A total of 300 boats will line up on Sunday for Rolex Fastnet Race 9/8/07

With the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race this Sunday, 12 August, a fleet of Rolex Fastnet hopefuls has begun assembling in and around The Solent area. Many of the entrants are racing in Skandia Cowes Week, used as a tune-up by some for the 608-nautical mile Rolex Fastnet Race.

With the largest fleet since 1979, 300 boats will take to the start line off the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes on Sunday, with the first signal due at 0950 BST. ??The Rolex Fastnet is a race steeped in history. First contested in 1925 and, except for a break during the 1940s, run biennially since the early 1930s, this year will mark the 42nd edition. A true bluewater ocean race, to compete in this race is a goal for many sailors whether for the first time, the fifth or the 20th time.

In the 23-boat Double-Handed Class, Simon Cowen (Hindhead, UK) has competed in the race once before, in 2005. But racing this year on the J/105 Voador, he comes to the Rolex Fastnet with some impressive successes including 1st in the 2-handed class in the 2002 Round Britain and Ireland Race, J/105 National Champion in 2005, and 2nd in the 2001 Mini Transat and highest placed Briton in the event. Cowen is up against some tough competition. Alex Whitworth, competing this year on Audacious, is notable for racing in the 2004 and 2005 editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the 2005 Rolex Fastnet while undertaking a double-handed world-circumnavigating delivery trip in between with his friend Peter Crozier.

On Iromiguy, a Nicholson 33, Jean Yves Chateau (Boulogne sur Mer, FRA) returns for his 5th race and can boast a successful history to date, with top five finishes in class each time, capped by winning the Fastnet Challenge Cup for 1st overall in 2005 – ahead of the super maxis ICAP Maximus and Skandia Wild Thing both three times the length of Iromiguy.

There are those who return again and again, each time determined to test themselves against the sometimes unpredictable and fickle winds, and, the currents that are a feature of the waters off the south coast of England.

For Piet Vroon and Ken Newman once was definitely not enough. Vroon, from The Netherlands, is competing this year on his Lutra 56, Formidable, in what will be his 23rd race. After over 40 years of competing in the Fastnet, Vroon struck gold in 2001, winning both the IRC and IRM classes overall and taking home both the Fastnet Challenge Cup and Fastnet Rock Trophy and a Rolex Yacht-master chronometer.

Topping Vroon is Ken Newman, on the Swan 51 Grandee, as this will be his 24th race – he has only missed one since his first Fastnet, forty years ago in 1967. What brings the intrepid 78-year old sailor back each time is more than habit, for the Rolex Fastnet he explains – unlike other ocean races – is a course where you have several legs with their own variables, “it’s a classic race in the sense that around the course you are in different situations and each leg is its own challenge. Never assume you’ve won and never assume you’ve lost.” Newman is often asked if he sailed in the “bad race” (referring to the ’79 Fastnet), but for Newman the bad one was 1957 on a boat called Bluejacket. “It was awful,” he recalls, with gales sweeping through the fleet. “We blew out two genoa halyard blocks and we had to anchor off Brixham,.it took us over 5 days, but we finished.”

Of 41 starters, Bluejacket finished in last (12th) place on handicap, but at least she finished unlike the 29 boats that dropped out.

The Rolex Fastnet Race is also noteworthy in that many crews sail to raise awareness and/or funds for charity. Onboard the Sigma 38 Top Banana, Team NHS is made up of doctors, nurses, hospital managers and midwifes intending to demonstrate how National Health Service teamwork may be transferred to the competitive and challenging world of offshore sailing.

Onboard the 38-foot MAC Mission, the crew from Hull is racing to raise awareness for the World Wildlife Fund’s campaign to introduce a UK Marine Act to protect marine wildlife.??Meanwhile, the highly competitive IMOCA 60s, which are racing under class rules, have gathered some top sailing talent, none less than on Hugo Boss, where Alex Thompson has enlisted the help of veteran Whitbread/Volvo Round the World Race and America’s Cup navigator, Andrew Cape. Dee Caffari, on Aviva, has weather expert Mike Broughton to help with the tactical decision-making and, whilst her crew list includes an Olympic Rowing Gold Medallist, Sir Matthew Pinsent is onboard as a non-participative journalist so will not be grinding the winch handles.

Most sailing pundits are eagerly anticipating the match-up between the stunning 30 metre canting keelers, Mike Slade’s brand-new Farr-designed ICAP Leopard and Neville Crichton’s latest Reichel Pugh-designed Alfa Romeo, which has had a string of wins since her launch two years ago. The boats are scheduled to square off for the first time this week in some inshore racing.

The resurgent interest in ocean racing led race organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, to cap the number of entries this year at 300. Entries came in quickly and at two months out the list was mostly filled. The process of checking certifications and compliance with the race regulations continues and the final ratings will be issued just prior to the start.

The Fastnet Challenge Cup will be awarded to the overall winner under IRC. A Rolex Chronometer will also be awarded to the Fastnet Challenge Cup winner and the line honours monohull winner. In addition to the main trophy for overall victory under IRC, there are more than 30 additional trophies that will be awarded at the prizegiving on Friday, 17 August at the historic Royal Citadel, home of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooking Plymouth Harbour. ??The first signal for the start of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 0950 on Sunday 12 August.