A record fleet of 388 yachts set sail Saturday afternoon from Cowes on the 48th edition of the RORC Rolex Fastnet Race.
Leading the charge down the Solent were the massive 32m long Ultim trimarans, with Maxi Edmond De Rothschild, skippered by Volvo Ocean Race winners Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier leading out of the Solent before a brief contretemps with the Shingles Bank allowed through Thomas Coville’s brand new Sodebo Ultim 3 and Francois Gabart’s MACIF (on which America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill is racing).
While the wind was southeasterly and forecast to be ultra-light in the lee of the Isle of Wight, in fact there was enough to keep the boats moving down the Solent, assisted by the strong ebb tide.
Among the IMOCA 60s, all being sailed doublehanded, there was a split north and south of the Shingles.
Kevin Escoffier and Nicolas Lunven on PRB was leading the southerly group and Paralympic sailor Damien Seguin and reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion Yoann Richomme on Groupe Apicil leading the group to the north . . . until they too grounded on the Shingles allowing Banque Populaire, Initiatives Coeur and Bureau Vallee 2 past.
Eighteen Class40s set sail at the same time as the IMOCA 60s and at Hurst Narrows it was Cabinet Z skippered by Cedric de Kervenoael, leading, followed by Imagine, the latest Owen Clarke design, skippered by German Jörg Reichers, and Franco-Englishman Luke Berry on the Mach 3 Lamotte – Module Création also in the mix.
George David’s Juan K-designed maxi Rambler 88 led the IRC fleet out of the Solent, ahead of the Dovell 100 SHK Scallywag on which owner Seng Huang Lee is sailing.
“This is my first Fastnet and I am really looking forward to it,” said Lee, who raced the final leg of the last Volvo Ocean Race in which his team competed. “The 100 is a lot more comfortable than the 65ft! We are aware of what happened in 1979 so this is going to be tough, but it looks like good weather with a strong finish.”
Among the competitive 70 footers, David and Peter Askew’s VO70 Wizard was doing a good job in light running conditions, hanging on to the coattails of Sir Peter Ogden’s 77ft Jethou and Peter Harrison’s Maxi 72 Sorcha leaving the Solent.
However stars of the show in IRC Z were David Collins’ Botin IRC 52 Tala and Eric de Turckheim’s Nivelt-Muratet 54 Teasing Machine, which blasted out of the start and were trailing the 70 footers at Hurst Narrows.
Exiting the Solent in IRC Two, 2015 winner Géry Trentesaux on board his Rolex Middle Sea winning JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé was leading the charge both on the water and under IRC, but with sistership Sunrise, skippered by Tom Kneen, close behind and with Christopher Daniel’s J/122E Juno, early season leader of the Performance 40 championship, third on the water.
Saturday evening the leaders will be tackling a transition zone which they will have to cross before reaching the new southwesterly breeze. This could prove the defining moment of the race for many.