July's 50th Rolex Fastnet Race will see a spectacular competition within the world's leading offshore racing class, the IMOCA © Paul Wyeth
World’s leading offshore racing class heads for the Rolex Fastnet Race
An extraordinary phenomenon of modern day yacht racing, especially considering their cost and complexity: 40 IMOCAs are due to compete in the next Vendée Globe in 2024. The majority of these 60 footers, many of them foil-born flying machines, will also be on the July start line of the Rolex Fastnet Race, now part of the IMOCA calendar and counting as qualifying miles for next year's singlehanded non-stop round the world race. In this year's historic 50th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's flagship event, the IMOCAs will race doublehanded (with an extra media crewman).
The IMOCA line-up in the Rolex Fastnet Race will be formidable. At present it includes eight brand new boats (for some the race will be their first ever) and 12 of the 33 competitors from the last Vendée Globe, including all the podium finishers.
Following a start line collision that put him out of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, Vendée Globe winner Yannick Bestaven returns with his new Maître CoQ V, a Verdier design built from 11th Hour Racing's moulds. Since finishing third in the last Vendée Globe, Louis Burton has acquired the Manuard-designed former L'Occitane en Provence, the most scow-bowed of the last generation IMOCAs. This he has rechristened Bureau Vallée, as all his boats have been since he was youngest skipper in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe.
Second in the last Vendée Globe (first home, but relegated to second after Bestaven received time compensation) Charlie Dalin returns to the Rolex Fastnet Race after one of the most exceptional performances in 2021 when he not only demolished the IMOCA competition (in this evenly matched class, his Apivia finished six hours ahead) but at the Scilly Isles his 60 footer was on the transom of the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios. "After that the wind dropped and went right a bit, so we couldn't foil any more - it was a regret, because if it hadn't, we would have been able to pass them, I think. In foiling mode we were faster," recalls Dalin.
This time Dalin is back with a new IMOCA, the Verdier-design MACIF, due for launch in June. "We have identified a few points of sail we wanted to improve, like downwind sailing in moderate-heavy seas and also to optimise the ergonomics of the boat using our experience of the last four years," he explains.
For the new MACIF, the Rolex Fastnet Race will be its first race. Dalin is a big fan of the event in which he holds an impressive track record: aside from his 2021 victory, he won the Figaro doublehanded class in 2013, and came third in the IMOCA class in 2015. "It will be exciting to start with the Fastnet. I am looking forward to exiting the Solent on the new boat with hundreds of other boats around."
Britain has some strong IMOCA entries. All eyes will be on class veteran Sam Davies and her new Initiatives Coeur. Launched last year, Davies' first new build IMOCA is a Sam Manuard design, constructed from the moulds of L'Occitane en Provence (see above). As ever her worthy, clever campaign will be using social media likes to raise funds for Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, a charity which undertakes heart operations for third world children.
Formally launched on Friday is the IMOCA class' first two boat campaign, a winning approach previously used in the America's Cup and Whitbread Round the World Race. This sees Thomas Ruyant hook up with Britain's Sam Goodchild in their joint 'For People and Planet' campaign, backed by their respective sponsors Advens and Leyton. Both will be on the start line in July. Ruyant will skipper For People, a brand new IMOCA designed by Finot-Conq and Antoine Koch, while Goodchild inherits Ruyant's former LinkedOut, a 2019 Persico-built Verdier design. While LinkedOut was sixth in the last Vendée Globe she otherwise has been hugely successful having won both the last Transat Jacques Vabre and last year's Route du Rhum.
For Goodchild, who comes from the Ocean Fifty class and most recently has been crewing on the Ocean Race leader Holcim – PRB, his IMOCA campaign has been a long time in the making since 2011 when he was the first Artemis Offshore Academy graduate to receive backing for a Figaro campaign. "We took our time! I always wanted to do it well. I am happy to do it later and better," says Goodchild, who has since competed in most major offshore events and won the Pro Sailing Tour with Leyton in his first season as skipper in 2021.
Goodchild has competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race many times, first on the Artemis IMOCA 60 in 2009 and subsequently in the Class40, then on the MOD70 Phaedo and the Ultime Sodebo, although he has yet to win it. "It is a great race, a great course. Going back to the Solent is always fun especially as I now spend too much time in France! We go further down the Channel coming back now, so we get more for our money this time. I always like the big races which mix pros and amateurs and everyone is on the same race course - it is good fun." The Rolex Fastnet Race will be Goodchild's first official IMOCA event in his new boat and he is looking forward to finishing in Cherbourg. "It is a great port with a lot of space and a lot of current, which you need to be careful with."
Meanwhile Pip Hare is upping the ante with her new-to-her IMOCA Medallia, formerly Armel le Cléac'h's 2016-17 Vendée Globe winner (raced to third place by Louis Burton in the last race). Since finishing 12th in last year's Route du Rhum, Medallia has been undergoing major surgery at Jason Carrington's yard in Hythe, including a bow modification to raise the stem, but most significantly fitting new Verdier foils that are double the size of her old ones, thus requiring major structural modifications. They have good pedigree being identical to those currently winning the Ocean Race on Holcim–PRB.
