Though we like to think of ourselves as experts in luxury lifestyle, the sport of sailing isn’t a subject that we broach very often at Esquire. However, perhaps it’s precisely because we’re such pampered aesthetes that the pastime doesn’t blip on our radar too often. It takes, grit, determination, skill and patience, as races such as the recent Rolex Fastnet demonstrate.
Every two years, hundreds of boats gather in the Solent and await the thunderous sound of the Royal Yacht Squadron’s starter cannons, which signal the launch of each class’ race. From two-men cruiser/racers all the way up to the world’s biggest, fastest mono and multi-hulled racing yachts, the little stretch of sea between the Isle of White and the mainland is teaming with vessels. Best of all, each crew, no matter the size, has a chance of winning.
Sailors have been racing the route - from Cowes, up to and around Fastnet Rock off the south coast of Ireland, and back to Plymouth – since 1925. A journey of 600 nautical miles, it’s Europe’s greatest and oldest offshore contest, and Rolex has been the title sponsor since 2001.
As you might expect from a race that goes through the heart of the Celtic sea, it can be tough. In 1979, 15 sailors lost their lives to unassailable conditions, leading organizers the Royal Ocean Racing Club to heavily promote advancements in yacht design. However in the 2011 edition, Rambler II, the race leader and one of the fastest boats in the world, suffered a snapped keel and capsized near the rock. Clearly, the Fastnet isn’t for the faint hearted.
The race attracts the world’s biggest boats and most accomplished crews. This year, much to the delight of onlookers, everyone loitered in the Solent as the race began thanks to an unusually light wind. Despite the likes of Spindrift II and Commanche – the fastest yachts in the world - taking part, the race was won by Courrier Du Leon, a 35-foot JPK 1080 who got to the rock and back in just underf our days, and finished over 2 hours before another of the 356-strong fleet. It’s a feat made all the more impressive by the fact it crossed the start line at Cowes too early, and was forced to go back and start again.
The 2015 edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race
Thanks to the unusual conditions (a tricky mix of low winds, high choppy waters and at times, no propulsion at all) this edition of the Rolex Fastnet was more intriguing than many that have come before.
“I think it has been an incredibly challenging race - one of the best for a while,” said Eddie Warden Owen, CEO of race organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club, “The teams that won had to work really hard. They had all conditions: Drifting, light winds up to strong winds – very challenging.
“This has been a very tough race to win and the French team that won overall deserved it. They have the miles and the results and they probably would tell you that they had a bit of luck, but I believe that they are good sailors and good sailors make luck for themselves.”
The races continued success is thanks in no small measure to the support from Rolex. The true benefactor, though, is the owner of Courrier Du Leon, who goes away with a beautiful Yacht-Master in Rolesium.
The Rolex Fastnet Race will return in 2017