Rolex Fastnet Race - A Class apart
The fleet showing the biggest growth within the Rolex Fastnet Race is the Class40. Currently 39 of these mini IMOCAs are entered, a significant increase from the 19 that competed in 2019. The Rolex Fastnet Race now forms part of the official Class40 calendar, which these days features a packed international schedule.
17 years on, from when the simple Class40 box rule was created by French journalist sailor Patrice Carpentier, 172 examples have now been built, or are in build. A jaw-dropping 70 (including 25 brand new) are expected on the start line of next year’s Route du Rhum, when entries for the first time are having to be capped.
From the outset, the Class40 rule has aimed to restrict costs by, for example, prohibiting carbon fibre, aramids, honeycomb core and pre-preg resin in the hull, deck, interior structure and rudders. Carbon fibre, but of restricted modulus, is permitted for the spars. Otherwise the box rule limits the principle dimensions and minimum displacement to 4580kg.
While this might seem restrictive, creative forces in the French yacht design community have recently been having one of their most creative periods. Despite attempts to resist it, the trend for scow bows, as seen in the IMOCAs and Minis, has reached the Class40 and all the latest designs are of this type. What they lack in looks they more than compensate for in performance and one example, a David Raison-designed Max 40 recently set a new 24 hour record of 428.82 nautical miles; a similar distance to that which Lawrie Smith’s Whitbread 60 Intrum Justitia covered when she set the outright monohull 24-hour record in 1994. Another Max 40, Axel Trehin's Project Rescue Ocean, is competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
In the Rolex Fastnet Race will be five other Class40 'scows'; the Marc Lombard-designed Lift v2 Crosscall, plus four examples of the popular, latest Sam Manuard-designed, Mach 40.4, built by JPS Production in La Trinite-sur-Mer (whose proprietor Nicolas Groleau is a Rolex Fastnet Race regular with his Mach 45 Bretagne Telecom).
One of the hottest contenders is likely to be the Mach 40.4 Courrier Redman skippered by Antoine Carpentier, nephew of the Class40’s creator. Already this season Redman has finished second in the RORC Transatlantic Race, third in the Normandy Channel Race and won the highly competitive Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race by a mere 3 minutes and 14 minutes, after 2540 miles of racing, from Project Rescue Ocean (the Class40 championship’s present leader).
According to Antoine Carpentier the Mach 40.4’s biggest development over the 40.3 (of which there are six in this Rolex Fastnet Race) is the scow bow but also the mast, keel and engine moved further aft. “It seems to be quite good, except the Lift 40 is faster in light wind,” he says of how Courrier Redman has performed against the other scows over the last year. “When the wind increases a little we are fast downwind and reaching also.”
Carpentier comes with a supreme pedigree in the Rolex Fastnet Race. This will be his sixth or seventh, and all but one have been sailed with Géry Trentesaux, including on the French grand master’s JPK 10.80, Courrier Du Leon, when she won the Fastnet Challenge Cup in 2015. This year he says he is proud to be returning the favour: Racing on Courrier Redman will be Trentesaux, plus two other Courrier regulars, Francois Lamiot and Arnaud Aubry. “We know the race well, but not everyone knows the boat – it is quite new for Francois and Géry, but they came to train and we’ll make the delivery to Cherbourg all together.”
While his boat Lamotte - Module Création is not latest generation, Luke Berry’s Mach 40.3 was Class40 winner of the last Rolex Fastnet Race and remains competitive. She finished fifth in this year’s Les Sables-Horta race but beat Courrier Redman to second place in the Normandy Channel Race.
Berry’s boat has been modified since winning in 2019. “We cut 3m off the bow. It is not wider and scow-like now, it is more ski-like - we moved the bow up by about 30-40cm so downwind it is a lot faster and now it stops less so VMG downwind we are quite fast now,” he explains. “A lot of IMOCAs and Minis and a couple of Class40s are doing that same mod now.”
However, at times the scows are much faster. “They are very fast reaching and upwind as well,” continues Berry. “When we came back from the Azores, I was fourth and there was a scow next to us and it averaged 1.5 knots faster than us over 30 hours, reaching at 90-100° in 25 knots and I am not even sure they were the fastest!” And their bows don’t dig into waves as much at speed, so their ride is much drier.”
While in 2019, on board with Berry were several top French sailors, this time he has more of a mix, including his shore crew and French former Olympic 470 sailor Mathilde Géron, plus a young, up-and-coming sailor from Berry’s original home town of St Malo.
As to the new course finishing in Cherbourg, Berry notes it will make the end more stressful. “Going to Cherbourg a lot more things can happen with all the big current around the Raz Blanchard. But in these races [in the Channel], we often see it means it is not just about having the fastest boat, because you generally all stop and start multiple times during the course of the race.”
