forecast favours the bigger and faster boats, such as MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10, Rambler 88, the Volvo Ocean Race 65s and IMOCA 60s. They may have a beat out to the Fastnet Rock as the winds go north-westerly after the Scilly Isles, but they will get a fast downwind ride back. The smaller and slower boats may miss the quicker ride home.

The fleet this year encapsulates some fascinating races within races: for the VO65s, this is a so-called ‘Leg 0’ and a chance to establish form for the round the world race starting in October. Some teams, such as David Witt’s Scallywag and Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic are newly formed and have a big catch-up to do on established crews such as Dongfeng Racing and MAPFRE, but their challenges will be very closely watched.

There are 27 Class 40 yachts this year, an international collection that includes Jersey sailor Phil Sharp on Imerys. He says the upwind part of the race is to be endured, but that downwind the crews will be winding them up to 16-17 knots.

“This is the shortest race we have in our championship, but also the most intense. There’s a huge amount of tactical decisions to make out there. A lot can happen, there’s always a chance to come back in the race and for that reason it’s never over til the finish.”

Among the IMOCA 60s are Alex Thomson and Irish sailor Nin O’Leary on Hugo Boss, and Yann Elies and Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel-Virbac. Elies and Dick are former Vendée Globe rivals who have teamed up to race together and have very different sailing styles. Despite being pitted against each other in the past, they have a very close bond – as you can see in this interview with us.

Double-handed crews represent a hugely growing area of offshore racing. The Fastnet Race this year has 62 two-handed crews, including a father and son team and several couples. RORC commodore Michael Boyd observers that the pressure on free time and sheer appetite for a different challenge has fuelled the interest, and it is something the RORC is recognising with a special trophy for the first two-handed crew.

For those following the race, footage of the starts from 1100-1240 tomorrow will be streamed live on the Royal Ocean Racing Club Facebook page.

We will have reports and videos from crews during the race and at the finish on www.yachtingworld.com/fastnet and on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.