With less than 40 days to the race start, crews are busy completing qualifying miles and prerequisites

With just under forty days to the start of the Fastnet (Sunday 9 August) the 300 registered crews are busy completing their qualification miles and other prerequisites. The 608 nautical-mile offshore race has a fearsome reputation – one brought home this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of the saddest chapter in the its illustrious history.

The fleet includes participants from sixteen different nations. The British and French make up the bulk, but entries have been received from Hong Kong, Australia and the USA, proving the lure of the Fastnet still crosses oceans.

The Americans are fielding half-dozen entries, including 2005 Sydney Hobart winner, Rosebud, owned and campaigned by Roger Sturgeon. Hong Kong’s flagship is under the ownership of Karl Kwok. Kwok is one of the region’s top owners and has launched a series of yachts under the name Beau Geste. 2009 sees that latest addition – a 24-metre Farr designed racer that steps a 38-metre, “5 spreader, cathedral in-line rig, built from high modulus carbon fibre mast, stayed with the same continuous carbon rigging as the Volvo Ocean 70s.”

Italy’s challenge also comes in large and small versions. Another yachting dynasty, Luna Rossa, will be part of the battle for mini-maxi supremacy alongside Rosebud and Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran (GBR). The Luna Rossa name is associated most commonly with the America’s Cup. Whilst Patrizio Bertelli’s latest racing yacht is an STP65 and an offshore boat, expect to see many sailors from the Cup world in the pro line-up. Sadly, regular crew and Olympian Robert Scheidt will not be on board.

Britain has its fair share of boats. ICAP Leopard will be the biggest and fastest boat in the race, aiming to lop more time off the existing course record if conditions suit, as owner Mike Slade remarks, “we are really looking forward to the Rolex Fastnet Race this year. It is always special and we will definitely be out to beat our 2007 record. The improvements to ICAP Leopard that have been made since the ’07 race have put an average of 7% onto the boat’s speed, but we were exceptionally quick coming back from the Rock to Plymouth last time in 24-25 knots of breeze, so it will be very much dependent on the weather.”

Slade views the Fastnet as part one in a two-part offshore classic being attempted this year, as he heads to Australia for a Christmas rendezvous with the Rolex Sydney Hobart.

At the other end of the design spectrum, the 45-foot (or 60-foot if you include the bowsprit) Morwenna, may be brand-spanking new, but she is built from ash and larch rather than carbon-fibre. In fact, she is a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter – just as the 1925 race winner, Jolie Brise. Morwenna is based upon the 1906 design, Mischief, once owned by the boy’s own adventurer Bill Tillman. According to her skipper, Stuart Jenkins, “we want to show that traditionally built boats are strong, reliable and safe and to encourage people to learn traditional way of sailing.”

The main trophy for overall victory in the Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. There are more than thirty additional trophies that will be awarded at the prizegiving on Friday 14 August at the historic Royal Citadel, overlooking Plymouth Harbour.

The first signal for the start of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 11.50 BST on Sunday 9 August.