A record fleet of almost 400 boats has entered the Rolex Fastnet Race that gets underway from Cowes on The Solent over several hours, starting at 11am on Sunday.
Two days later, another 60 boats will begin the annual Gas Calves Week at Schull.
Depending on the weather, the tail-enders of the longer race might even meet the local event that has its own course around the famous lighthouse and back next Thursday.
However, at 605 miles from the start to the finish at Plymouth, the Fastnet Race fleet will only come within three miles of the Irish coast before turning southwards again.
Nevertheless, a spectacle of some of the biggest and most exotic boats in the world — together with the bulk of the fleet, comprising more mainstream racing boats — is in store off Cape Clear next week, probably from early on Monday.
It all hinges on the weather.
For now, at least there is the promise of a classic Fastnet Race start, with hundreds of boats crossing tacks the whole way along the South Coast of England before avoiding the various commercial Traffic Separation Schemes off Land’s End.
The largest boats include British entry Nikata, a 115-footer skippered by Matt Hardy. It is no stranger to long offshore races, having won its class at the 2016 RORC Caribbean 600 race and finished second in class at the Sydney Hobart Race four years ago.
Australian entry CQS is a 90-footer owned and skippered by Ludde Ingvall, the Finnish offshore sailor and previous Fastnet Race winner.
After winning last year’s Volvo Round Ireland Race, American George David returns with Ramber 88. It was on his 100-footer that he memorably survived a capsize off the Fastnet lighthouse six years ago following a dramatic rescue during the race.
While these three monohulls are likely to be amongst the first boats on the water, the race is also being used as part of “Leg Zero” for the Volvo Ocean Race that starts from Alicante in October.
The seven 65-footers are using a series of races and training events in preparation for the 45,000-mile race later this year and, this week, four broke the existing Round the Island (Isle of Wight) speed sailing record for a monohull with a new time set by Spain’s Xabi Fernandez on Mapfre of just over three hours and 13 minutes.
Along with the crewed round-the-world boats, a total of nine Open 60-footers will also be racing, including Hugo Boss on which Ireland’s Nicholas ‘Nin’ O’Leary has been training recently in preparation for a Vendée Globe single-handed race entry in three years.
However, of all the 400 boats, the line honours favourite is probably going to be Concise 10, Tony Lawson’s MOD 70 British trimaran, skippered by Ned Collier Wakefield.
However, the speed of the bigger monohulls is likely to make this a close call.
The Fastnet Race course records are:
- Multihull: One day, eight hours, 48 minutes (2011, Banque Populaire V).
- Monohull: One day, 18 hours, 39 minutes (2011, Volvo 70, Abu Dhabi).
Away from the exotic and professionally-crewed bigger boats, around a dozen Irish crews have also flocked to marinas around the Solent in preparation for Sunday’s start.
Several are notable offshore racing regulars, including Howth Yacht Club’s Conor Fogerty, on BAM, who recently placed second in the single-handed transatlantic race that barely a third of the entries managed to finish.
Others include Ronan O’Siochru’s Desert Star and Kenny Rumball’s Jedi, from the Irish Offshore Sailing and the Irish National Sailing School, respectively.
By contrast, the four days of racing at nearby Calves Week will be more familiar to most sailors through its combination of spectacular race courses around the West Cork islands and great hospitality ashore.
Racing gets underway on Tuesday afternoon, with the highlight race to the Fastnet planned for Thursday, though in the past it has been sailed as the finale on Friday, when conditions demanded.