The world’s fastest offshore racers have set their sights on not just beating but destroying the Fastnet course record
With at least two Ultimes set to take on the Fastnet course this year, Loick Peyron’s 2011 course record could be consigned to the history books.
At the time of writing, Francois Gabart’s MACIF and Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 were confirmed entries, while Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier’s Edmond de Rothschild is hopeful of joining them (pending a successful rebuild, following a bow breakage in the 2018 Route du Rhum).
Any one of these cutting-edge foiling trimarans is capable of a record-breaking run given favourable weather conditions. Gabart revealed that he is targeting an average speed of 40 knots, more than double the 18.53 knots Peyron averaged at the helm of Banque Populaire V before finishing the famous 608-mile course in 32 hours and 48 minutes.
Today, Banque Populaire V is old technology. Modern Ultime trimarans may be shorter, at around 100ft, but are substantially faster thanks to new foiling technology.
“With the speeds we can now reach and if conditions are good for flying, then we can break the record for sure, but it fully depends on the weather,” admits Gabart.
MACIF, all 30 x 21m of her, can fly in around 13 knots of wind but the optimum conditions are 15-18 knots – more than this and the sea state becomes too lumpy. In her sweet spot MACIF has already touched 49.4 knots (in the Route du Rhum, singlehanded under autopilot).
“Our target is to average more than 40 knots,” adds Gabart. A 40-knot Rolex Fastnet Race would take just over 15 hours!
Francois Gabart is one of contemporary sailing’s most remarkable competitors. Pleasantly unassuming and relatively small framed, the blonde haired French 36-year-old moved up through the usual French classes culminating in his getting backing from his insurance company sponsor MACIF for a Vendée Globe campaign.
In 2012-13 he won the Vendée Globe on his first attempt, and subsequently the IMOCA class in the Rolex Fastnet Race sailing doublehanded with Michel Desjoyeaux. “I have just done the race once, so I have a 100% success rate!” he quips.
Since then Gabart has graduated up to the Ultime trimaran class and has since set a 24-hour solo speed record of 851 miles, and in 2017 set a new time for the singlehanded round the world record of just 42 days 16 hours and 40 minutes – just under two days slower than the record for the fully crewed lap.
During this Gabart averaged 27.2 knots, so it’s a fair assumption that MACIF, being sailed fully crewed and having since been modified and improved, should be able to destroy the present record. MACIF would ‘only’ have to average upwards of 25.3 knots to complete the Rolex Fastnet Race in under a day.
Photo: Jean Marie Liot/DPPI
However, Gabart will face stiff competition from the latest arrival on the Ultime scene. Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 was launched in March this year, so the 2019 Fastnet Race will be its first competitive outing.
“We have been discovering the boat technically – furling and unfurling, tacking and gybing and using the boards, up and down and the daggerboard and playing with the rake of the rudders. It is working pretty well,” Coville told the Royal Ocean Racing Club.
“We’ve just had two offshore sessions for two or three days each in 30 knots and the boat seems very safe and quite fast. But it is a long way from being stable and achieving really big speeds.”
At 32m LOA, Sodebo is the largest vessel in this year’s Fastnet fleet and has an estimated top speed of 50 knots, meaning it is more than capable of giving MACIF a run for its money.
“Before on the old Ultimes, the target was 30 knots,” Coville explained. “Now our targets are 35+ knot average speeds. It is a huge step up, but you need to stabilise the flight or to be skimming to raise the average speed and that is sea state dependent. It is amazing how easy it is to go fast in a good sea state.”
Coville is remarkable for having competing in almost every major sailing event from the America’s Cup and Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race (winning with Groupama 4) to the Mini, IMOCA 60, ORMA 60 and for more than a decade in giant multihulls. In 2016 he set a new solo round the world record (which was later broken by Gabart).
Coville also competed in the Fastnet with the French Corum team that won the 1991 Admiral’s Cup. He has fond memories of the race.
“The Rolex Fastnet Race will be our first race to test our new boat,” says Coville. “It is a great opportunity for us to compete against the other Ultimes and to be part of a big race in England.
“The Fastnet is very prestigious and usually has a lot of different conditions, so it is a perfect test. It is a mix of different ways of sailing and different levels, but it is all still the same passion for offshore sailing. I really like this way of thinking and the atmosphere.”
The 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race will begin in Cowes on Saturday 3 August, with the multihulls first off at 1230 in what promises to be an unmissable sailing spectacle.