Francois Gabart’s Ultime SVR-Lazartigue wins Rolex Fastnet Race multihull line honours and sets a new course record of 1 day 8 hours

Francois Gabart’s Ultime SVR-Lazartigue has claimed Rolex Fastnet Race line honours and set a new course record of 1d 8h 38m 27s over the 695-mile offshore.

With two foiling Ultimes lining up in this year’s Fastnet Race it was always going to be a straight head to head battle for line honours between SVR-Lazartigue and Armel le Cléac’h’s team on Banque Populaire.

After the two giant multihulls opened the Rolex Fastnet Race start sequence yesterday, Saturday 22 July, they went into a tricky tacking duel out of the Solent and through Hurst Narrows.

Tricky conditions for the giant 100ft Ultimes exiting the Solent at the start of the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo Rick Tomlinson/RORC

Skipper François Gabart told Yachting World after finishing: “These boats, they’re amazing, but it’s not an easy boat to do coastal racing and to be close to the shore like we were in the Solent. There was not a good angle to go out of the Solent. It was just tack, tack, tack. And it was strong winds and gusty, so clearly not easy and not safe to sail out of the Solent in these condition and with other boats around.

“So, yeah, I was a little bit nervous about the start, I was hoping it was not too much winds because more than 30 knots – if you’re out[ of the Solent], it’s okay, but if you’re close to the coast, it can be tricky. But then after, when we were out, it was strong winds.”

Shortly after exiting the Solent the ability of these 100ft goliaths to eat up the miles became evident when the two boats split tactics. Armel le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire headed directly to Cherbourg, crossing the Channel in less than three hours and tacking off the French coast before most of the fleet had even got into Poole Bay.

Meanwhile SVR Lazartigue headed some 30 miles offshore before tacking and reaching to the Lizard. The two boats remained split as they passed the Casquets TSS, SVR-Lazartigue to the north, Banque Populaire to the south, before both powered west. When they reconvened at the Needles, SVR Lazartigue held a 10 mile lead.

SVR-Lazartigue skipper François Gabart greets the press in Cherbourg. Photo: Nicolas Touze/Arrivee Fastnet Cherbourg

30 knots upwind

“The wind was going to the right, so it was a question about the timing and when [that shift] will arrive. If it was too late, it could be a good option to be in the south like Banque Populaire did. If it was arriving early, it was good for us to be on the right.

“I think we were a little bit slower, at least in the few first minutes when we were close to them, a little bit slower. So at the end we were something like 10 or 15 miles in front of them. So it was a good option and we didn’t break anything. Also it was strong winds for a few hours and some big waves.”

Gabart says the strongest windspeed they saw was 34-36 knots. “What was more was the waves, because we were still sailing at 28, 30 knots upwind. And when you arrive at 30 knots in front of big waves, it’s not easy.”

The SVR-Lazartigue crew celebrate winning line honours and setting a new course record in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo: Nicolas Touze/Arrivee Fastnet Cherbourg

First around the Fastnet Rock

It was a drag race to the Rock for both teams, before each put in a short tacking hitch off Kinsale, Ireland.

Gabart’s team rounded the Rock at 0804 (BST), after 19 hours 4 minutes 31 seconds of racing – one hour slower than the time set by the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild during the last edition – before flying back to Bishops Rock at 30-35 knot speeds.

“Coming back from Fastnet was downwind all the time, which means for us flying all the time. We went straight to the Scilles. Then after some gybes from the Scillies to here, it was perfect.”

Gabart’s team crossed the finish line off Cherbourg in 1st place at 21.38, setting a new course record of 1d 8h 38m 27s, and breaking team Gitana’s previous time in Maxi Edmond de Rothschild by 36 minutes and 27 seconds.

Armel le Cléac’h in Banque Populaire finished 2nd at 2236, also ahead of the existing course record time.

“Honestly? [I didn’t think about the record] not at all. We had both eyes on Banque Populaire all the time! And we lost them on the AIS when they went north of the last TSS. Then we saw them reappearing again – so just at this final timing, we started to think about the record.

“The focus was on the race and trying to be first.”

François Gabart and crew on SVR-Lazartigue celebrate as they cross the finish line of the Rolex Fastnet Race in Cherbourg Photo: Nicolas Touze/Arrivee Fastnet Cherbourg

Leading monohulls in Rolex Fastnet Race

Meanwhile the first Ultimes were approaching Cherbourg, the leading monohulls were approaching the Fastnet Rock. First monohull and first on the water in the IRC classes, the 88ft canting keel design Lucky (ex-Rambler was less than 10 miles ahead of the first IMOCA, Yoann Richomme’s Paprec Arkea. 

After last night’s brutal conditions, the forecast front has passed through with just 7-10 knots of breeze across much of the Celtic Sea going into the second evening of racing and calm conditions for those rounding the Rock tonight.

Lucky is also trading places with Sunrise for IRC overall lead. Were Thomas Kneen’s JPK 1180 to win it would make for a historic double, having won the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race overall – however there are still 500 miles to go and the race remains open for the taking.