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Biggest Fastnet Race Ever

Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s Spindrift 2 rounds Fastnet Rock.

© 2013 Kurt Arrigo / RORC

For reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, distance yacht racing in the south of England seems to be booming despite an economic downturn and modern life pressing everyone for time. Events of 100 to 200 miles starting in the south of England have been attracting more than 100 boats on a regular basis.

But most amazing of all is the record participation in the 611-mile Rolex Fastnet Race, from Cowes to Fastnet Rock off Ireland and back, that started on Sunday. All 350 slots in the nearly 90-year-old race were spoken for — many times in French — in the first 24 hours. "It’s a bit difficult to understand," confessed Mike Grenville, Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. 

While most of the participants are amateurs, there is an extremely strong group of top-flight multihulls and monohulls, with the French leading the way. You think the AC72s currently screaming around the Bay on their foils are big and fast? The biggest Fastnet boat is Dona Bertarelli — sister of Ernesto Bertarelli of the Swiss America’s Cup campaigns — and Yann Guichard’s trimaran Spindrift 2. At 131 feet, it’s nearly twice as big as, and has sailed even faster than, an AC72. Under the name Banque Populaire, she holds the around-the-world record of 45 days, the 24-hour record of 908 miles, and the Fastnet record of 1d, 8h.

Sidney Gavignet watches the first sunset aboard Oman Air-Musandam.

© Oman Air-Musandam / RORC

Oddly enough, the new Banque Populaire, is the smaller 103-ft trimaran that, as Groupama III, had held the around-the-world record. She is being skippered by Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h. Nonetheless, currently leading the fleet is Oman Air-Musandam, a MOD70 sistership to Orion that we sailed at 35 knots on Banderas Bay and is currently sailing on San Francisco Bay. Ironically, Bertarelli and Guichard also own a MOD70 named Spindrift, another of the three multihulls they race, but she flipped off Dublin about a month ago.

Monohull line honors are expected to go to the 100-ft Esimit Europa 2, the former Alfa Romeo, as she’s just as long as former two-time winner ICAP Leopard, which is 40% heavier. But in funky conditions, some of the 70 footers or even a TP52 could correct out.

The Fastnet has a terrific website. Check it out. Among other info, you can follow the progress of the entire fleet, as all boats carry transponders.

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