Rolex Fastnet Race, a boisterous start in the Solent for the 49th edition
At 11:10 UTC on the dot, the Ultimes and multihulls were the first class to set sail on the 2021 edition of the prestigious Rolex Fastnet Race. This great English summer classic, which is hosted every two years and starts in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, has long been a must for the Gitana sailors. Indeed, their histories have been intertwined since Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s day, event record holder on Gitana IV for over 19 years, through to more recent times on Gitana Team’s craft. Victorious in 2019, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is defending her title in this event as she makes her sporting comeback. Less than an hour after the starting canon was fired from the Royal Yacht Squadron, the crew helmed by Charles Caudrelier and Franck Cammas were leading the way as they left the Needles, which marks the exit from the Solent, in the wake of the five-arrow maxi-trimaran. Let battle commence!
First images onboard by Yann Riou 
Strong winds and a tacking match to extract themselves from the Solent 

Despite having made it into August, the weather conditions expected for this 2021 edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race are far from summery. On the menu for the 336 competitors are strong headwinds as they attack the 695-mile course to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. The SW’ly breeze will accompany the head of the multihull fleet for the first section of the race so the first trimarans will have to contend with upwind conditions to make the famous Fastnet Rock. Once the Irish lighthouse is in their wake, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and her rivals will hoist their large downwind sail as they drop back down towards the French coast and more precisely the Cotentin peninsula, where the finish will be decided for the first time in the race’s history. This return leg will likely involve a dying breeze.   

“This Fastnet will resemble a long windward-leeward! The outward leg will require us to punch into the breeze, upwind, with a downwind descent to Cherbourg and the finish. The start is forecast to be very boisterous, with a SW’ly wind of 25-30 knots. We’ll need to be careful! This start phase won’t be easy, as exiting the Solent, which is a very narrow sound with a great many dangers and a shifting sandbank in particular, is no small matter. This is especially true with our big trimarans and with 25 knots of headwind, which will force us onto a series of tacks level with the coast. It’s going to be action-packed for the spectators and it should make for a fantastic spectacle,” enthused Charles Caudrelier.   

The men of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild have nicely handled the first few miles of the race. In fact, after a prudent start and some perfectly timed and well-executed tacks, the crew of Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier were leading the fleet as they passed the Needles, the emblematic white rocks which mark the gateway in and out of the Solent.     

Defending their title!   

In 2019, for one of their first races at the helm of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, the Cammas – Caudrelier duo and their crew really struck a chord with observers when they took the win after a breath-taking final. Indeed, they pipped François Gabart and the men of Macif to the post by just a few boat lengths on the finish line in Plymouth. This year, the five-arrow maxi-trimaran will be able to count on Actual Leader, the former Macif no less, and Sodebo Ultim, to provide her with some stiff competition throughout the 695-mile course.     

For the Ultimes, the latest routing forecast a passage around Fastnet Rock in the early hours of Monday 9 August and a finish in the evening. However, the wind for the second section of the race is set to be a lot lighter and could well thwart the forecasts. Added to that, the course is far from straight and there are a number of tricky sections to handle, together with the possibility of some neat little weather-related moves to be played over the coming hours for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and her rivals.

“In the second part of the race, the wind is due to roll away to the East and it’ll be important not to waste any time in making southern Ireland if we want to hang onto a solid breeze at the end of the race. However, on top of the weather conditions, there will also be a lot of work to do on deck with some route choices to be made throughout the course with a lot of manoeuvres on the programme. It’s a very fine race and a very good way to get our Jules Verne crew fired up again,” concluded Charles Caudrelier.   

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