First in the Fastnet Race for Gitana 11
Following on from the Extreme 40 Edmond de Rothschild Group, which contested its fifth Grand Prix of the Extreme Sailing Series during Cowes Week, it’s now over to Gitana 11 – the Gitana Team’s flagship trimaran – to strut its stuff in the waters of the Solent. Indeed the 77 foot maxi-multihull set off late morning on the legendary Fastnet Race, a course spanning 600 nautical miles between Cowes and Plymouth, via the famous Fastnet Rock to the South of Ireland which, every two years, gathers together a fleet which is as impressive as it is mixed. Sébastien Josse and his six crew enjoyed the honour of leading the way at the kick-off at 1100 hours (GMT), which took place at the legendary Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the oldest Yacht Clubs in the world.

A whole host of different fleets, nine in total this year, followed suit until 1300 hours (GMT). For this 2011 edition, there was a new event record as exactly three hundred and fourteen boats set off to tackle the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Last March, Sébastien Josse was named skipper of the future MOD Edmond de Rothschild Group, a 70 foot one-design trimaran, the delivery of which Gitana Team is awaiting at the end of October 2011. Since then he has been continuing his apprenticeship in the multihull universe, and after having taken part in three coastal races at the helm of Gitana 11 (Tour de Belle Ile, Armen Race and Record SNSM), this native of Nice was keen to race in a more oceanic format. As such he set a date for 14 August and the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race. It’s a race that Sébastien Josse has already won three times before, albeit aboard 60 foot IMOCA monohulls thus far. A few hours before taking to the open water, he let us in on what this great classic means to him: “It’s always a real pleasure to compete in this race. A combination of mystery and adventure reigns here, even though it’s only a ‘little’ race in terms of miles. The passage around the Fastnet Rock forms part of the event’s legend for a lot of people. It’s an area which is often inhospitable, as it’s regularly soaked by the lows which roll in from the Atlantic, yet it’s pretty magical too. There is always a swell crashing against the rock which supports the lighthouse. There is mist a plenty there and it may be that the beams from the lighthouse are the only thing to guide us in our change of tack. It’s an excellent race format because it’s ocean-going, whilst remaining easily accessible to a great number of people thanks to a course spanning 600 nautical miles.”

Yesterday evening, Sébastien Josse’s crew were gathered together in the Gun Wharf Marina (Portsmouth) for a weather briefing prior to the start. For Gitana 11, the course promises to be quick, even though the crew will have to negotiate a few transition zones: “We will have to set off close-hauled (sailing into the wind) in very manageable conditions. The situation is likely to be that way until the head of the fleet round Lizard Point. After that, we’ll have to deal with a ridge of high pressure, synonymous with light winds. Once this weather phenomenon has rolled over, the wind will become more favourable, enabling us to pick up the pace. There’s a small low moving in from the West which will hit us with around 15 to 20 knots of breeze. This air flow will gradually build to 25 knots as we approach southern Ireland. Three hours prior to our arrival at the Fastnet and three hours after rounding it, there are likely to be some heavy seas. That will be the only moment in the race where we’ll have to ease off the pace a little. Once the Fastnet is in our wake we’re likely to be able to sail faster than the low I was referring to earlier, which will leave us with lighter winds, but winds which will be strong enough to play with. The forecast conditions are absolutely perfect for Gitana 11” explained Sébastien Josse.

If the forecasts from the onboard navigator – Antoine Koch – prove to be true, the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is expected across the finish line in Plymouth Sound late Monday or in the early hours of Tuesday. That will equate to about thirty six hours after leaving the Isle of Wight in its wake.

Ten hours after the start, Sébastien Josse and his men were on an equal footing with the men on the maxi-trimaran Banque Populaire, who are racing the same course. That’s quite a performance after 150 miles of racing, especially when you’re aware that the latter is nearly 20 metres longer than Gitana 11!

The Rolex Fastnet Race in a few lines
Run every two years since 1931 with the exception of the period from 1939-1947, this great classic attracts the top names from professional sailing on a course taking them from Cowes to Plymouth after racing around the foot of the famous Irish rock which the race is named after. Each fleet, nine in total for this 2011 edition, benefit from their own start, which makes for a fantastic spectacle for the thousands of enthusiasts who travel to the Isle of Wight for the occasion.

The crew of Gitana 11 in the Rolex Fastnet Race
Sébastien Josse – skipper
Cyril Dardashti - Olivier Douillard – Antoine Koch – Sébastien Thétiot – Christophe Espagnon – Eric Cochet

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