George David’s Rambler 88 wins monohull line hours, and rounded the Fastnet in conditions reminiscent of her crew’s dramatic rescue in 2011


Big seas, fast reaching, relentless sail changes and a fast run back from the Fastnet Rock: Rambler 88’s second monohull line honours win of the Rolex Fastnet Race this morning marked the finish of a fast by tough race – and, for American owner George David, a surprisingly emotional one.

Launched out of the Solent and borne through the tidal gates along the coast by south-easterlies, the fleet leaders met a narrower than forecast transition zone to south-westerlies, then had some fast reaching to the Fastnet Rock.

This weather pattern has favoured the larger yachts in the fleet this year. With conditions in her favour, George David’s Rambler 88, with a crack crew including Kiwi tactician Brad Butterworth, set a new monohull course record to the Fastnet Rock.

This is the second consecutive time that Rambler 88 has taken monohull line honours in the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Rambler crossed the line after 1d 19h of racing, just an hour and a quarter outside the race record, but enough to beat her main competition, the 100ft maxi Scallywag. This is Rambler 88’s 2nd monohull line honours win in this race – she was also first across the line in the last edition in 2017.

This was George David’s fifth Fastnet Race and he admitted he is disappointed not to have yet won this race. But he confessed that this race was a particularly difficult one. This was partly because, as they beat up to the Rock through heavy seas on Sunday evening, it brought back memories of being rescued from the water in 2011 when his previous yacht, Rambler 100, lost her keel and capsized.


Rambler 100‘s 2011 Fastnet challenge ended in disaster. Photo: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

Then, Rambler 100 was leading the monohull fleet. After a large rescue effort by Irish Coastguard helicopters and RNLI lifeboats, 16 of the crew who had managed to scale the upturned hull were rescued. But five others of the crew, including George David and his wife, Wendy, were swept away and drifted for two and a half hours before being spotted and picked up by a photo boat.

“We had extremely good conditions coming out of the Solent and we probably set a record to Portland Bill,” said David. “Then it was light and slow from The Lizard down to the Scillies, but it really picked up from there.

“There were tough conditions. It topped out at the Rock, probably 30 knots, with a really lumpy sea as can happen up there. We had some sail changes and a big shift and it was a dramatic moment.

“It was dramatic because when Rambler 100 [lost her keel] we were well on track to set a record. So this was a little bit sentimental for me to come back and go through that same experience, same time of day. Blowing 25-30. Big, lumpy sea. The conditions were almost dead-on the same.

“But we ended up VMG running down from Land’s End, which added 40-50 miles to our track, which is where the record went away this time. It would have been nice to get the record we should have had in 2011.”

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Elaborating on the moment of passing the capsize eight years ago, David said: “We had some good communication. Baltimore lifeboat was on station to say hello. We know those people well. We have been back to Baltimore four or five times since the accident.

“We had a radio telephone call with Valentia Island search and rescue, which were the ones who sent the helicopter that picked up Wendy David, my wife, and took her to safety.

“There is no doubt people might not have come back from that race but for the expertise and devotion of the rescue services. So we have strong feelings for those people.”

This was David’s fifth Fastnet Race. “This race, in my experience, is typically a small boat race. We came close to winning in 2007, the first time we did it, we were 2nd. In 2015 and 2017 we had slow races where the little boats came in with big breeze. But we’ll do better this year.

“It’s a wonderful race because the conditions are up and down and in my experience it’s half and half, with half the time getting 25 knots.”

SHK Scallywag finished just 27 minutes after Rambler 88. “It was a very close, exciting race,” said owner Seng Huang Lee. “We had a little bit of everything – fine weather, rough sea and a squall just before we rounded the Rock. But these were the conditions that Rambler was designed for, so congratulations to them.”