"It has been really nice to watch everyone go through the Southern Ocean and to hear how they got on with the big foils," says Hare. "It has reassured me that we are making the right decision and keeping the boat relevant. With the new foils we will take off earlier (ie in less wind) and should be flying much higher as well."
While this will only be Hare's third Rolex Fastnet Race, her last in 2019 was memorable when the ancient IMOCA she was skippering found itself leading the entire monohull fleet on the first night. This time on a competitive boat, it will be a different experience, a much-needed opportunity to gauge performance against the opposition: "It is a bloody hard race. The course is short and geographically constrained, so everyone will constantly be up against everyone else. A race that takes in a classic start out of the Solent, all the tidal gates, the Celtic Sea, etc - is likely to serve you up anything at all. It is as serious as races get – an interesting length and really technical."
Also to be watched will be James Harayda on Gentoo, the 2007 vintage former Hugo Boss. At 25, Harayda will be the youngest skipper in the IMOCA class but has already shown his potential coming home 14th out of 34 finishers in last year's Route du Rhum.
Other French ultra-heavyweight contestants racing in July include Jérémie Beyou with his new latest generation Manuard design Charal. Beyou won the race's IMOCA class in 2019 and was second home in 2021 and aboard his new boat was third in last year's Route du Rhum. Newly launched in February was the latest Paprec Arkéa for Yoann Richomme. Like Ruyant's For People this is a new design by Finot-Conq and Antoine Koch. Between them Richomme and Beyou have five Solitaire du Figaro wins - Beyou in 2005/11/14, but Richomme more recently in 2016/19.
Maxime Sorel finished the last Vendée Globe in 10th place but launched his latest boat last year. His new V and B - Monbana- Mayenne is a Verdier design, built from Apivia's moulds but with a new bow design and latest generation foils. Aboard her Sorel came home fifth in last year's Route du Rhum. Also fielding a 2022 boat is Eric Bellion, first rookie in the 2016 Vendée Globe, who's new Persico-built Commeunseulhomme powered by Altavia is from successful Mini designer David Raison.
While French teams as always make up the majority in the IMOCA class, international representation remains strong. Aside from the British competitors, Kojiro Shiraishi from Japan returns with DMG Mori Global One, a 2019 VPLP design aboard which he was 16th in the last Vendée Globe. Also on the start line will be Canadian Scott Shawyer aboard Canada Ocean Racing, the 2011 vintage Owen Clarke design (originally Acciona), while from Hungary is Szabolcs Weöres aboard Szabi Racing, originally Dee Caffari's Aviva. Confusingly a Belgian, Denis van Weynbergh is racing one of the few Hungarian-built IMOCAs, originally Nandor Fa's Spirit of Hungary, now called D'Ieteren Group. Flying the flag for Germany as well as France will be Isabelle Joschke on MACSF, the 2007 vintage VPLP-Verdier that was originally Safran.
There are currently two Rolex Fastnet Race competitors from Switzerland. Alan Roura became the Vendée Globe's youngest competitor when he finished 12th in the 2016-17 race aged 23. Now on his third attempt, Roura is campaigning a competitive boat in Alex Thomson's latest Hugo Boss. Meanwhile Justine Mettraux, one of four female skippers, is becoming one of her nation's most accomplished offshore racers having finished second in the Mini Transat and competed in three Volvo Ocean Races/Ocean Races, winning with Dongfeng Race Team and currently with 11th Hour Racing. She is campaigning the 2018 VPLP design Teamwork, that was Jérémie Beyou's previous Charal.
Romain Attanasio has a new-to-him Fortinet-Best Western, originally Seb Josse's Edmond de Rothschild, which, in much modified form, finished fifth in the last Vendée Globe as Boris Herrmann's Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco. Benjamin Ferre's Monnoyeur Duo For A Job was originally François Gabart's MACIF, which not only won the 2012-13 Vendée Globe but also the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race, before being raced by Clarisse Crémer as Banque Populaire to 12th place and first woman home in the last Vendée Globe.
Meanwhile three others are racing 2008-09 Vendée Globe vintage boats. Pro sailor Sébastien Marsset on Foussier-Mon Courtier Energie, won the Volvo Ocean Race with Groupama and was 11th in the last Vendée Globe. Freelance.com is skippered by Guirec Soudée, an adventurer who previously spent five years sailing round the world, was the youngest sailor to traverse the North West Passage and has rowed both west to east and east to west across the Atlantic. Groupe Setin's Manuel Cousin is an ex-Class40 sailor who upgraded to the IMOCA class in 2017 and finished 23rd in the last Vendée Globe.
Such is the level of competition and calibre in the IMOCA fleet perhaps half of the fleet is capable of winning – it will be spectacular!