10 August 2021
Following a dramatic start on Sunday in blustery winds over 25 knots and a nasty wind-over-tide chop, the majority of the 337-strong fleet in the 49th Rolex Fastnet Race has been hunkering down to business as usual as winds ease slightly in the English Channel.
At the front of the pack, the Ultime trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was chasing her own record that she set in 2019. Headwinds in the Channel followed by a fetch to the Rock meant she rounded at 8:00am BST (5:00pm AEST) on Monday 9 August, just short of four hours shy of her 2019 time. As she headed back downhill toward the finish at Cherbourg, she quickly picked up speed, taking line honours at 20:24:54 BST, in the process setting a new record for the race’s longer 695-mile course of 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 54 seconds.
The crew of six was led by co-skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier. Also on board were David Boileau, Erwan Israel, Morgan Lagraviere and Yann Riou.
“The boat is amazing – we have improved since last year, so we are very happy,” said Caudrelier. “The team has done a fantastic job over the last year to develop the boat and we can’t stop that because new boats are coming. We are very happy about this race and the result of it, and the way it has happened.”
Maxi Edmond de Rothschild led the fleet south towards the Channel Islands where, significantly, they tacked further south than their main Ultime rivals.
“For us it was important to get south to get the shift,” continues Caudrelier. “It was obvious and we wanted to stay on the left of the fleet. Then we were worried about getting too close to the south of England approaching the Sevenstones [lightship], so we were very happy with what we did. We didn’t make too many mistakes.”
Cammas added: “Charles and Erwan [Israel] did a good job with the routing and we had one good shift by going further south that enabled us to put more than 20 miles on Sodebo and Actual. What was strange was that the French boats went on the south of the Channel and the English boats stayed in the north! Perhaps they are using different routing software!”
The upwind nature of the race meant Maxi Edmond de Rothschild hadn’t managed consistently high speeds. However, after the turn they did briefly reach 40–41 knots after passing Bishop Rock on their return journey – testament to the extraordinary power available when conditions are just right.
Meanwhile, as Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was tearing toward the finish the monohulls were rounding the Rock. First past the iconic turning point was Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, which reached the Rock in the evening of Monday 9 August some 10 hours after the Ultime trimaran.
Just behind Skorpios, Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on the 60-foot IMOCA Apivia have done a phenomenal job leading the IMOCA fleet since they charged out of the blustery Solent. Approaching the Rock, the talented Frenchmen, both past class winners, were 35 miles ahead of second placed Charal, the defending IMOCA champion, sailed by Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt.
Meanwhile, Robert Gwozdz’s Sailing Poland was leading the other VO65s across the Celtic Sea. “We are going well against the other VO65s,” commented Dutch round the world race legend Bouwe Bekking, who is racing on board. “Yesterday afternoon we had sometimes gusts of 33–35 [knots] but in general it was about 25–30. And then last night, the breeze eased in the evening when the sun set and we changed firstly to the big jib and then during the night we had 25 knots, so we just reefed the main in and out.
“You know how it is, you go to the corner and the wind is on the nose. It should be forbidden to sail upwind!”
Despite coming direct from Copa del Rey MAPFRE, Bekking had had little chance to rest. “I haven’t got out of my foulweather gear yet!”
While Sailing Poland was leading the VO65 competition, her compatriot, the Polish National Foundation’s VO70 I Love Poland was further up the course leading IRC Zero, her crew including British Figaro sailor Alan Roberts and Volvo Ocean Race sailor Martin Strömberg.