The Ultim trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is first boat to finish in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, while Skorpios is first monohull around the Rock

While the smaller monohulls faced a battle of attrition in the first 24 hours of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the crew of the 100ft trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild have made the 695-mile offshore course look easy, finishing first on Monday evening after 1 day 9 hours 15 mins and 54 seconds of racing.

As the majority of the fleet woke to another 20-knot day as they battled their way west along the English Channel this morning, the Gitana team on the leading Ultim were approaching the Fastnet Rock.

Having blasted out of the Solent as far south as Alderney, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild trimaran set up on a long port fetch towards Ireland, tacking around the Rock at 0800am. From there, they lit the afterburners, topping 40 knots on a fast reach back towards the Scillies.

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild leaving the Solent. Photo: Mark Lloyd/Gitana

Charles Caudrelier and Franck Cammas smashed the previous race record for the 2019 edition into Plymouth, and have now also set the new benchmark course time for the Cowes-Fastnet-Cherbourg route. 

There was much controversy over the decision by Rolex Fastnet Race organisers RORC to move the finish from Plymouth to Cherbourg in France. But if validation were needed, the reception the giant trimaran crew received into Cherbourg-en-Contentin at 2024hrs will have been a positive early sign.

Spectators gathered on the breakwater, flares were lit, horns blasted and champagne sprayed. While not yet on the scale of a Route du Rhum or French ocean classic, as Cammas noted: “There is a very good ambiance here – maybe a little bit more than if we finish in England.”

Franck Cammas celebrates Maxi Edmond de Rothschild’s line honours win in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Photo Paul Wyeth/Rolex Fastnet Race

The winners’ biggest gains came from their early decision to duck south, which put the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild team on the south west of the fleet.

“We did a very good job in tactics,” said Franck Cammas on the dock after finishing. “Charles and Erwan [Israël] did a good job in the routing to go in the south.

“And we had one very good shift, one good tactical call, to stay in south of Sodebo and Actual, and that put us more than 20 miles ahead, so we were not in the same wind. That’s why we finished so far ahead.”

Flat water for Maxi Edmond De Rothschild passing the Fastnet Rock Photo: Rolex

The run back from the Fastnet Rock was where the Ultim was able to really hit top speed, maintaining high 30-knot boat speeds until the Channel Islands. “The wind was stronger than expected so we were very happy,” said Caudrelier.

“We smashed the routing on the way back, and the wind was forecast to decrease but until Gurnsey the wind was much stronger than [predicted]. It was good for us, we’ll have a good dinner in Cherbourg!”

Second boat home will be Yves le Blevec’s Actual Leader, due some five hours later, with Thomas Coville’s Sodebo close behind.

The Ultims were not the only class to dive south on exiting the Solent. While the conventional yachts have plugged the usual tactical course along the English south coast, playing the tidal gates around the headlands, the largest trimarans and IMOCA 60s also opted to sail further mileage by heading south of the Casquets Traffic Separation Scheme. 

The IMOCA 60s Hugo Boss, Apivia and Charal heading west from Cowes after the Rolex Fastnet Race start Photo: Rolex

Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on the IMOCA Apivia took the most extreme route, sailing to within 20 miles of the Paimpol peninsular of Brittany. The gamble paid off, and at Lands End Apivia was side by side with the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, despite the Swan having more than double the IMOCA’s waterline length.

Initiatives Coeurs skipper Sam Davies explained why so many of the IMOCA fleet had chose the route: “Nico [Lunven, her co-skipper] had done a lot of work on the weather routing with lots of different models and pretty much all of our routing went that way, because we might get flat water in the Alderney Race, sheltered by the Channel Islands and be first into the west going current off the north French coast.”

Skorpios leads Rambler 88 in the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rolex

As anticipated, the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios is leading the monohull fleet on the water. The largest boat ever to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race was first monohull to round the Rock at 1818 on Monday night, after after 30 hours 38 minutes 43 seconds (leaving the record set in 2019 by Rambler unbeaten at 26 hours 45 minutes 47 seconds).

Last race’s line honours winner Rambler 88 had a challenging night of manoeuvres, ducking the tide closely around Lands End. George David’s Rambler 88 took the east side of the Land’s End TSS, while Skorpios passed to the west, between the TSS and the Scilly Isles. 

However, Dalin and Meilhat on the IMOCA 60 Apivia stayed neck and neck with the giant Swan all the way to the Rock, rounding just 1 hour 5 minutes behind them at.

The Class 40 Project Rescue Ocean was leading class with skipper Axel Trehin before dismasting. Photo: Rolex

Elsewhere in the fleet the brutal conditions continued to have an impact, with over 70 retirements by Monday afternoon.

These included the leading Class 40, Project Rescue Ocean, which was dismasted off Lizard Point – the crew is unhurt and are making their own way to Cornwall.

With potentially significant breeze shifts and windspeed forecast to reduce as the fleet approaches Cherbourg, the IRC overall lead is likely to change. However currently the IRC leaderboard is topped by the Volvo Open 70, I Love Poland, which is 1st in IRC Zero.