The Fastnet Rock and its eponymous race is the stuff of legend: read our essential guide, plus some fascinating facts about the classic offshore challenge

The Rolex Fastnet Race is one of the world’s most iconic offshore racing challenges – here’s everything you need to know about the 2021 edition:

  • When does it start? 1230 Sunday, 8 August 2021 at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes.
  • How long is the Fastnet Race? 695 miles, from Cowes to Cherbourg via the Fastnet Rock.
  • Who’s racing this year? A record fleet of more than 450 boats, including Rambler 88, Pen Duick VI and the brand new ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, which is believed to be the world’s fastest monohull.
  • How can I watch? There are several ways to follow the Fastnet Race, from online coverage and tracking services to shoreside spectator events.
  • Who won the 2019 Fastnet Race? Brothers David and Peter Askew and the crew of the Volvo 70 Wizard won on corrected time, finishing within two hours of line honours winner Rambler 88.

17 incredible Fastnet facts

1. Only 7 boats raced in the first edition of the Fastnet Race in 1925. The winner was a gaff-rigged pilot cutter named Jolie Brise.

Jolie Brise, Rick Tominson

The Jolie Brise rounding the Fastnet Rock as part of the Glandore Classic Regatta in Ireland in 2013. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

2. The Fastnet Rock is also known as the ‘teardrop of Ireland’.

3. In 1925, the winner completed the course in 147 hours. Today, yachts are competing to beat the monohull record of 42 hours 39 minutes, set by the Volvo 70 yacht Abu Dhabi in 2011.

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 Rolex Fastnet Race August 11 - 16, 2013 COWES/PLYMOUTH, UK back to photo gallery Share on printShare on email Share on twitterShare on facebook Contact The current monohull race record remains the time set by ABU DHABI OCEAN RACE (UAE). Photo: Rolex/ Kurt Arrigo

The current monohull race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 39 minutes is the time set by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2011. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

4. This year’s entry list of 400 IRC yachts was filled in under an hour! In total 450 boats will compete, including entries in the Class 40, IMOCA 60, Volvo Ocean 65 and Multihull grand prix classes.

5. The main trophy for overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet is called the Fastnet Challenge Cup. There are however, an additional 30 trophies presented at prizegiving.

The Fastnet Trophies

The Fastnet Challenger Cup alongside Rolex Chronometer watches. One watch is awarded to the Cup winner and the other to the line honours monohull winner.

6. Crews pass seven famous landmarks along the route: the Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, the Lizard, Land’s End, the Fastnet Rock and Bishop’s Rock off the Scillies.

Passing Hurst Castle with the Needles in the distance

Passing Hurst Castle with the Needles in the distance. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

7. The first race after the Second World War was held in 1947, and the prize went to the first yacht ever custom built for offshore racing, John Illingworth’s Myth of Malham.

8. The 1979 edition of the race goes down in history for its tragic outcome. Eighteen people lost their lives following a ferocious storm. Less than a third of the 303-strong fleet finished the race. After the event, numerous changes were brought in, including mandatory storm sails and VHF radios.

9. In 2007, the race start had to be delayed by 24 hours due to a severe weather warning. It was the first time in the event’s 82-year history that they had suffered a delay to the start.

10. At least 25 countries are represented. Due to Covid-related travel restrictions, it’s no surprise that Great Britain makes up the majority of the 2021 Fastnet fleet, but there will still be an increased contingent from Netherlands and France compared to 2019, as well as four entries from Russia, two from Japan and Australia, from one both China and New Zealand.

11. While many sailors view the iconic Fastnet Rock as the halfway point it is, in fact, further than halfway (even allowing for the recent course change) and the remaining distance of 339nm is significantly shorter than the 363nm taken to reach the Rock.

12. The Fastnet lighthouse was the last sight of Ireland for emigrants sailing to America. It first shone its light on New Year’s Day 1854.

Fastnet lighthouse

The Fastnet Rock and lighthouse. Construction of the first lighthouse on the rock began in 1853, and it first produced a light on 1 January 1854. Deemed insufficient, it was replaced by a new lighthouse in 1897. In 1985, it was struck by a rogue wave measuring about 157 feet (48 m) in height.

13. The lighthouse on Fastnet Rock originally had six keepers, with four on the rock at a time with the other two on leave. Each man did four weeks on, two weeks off.

14. The smallest yacht in the fleet this year is Tim Whittle 9.33m long T3 Trifoiler L’Albatros, racing in the MOCRA fleet, while the lowest rated in the IRC fleet is Pierre Legoupil’s 11m Illingworth/Primose-designed Maica classic, Le Loup Rouge Of Cmn.

15. The largest yacht is the 125ft Skorpios, Dmitry Rybolovlev’s brand new ClubSwan 125 (pictured below) which is the biggest monohull to ever enter the Fastnet. Former Spanish Olympic champion Fernando Echávarri will take the helm of this 58-tonne missile.

ClubSwan 125

16. The leg aross the Celtic Sea to (and from!) the Fastnet Rock is known to be unpredictable and challenging. The competitors are exposed to fast moving Atlantic weather systems and the fleet often encounter tough conditions.

17. The first Fastnet race in 1925 consisted mainly of cruising yachts. While the faster yachts had finished, some of the slower entries were hit by high winds and uncomfortable seas. Two boats retired and one made such slow progress that she was unable to reach the finishing line before the timekeepers had gone home.

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