The Fastnet double-handed fleet made up a whopping 89 boats in this year’s race, almost a quarter of the fleet, and produced one of the closest finishes of the race – and some of the most exhausted crews after 695 miles of intense offshore competition.
The double-handed win went to Alexis Loison, sailing with 470 sailor Guillaume Pirouelle on the JPK 10.30 Léon.
Two-man crews were particularly prevalent in IRC 3 which included former Rolex Fastnet Race winner Alexis Loison, sailing with 470 sailor Pirouelle, while British ocean racer Henry Bomby was sailing with double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson on the SunFast 3300 Swell.
In the tough start conditions there was some early attrition among the second smallest class of boats in the race in IRC 3. Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley, who were aiming to repeat their IRC Two-Handed victory from 2015, had to retire, as did James Harayda and Dee Caffari on Gentoo, who suffered a badly ripped mainsail.
Swell also had a tough start to their race, having been OCS, though Bomby and Robertson managed to recover well and had overhauled Léon by the Needles.
The duel between Léon and Swell continued across the Celtic Sea. On the long reach back east down the Channel the Brits on Swell edged into the lead on the water and then, unimaginably, ahead of Loison under IRC corrected time.
Shirley Robertson and Henry Bomby on the SunFast 3300 Swell in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race
The tricky Casquets TSS
had a significant impact on the double-handed results, with the frontrunners sailing to the south side. Léon
edged south and Swell
began to cover them vigorously, but this tactic left another JPK 1080, Aileau,
free to sail a more direct path closer to the TSS and the rhumbline, taking the lead on the water.
In the early hours of the morning, Swell were able to creep past Aileau, but Loison’s Léon gybed closer to Cap de la Hague. That move allowed Léon to reduce the deficit on Swell sufficiently to beat them by 36 minutes under corrected time at the line.
The IRC 3 and Two-Handed winners, Alexis Loison and Guillaume Pirouelle on Leon, crossing the Fastnet finish line in their home port of Cherbourg. Photo: Paul Wyeth/RORC
“I am very happy to win again and very pleased with our performance,” commented Loison, a professional Figaro sailor. “We pushed very hard on board and that is good for Guillaume and me. We trained well together for all of this year with the Figaro, so to win our class in the Rolex Fastnet Race is a great thing to have happened.”
“I think all of the Fastnet double-handed crews have worked a lot to produce a better performance. We have seen a lot of well prepared boats, especially in IRC Two-Handed, like Shirley and Henry. They were very strong and made a good comeback at the end. After the Scillies, Swell sailed very fast and we could not do anything, but have a little cry! However near the end, Swell went further south and had less wind than us and we could come back.
“Another two-handed team, Aileau, took a very good option near the end, so we had to worry about them too. There is a lot of options and a lot of boats [in the Fastnet], so it is impossible to control all of the boats. We chose our tactics looking at Swell, and didn’t consider Aileau. The Raz Blanchard [Alderney Race] produces a new complexity to the race, but it is a good finish.”
Shirley Robertson and Henry Bomby (Swell, SunFast 3300) after finishing the Fastnet in 2nd in both IRC 3 and Two-Handed division. Photo: Paul Wyeth/RORC
Robertson and Bomby finished their Fastnet with a 2nd place in both IRC Class 3 and the overall Two-Handed division. “If you had asked us at the Scillies I would have said it was a long shot,” said Bomby. “Then as we started making progress I started to believe it was possible.”
“It was so intense- it feels like we’ve raced around the planet!” admitted Robertson. “It feels like I’ve been away a lot longer than five days.
“To be right in the thick of it, battling for first place, was amazing.
“Henry is an amazing talent. He always believed that somewhere along the line we would be able to get back into them.”