Thursday, August 04, 2005

Charleston Yachting

Charleston Yachting

August 4, 2005

There is more than one way to win the Rolex Fastnet Race. One is to be fastest around the 608-mile course, to be first past the post in Plymouth. This Sunday the battle for line honours is likely to come down to a high-speed duel between two Antipodean Maxis, Skandia Wild Thing and ICAP Maximus. Another way to win the Rolex Fastnet is under the IRC handicap system, and this is a possibility open to almost all of the 286 boats competing in the fleet this year - which, by the way, is the largest fleet to compete since 1979.

While the theoretical possibility exists for any boat to win, many of those 286 crews have not come to Cowes with thoughts of victory, but simply to take part in one of the great ocean racing classics. One team with its eye very much on handicap success, however, is the newly launched Irish TP52 Patches, owned by Eamon Conneely. With a crack crew headed up by two double Olympic medallists, skipper Ian Walker and helmswoman Shirley Robertson, this lightweight 52-footer has been tearing up the Solent over the past week at Skandia Cowes Week.

The measure of her dominance these past few days has taken the racing world by storm. After all, the TP52 is not designed specifically to the IRC rule and yet its handicap performance is proving staggeringly competitive. Robertson, enjoying a break from Olympic campaigning in small keelboats, is loving her job at the wheel of Patches. "She is probably the most responsive yacht I've ever sailed," she says. "As soon as you crack her off the breeze, she lights up and takes off. If we get reaching conditions in the race, then I think we can do well."

That too, is the assessment of Patches by Jeremy Robinson, helmsman of one of the TP52's chief rivals for IRC honours, Nick Lykiardopulo's 55-footer Aera. "In downwind conditions, Patches will be off, we won't even see her," admits Robinson. "But if we get a lot of upwind work then we could do well." Aera certainly proved her ability to tough it through the rough stuff in a wild and windy Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race at the end of last year, when Lykiardopulo's team beat a fleet of 116 boats on IRC handicap.

The Rolex Fastnet Race brings back the winning team from downunder, with 11 of the 15 Hobart crew reunited under former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Jez Fanstone for an assault on the Fastnet. "We've got a very strong team, four very good drivers which is vital in a race like this," says Robinson. "But you also need the luck of the weather in a race like this. All you can do is put the bits in place and see if it works for you."

While the two big swing-keeled Maxis are primarily gunning for line honours, Robinson has not ruled them out of the handicap race. "Looking at the weather, it could suit the big boats. If they get around the [Fastnet] Rock and there is a shutdown in the wind, then you could quite easily see one of the Maxis win line honours and handicap."

Then again, there are a number of interesting machines that could upset the predicted dominance of the 100-foot Maxis, not least the Volvo Open 70 Telefonica Movistar. Skipper Bouwe Bekking and his crew set the 24-hour monohull record of 535 miles earlier this year, so what she yields in length to the Maxis, she may well make up for in her awesome power-to-weight ratio. A fleet of 14 Open 60s will also enjoy a high-speed ride to the Fastnet Rock and back, with a number of round-the-world specialists such as Mike Golding, Nick Moloney, Marc Thiercelin and Bernard Stamm among the line-up.

Aside from the desire to win, the reasons for competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race are many and varied. Some sailors think of it in terms of their 'personal Everest'. For Simon Le Bon, lead singer with pop group Duran Duran, it is a matter of unfinished business. Twenty years ago he and his crew were rescued by the RNLI after his Maxi yacht Drum capsized in stormy weather off the coast of Falmouth. Now reunited with the same boat, renamed Arnold Clark Drum after her current owner, and with much of his old crew, Le Bon is back to complete the course. One of his reasons for competing is to bring more awareness to the volunteer body that saves hundreds of lives around Britain's coastline every year.

The first signal for the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 1050 on Sunday 7th August. In addition to the two main prizes - the Fastnet Challenge Cup and the Fastnet Rock Trophy, there are more than 30 trophies to be awarded at the conclusion of this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. The prizegiving will take place at the Royal Citadel, home of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, in Plymouth on Friday 12th August.

Further information about the RORC and the Rolex Fastnet Race can be found at:

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