Race to the rock

Charal shakes off competition to claim Rolex Fastnet Race honours.

06 August 2019


Twenty IMOCA 60s set sail in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial Rolex Fastnet Race and, as forecast, it was the unusual and near impossible-to-predict transition on the first evening between southeasterly gradient to southwesterly pre-frontal breeze that would prove the race’s ‘defining moment’.

Out of the Solent, PRB, sailed by Nicolas Lunven and her new skipper Kevin Escoffier, led, with Clarisse Cremer and Vendée Globe winner Armel le Cleac’h on board Banque Populaire and Charal both to leeward. However here Charal demonstrated the power of her foils, forging ahead past the north of the Casquets traffic separation scheme (TSS) with Louis Burton and Davy Beaudart aboard Bureau Vallée leading the southerly group.

Alongside the top IRC Zero boats, like Rambler 88, Wizard and Sorcha, they headed southwest out into the middle of the channel, only for the wind to disappear almost completely and chaos to rein. As Sam Davies, sailing Initiatives Coeur with Route du Rhum winner Paul Meilhat, described it: “We went backwards for a while. I think we tried to draw a heart…because Initiatives Coeur is all about saving kids with heart problems. It was frustrating.”


Meanwhile British IMOCA 60 newbie Pip Hare and the fastest man on the water, Australian Paul Larsen were trickling along in breeze to the north on the shortest course. Ultimately they enjoyed several blissful hours of fame as their ancient 20 year old boat led the entire IMOCA 60 fleet past the Lizard.

Beyou observed: “It was strange because I think they had wind from the north, which they should never have had! That was a good call by them.” Sébastien Simon and Vincent Riou on the new Juan K-designed Arkea Paprec were first of southerly group to notice the north paying, gybing to get a piece of it.

Hare and Larsen were eventually overtaken at the Scilly Isles, when Charal once again regained the lead ahead of Banque Populaire.

Outbound to the Fastnet Rock, Charal extended her lead to 15 miles. It was also lively, said Beyou:

“It was very difficult because the wind was stronger than expected. We had 35 knots when I was expecting 25! It was wild reaching and the sea was rough.”

On port tack, the wind was also veering. This left Charal 10 miles further east than they’d hoped, forcing them to short tack west along the top of the Fastnet TSS and the Irish coast to reach the Fastnet Rock. This they finally rounded after an elapsed of 1d 8h 52m 38s.

Rounding some 20 minutes later were Vendee Globe veterans Yannick Bestaven and Roland Jourdain on Maître CoQ, with Initiatives Coeurs another 20 minutes behind.

On the run back to the Scilly Isles, Maître CoQ drew level with Charal. This was due their having to make some laborious sail changes, reported Beyou. “We were broad reaching at 120° TWA under full main and J2 after the Fastnet TSS. Then we changed to the A3, which was the manoeuvre where we lost a lot.” During this period Charal hit her top speed of the race – 33-34 knots.

Charal passed Bishop Rock to the west of the Scilly Isles at 0630 this morning while behind a four way fight was developing between Banque Populaire, Maître CoQ and Initiatives Coeurs and Bureau Vallée 2.

Through judicious covering, Charal kept herself between those chasing and the Plymouth breakwater finish line where she arrived at 14:02:28 BST in an elapsed time of 2d 1h 32m 28s (outside of the PRB’s 2011 record of 1d 23h 21m 27s). Impressively this was only around 1.5 hours more than Peter Harrison’s Maxi 72 Sorcha, being sailed with large talented armies of crew. As Beyou observed: “They were gybing a bit better than us…”

Overall Beyou said of this year’s race: “It was nice – a tough one because every time we were leading, people kept coming back into us. Anyway, we were first which is a good accomplishment for the team, because in the last two races we’ve had to stop. It has been good to see the boat perform in different conditions – upwind, downwind, light wind, strong wind.”


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