One of the joys of the Class40 is its international appeal. The Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes boats from Switzerland, the UK, USA, Croatia, Belgium, Netherlands, Finland and, impressively, two from Japan.
Hiroshi Kitada has raced in the Class40 since competing in The Transat bakerly in 2016, successfully completing that and the Route du Rhum two years later. “I succumb to the charm of the Fastnet Rock any time I turn around it during this race,” says Kitada. “I have already enjoyed it two times - in 2017 with my Class40 Kiho, and in 2019 on the IMOCA La Mie Caline skippered by Arnaud Boissières. This year I am very happy because a 25-year-old Japanese sailor, Arisa Moriya will experience for the first time the fascination of this mythical race.
“In Japan, the Rolex Fastnet Race is one of ocean sailor's favourite races. I am looking forward to being on the starting line of this international challenge for a third time.”
Strangely the Class40 also seems to attract sportsmen from completely different disciplines. Sadly, Olympic pole vaulting gold medallist Jean Galfione’s brand new Guillaume Verdier-designed Pogo S4 scow, Serenis Consulting won’t be ready in time to compete, however on the Rolex Fastnet Race start line will be two former giants of skiing.
The latest generation Class40 in the Rolex Fastnet Race is the Lift v2 Crosscall, skippered by Aurélien Ducroz. Taking up sailing in the Classe Mini in 2011, Ducroz has twice won the Freeride Skiing World Championship and podiumed in it seven times. Meanwhile sailing an older generation Mach 40, Croatia Full of Life, once campaigned by Britain’s Phil Sharp, is Croat Ivica Kostelic. Skiing fans will recognise this name as, between 2002 and 2013, he was a quadruple Olympic medalist, won 26 World Cup events and was World Slalom Champion in 2003.
British Vendée Globe heroes past and present are also to be found in the Class40. British legend Mike Golding, who completed solo non-stop around the world race three times, finishing third in 2004-05, is racing with American Alex Mehran on the Akilaria RC3 Polka Dot, a boat first campaigned by former Formula 1 team boss Mike Gascoyne.
In the most recent edition of the Vendée Globe Miranda Merron brought her Campagne de France home in 22nd place in a field of 33. Having previously raced in the Class40 continuously before that since 2009 on both sides of the Atlantic, across the Atlantic, in a round the world race, solo, two-handed with Halvard Mabire, or fully crewed, she returns, with the Rolex Fastnet Race being her first race since finishing the Vendée Globe. “The Class40 is my spiritual home, even if I do want to do another Vendée Globe,” she says. “It was an absolute pleasure to be back on a Class40 where everything is ‘human-sized’, the sails are really light, etc.”
She will race on board Kite, the Mach 40.3 (previously Maxime Sorel's V&B) being campaigned by UK-based American Greg Leonard and his 17-year-old son Hannes. Although use of their Class40 has been severely limited by the pandemic, they have managed to compete in two Normandy Channel Races plus a few RORC races this year.
Given her lengthy tenure in it, Merron observes that a development that may transform the Class40 is its giant race program (there’s a class for them in most RORC races) including two new round the world races. Taking place over 2022-23 the Globe 40 sets sail from Tangiers on an exotic route taking in not the regular destinations but the Cape Verdes, Mauritius, Auckland, Papeete, Ushuaia, Grenada, finishing in Lisbon. The Race Around over 2023-24 follows a more classic route from France, to Cape Town, New Zealand, Brazil and finishing in Portugal. At a time when the Vendée Globe has record fleets, both Class40 events have strong entries already.
While an increasing number of pro sailors from the Mini and Figaro circuits are typically grabbing the headlines, a strong group of amateur sailors, remain at the core of the Class40. In fact, both pros and amateurs can be found across the breadth of the fleet, from the newest boats where the Mach 40.4 Palanad 3 is campaigned by Antoine Magré, who has a ‘real job’. Similarly, Emmanuel Le Roch at one point in his youth looking like he might be an Olympic hopeful in the Tornado, but instead pursued a career and only in later life has returned to sailing, campaigning the Mach 40.4 scow Edenred.
Many of the fully tricked-up latest generation scows are providing little change from 1 million Euros fully equipped, but older and much cheaper Class40s are widely available and the Rolex Fastnet Race line-up includes an original Pierre Rolland-designed Jumbo – one of the boats around which the Class40 rule was written. Then there is UP Sailing, originally Tanguy de la Motte's 2007 vintage Rogers-designed steed that won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2009 and 2011. She is entered for a second time by Ursault Poupon, daughter of French sailing legend, Route du Rhum winner and triple Solitaire du Figaro winner Philippe Poupon.