Fastnet Race forecast to test Volvo Ocean Race teams
Published on August 4th, 2017
The second stage of Leg Zero qualifying is the Rolex Fastnet Race, starting on Sunday (August 6), and it will present a very different challenge to the Volvo Ocean Race fleet – as well as an early chance for the chasing pack to show they can match early pacesetters MAPFRE.
Xabi Fernández and his Spanish team found record-breaking form in winds of up to 35 knots to take the first of four Leg Zero races on August 2, a blast around the Isle of Wight in the Sevenstar Triple Crown series at Lendy Cowes Week.
But while that first test came in true Volvo Ocean Race conditions, with the boats blazing through a tormented sea with records smashed, the famous Rolex Fastnet Race looks to be a different test.
This year’s 603 nautical mile contest is going to be a long upwind slog all the way from the start line off Cowes, Isle of Wight, to the turn at the Fastnet Rock at the south east point of Ireland.
As the last class to start at 1140 UTC, and one of the fastest, the Volvo Ocean Race VO65 fleet will quickly find themselves amongst the smaller boats ahead as the entire 390-boat fleet tacks up the western Solent in a classic Fastnet start.
The excitement could soon turn to frustration if the light conditions don’t allow the VO65s to make it past the first major headland, the Portland Bill, before the tide turns against them. With a strong eastwards rush of the tide against them by the coast, and lighter winds below them to the south, the boats that just blitzed the Isle of Wight record will be crawling.
“This race is fraught with hazards,” said Dee Caffari, skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic. “Right from the start line as you leave off the Royal Yacht Squadron line through the Solent you’ve got shallows and tide to contend with and several tidal gates along the way which are either going to make or break your race. But it’s not my first Rolex Fastnet so I’m comfortable that I know where I’m going and what I’m doing.”
No respite awaits at Land’s End as they’ll pass through a cold front that will add rain to the insult of upwind sailing. A new high pressure will establish itself on Monday in the middle of the Atlantic that will feed the fleet steady northwesterly wind to cross the Celtic Sea. More upwind!
The stable conditions will allow the crews to soak up a beautiful rounding off the famous rock – which should make for some nice photos in the early hours of Tuesday, if the sun is up by then – before a nice run back to Plymouth in 15-20 knots.
For David Witt, skipper of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, it’s a good opportunity to test the wisdom of his decision to go with an all-male crew of seven instead of taking advantage of a rule that gives teams the option of adding up to two women to the team, or taking a fully mixed five male-five female crew.
“We’ve got a bit of a strategy of having the least amount of people on board,” said Witt. “The reason for that is for conditions like the Fastnet, especially coming back from the rock, when it’ll be VMG running 8-12 which is sort of what the majority of this Volvo is. We might tick a box and say we’re right, or we might say ‘hold on’ and change our whole strategy.”
The crews that are still new to their boats will be thankful for the opportunity to knock out some gybing practice before stages three and four of Leg Zero bring them into stronger downwind sailing again down the coast of Portugal.
“It’s very good to be here because before the Volvo we couldn’t sail against the other ones,” said Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier. “So we trained outside and we have no reference, only the numbers, so it’s good to race against the other ones and see how it goes and if we did a good job so it’s very important for everybody.”
The seven teams in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race must compete in required qualification races, known as Leg Zero, to prepare for the October 22 start in Alicante, Spain.
Two legs combined with scheduled events:
• August 2: The immensely popular Round the Island Race, a 50-nautical mile sprint around the Isle of Wight.
• August 6: The famous 603 nm Rolex Fastnet Race featuring some of the hottest yachting hardware on the planet in a coastal race that has historically served up a hearty dose of danger – and a lot of stressed navigators.
Two legs just for the Volvo Open 65 teams:
• August 10: Plymouth, England to St Malo in France (125 nm)
• August 13: St Malo to Lisbon, Portugal (770 nm)
NOTE: There remains the possibility for an 8th team to still enter. If this occurs, the Notice of Race has a provision to ensure qualification sailing at the direction of the race organizer occurs.
2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
• Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED)
• Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
• MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
• Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
• Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
• Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
• Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)
Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.
Source: Volvo Ocean Race