As Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson makes her ocean racing debut on Nicorette, a tough test is looming for the crews of the 235 yachts entered for the Rolex Fastnet Race
As Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson makes her ocean racing debut on Nicorette, a tough test is looming for the crews of the 235 yachts entered for the Rolex Fastnet Race, which starts today (Sunday 12 August).
The fresh breeze will be against them as they leave the Solent via the Needles and it is expected to increase. “It is too early to predict record-breaking runs, but this looks like being a big boat race.” said Mike Broughton, technical adviser to the organising Royal Ocean Racing Racing. There is a struggle between two low pressure systems sweeping across the Atlantic to Ireland and Scotland and a high pressure system pushing up from the south. The further north, the more wind and the sooner the yachts can turn for home the more they will avoid the wind softening.
The yachts range in size from 92 feet down to 32 feet, but all have to complete the same 608-mile course down the English Channel, out to the Fastnet Rock off south-west Ireland and home past the Scillies to the finish in Plymouth. It was first staged in 1925 and won by the gaff rigged Jolie Brise.
Robertson will be on one of the yachts whose primary concern is to be first home. Her skipper Ludde Ingvall has added more power to his 79-foot Nicorette since it took line honours in the 2000/2001 Sydney to Hobart Race in a bid to counter the strengths of 92-footers like Mike Slade’s Skandia Leopard and Giovanni Agnelli’s Stealth.
For Robertson, who won gold sailing her 11-foot singlehanded Europe dinghy in the Sydney 2000 Olympics the Rolex Fastnet “Will be a big learning experience for me. But, to join one of the most renowned ocean racing teams is wonderful.”
There are others laying claim to that title. Four of the V60s which will be lining up for the start next month of the Volvo Ocean Race will be giving their new yachts, and some of the best offshore sailors in the world, a final work out.
In contrast to the dozen aboard the water-ballasted 60s, or the 20 to 25 who will be on the big boats, there will be just two on the 35-foot Criterion, one of five doublehanded entries, Lorna Graham and Jo Burchell are out to beat their own record of 4 days 20 hrs 34 mins for a doublehanded entry, set in 1999.
The VO60s lead the way down the Solent at 4.00pm, followed 10 minutes later by a multihull class which includes Francis Joyon in Eure et Loire, which smashed the record in this year’s Hoya Round the Island Race. Then, at further 10-minute intervals, follow the monohulls in order of potential speed, Class 3 at 4.20pm, Class 2 at 4.30, Class 1 at 4.40, the big monohulls at 4.50 and the superyachts at 5.00pm.
And, as one woman sailor moves into a new area of ocean racing, another bows out. Catherine Chabaud, who in 1999 won the Fastnet Challenge Cup in her Open 60 Whirlpool, has announced that she has chosen the Rolex Fastnet to take her final bow from the ocean racing scene. She has won the respect of all the top singlehanders with her performances in both the Around Alone and Vendee Globe races around the world. There will be a special welcome waiting for her in Plymouth.