The British JPK 1180 Sunrise is the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race winner overall, taking the IRC trophy

The overall 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race winner is Thomas Kneen’s JPK 1180 Sunrise, who takes the IRC overall trophy.

Sunrise finished the 695-mile course into Cherbourg today after building a huge lead in the highly competitive IRC 2 class with a corrected finish time of four days and six hours. They finished the race with a two hour advantage over RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX. 

Kneen and crew ran a well-planned campaign with the Fastnet as the focus. Their race was characterised by smart, confident navigation, and taking opportunities when they arose, which they built to a 115-mile lead over the rest of Class 2 by the finish.

Owner Thomas Kneen said after finishing that he was delighted with the result – but that the possibility of being the Fastnet winner overall hadn’t really sunk in.

“The reality is that we came with the aim of a class win, I think winning overall is a sort of once in a lifetime dream come true moment. It’s really difficult to kind of get your head around that.

“It’s been a really hard race. Hard because the conditions were tough. And I personally get quite seasick so I was very seasick on the first day. The boat really does well in those big seas and windy conditions. I was the weak link in that to be honest. But the rest of the crew is amazing.”

Fastnet winners: the JPK 1180 Sunrise starting the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 off Cowes

Navigator Tom Cheney recalled: “We knew we were going out into quite a lot of pressure and we saw low 30 [knots] on the way out. It was quite busy getting out of the Solent as well and ducking boats at 25 knots is quite good fun. But unfortunately, one of our closest rivals was dismasted in the Solent as well, which was a bit shocking to see.

“Then once we were out of the Solent we knew we had to just hold it together for the first day and then make sensible decisions, which I think we did.”

Among the big decisions was how to round The Lizard and Land’s End.

“There was a bit of a decision at the Lizard as to whether you followed what most of the other boats did and turned hard right at the Lizard and went that [starboard] side of the first TSS, which initially we didn’t want to do because the tide was turning against us there. 

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“But we knew that we were expecting this big right shift. So there was a a lot of reason to push to the right and I think ultimately that’s probably where we did well on the boats in our class because we we went through in a pretty foul tide, but I think the guys behind us went through it in a much worse tide. So we kind of got ahead and footed off to our wind shift. When we looked on the tracker we’d done alright out there.”

Rounding the Fastnet Rock on the JPK 1180 Sunrise

After a grey and misty Fastnet Rock rounding, the Sunrise crew made their biggest gains from the Scillies.

“We knew that there was a ridge coming behind us with no [wind] behind it for a while,” said Cheney. “And we knew that we had to give everything that we had in front of it. 

“I didn’t think we would do it. We’d run a load of routing that said we wouldn’t be in front of it unless we were well over 100 percent of our targets.”

While the routing calculated that Sunrise needed to sail at 10 knots average boat speed to hold their weather advantage, Cheney says they were averaging over 11, and managed to keep ahead of the high pressure ridge. They were also able to work the strong tides off Alderney to their advantage, at one point making 13 knots over the ground whilst doing around 7 knots of boat speed.

Sunrise heading towards the Cherbourg finish line as IRC overall Fastnet winner. Photo: Paul Wyeth/RORC

By the final morning, with a class and potential overall win on the cards, all crew were called up on deck from first light to push the boat as hard as possible.

“We were cracked sheets for probably a third of the way down the Irish Sea,” recalled Kneen. “And as soon as we got around the Scillies we had a problem.

“We broke our mast head lock, so we had no lock to put any of our reaching sails on. But some of the guys performed some miracles with various bits of string we had on board and managed to get a solution. And as soon as the Code Zero was in the air the boat took off, and was doing what she does best.”

Onboard the Fastnet winners JPK 1180 Sunrise during the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race

In an interesting twist, in the first year that the Rolex Fastnet Race has finished in Cherbourg, the trophy will be heading back to Plymouth, as Kneen is a Royal Western YC member. 

“We’re basically a group of mates that sail together a lot,” said Cheney. “Tom’s put a lot of effort into the programme this year and I’m delighted that we could win this one for him.”

The leading IRC 3 boats include Shirley Robertson and Henry Bomby on Swell and former Rolex Fastnet Race winner Alexis Loison on the JPK 1080 Leon, are expected to arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning.