The Rolex Fastnet Race begins today
The world's largest and most prestigious offshore yacht race begins today.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club's Rolex Fastnet Race, which takes place every two years, gets underway at Cowes on the Isle of Wight this morning, with 347 boats from 20 nations competing.
The 611-mile race sees yachts race across 608 nautical miles, rounding Land’s End, crossing the Celtic Sea, racing around the Fastnet Rock situated off the southwest coast of Ireland, and back in to the Plymouth finish line.
First run in 1925, the Rolex Fastnet Race is one of the best known yacht races in the world, partly due to the 1979 race when the fleet was struck by un-forecast bad weather that ultimately claimed 18 lives.
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There have been a number of changes made for this year's Rolex Fastnet Race.
These include changing the orientation of the start line off the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, which has now been shifted more to the west, making the island end of the line less favoured.
In Plymouth, the boats will be berthed at Plymouth Yacht Haven. "We have a record entry and we need a bigger marina," explains RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen. "It may be outside of the city centre, but it has all the facilities and is where the Race Village is located."
From a racing perspective the biggest change has come due to a modification to the latest 'Racing Rules of Sailing' (RSS). Zones at sea, where there is considerable commercial shipping, such as Dover Strait, have 'Traffic Separation Schemes' (TSS), where shipping is divided into lanes. Typically, the maritime rules of the road state that vessels must either follow the direction of these lanes or cross them at 90deg.
Mike Greville explains: "It is practically impossible for race organisers to enforce the rules of the TSSes. Ultimately we decided the only way to go forward was to make them obstructions. I think this is going to change the race quite a bit, but we felt we had no choice."
To sidestep this issue, the RORC has deemed TSSes on their race course to be 'exclusion zones' to the west of the Scilly Isles, south of the Fastnet Rock, and off Land's End. Avoiding these will add around 8 miles to the race course.
Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, praised the RORC for introducing the new rule. "As a skipper you don't want to be put in a position when you have to make a choice between performance and good seamanship. We don't like ambiguity, so I applaud the RORC for making it clear. Now we won't be put into a position of questioning whether we crossed a TSS at 90degs and another boat crossed it at 88deg and has taken a mile out of us."
For the first time, the start will be broadcast live on the internet.
Eddie Warden Owen compares it to the Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart which is a huge television attraction in Australia.
The coverage is being augmented by support from satellite communications provider Inmarsat, which is providing its equipment to eight yachts for the duration of the race.
"We hope people will be able to see what it is like living aboard on an offshore racing yacht, which most people don't understand at all," says Admiral of the RORC, Andrew McIrvine.
The first of eight starts is scheduled for midday off the famous Royal Yacht Squadron line with the magnificent multihulls speeding away towards the Western Solent.
The last start is scheduled for 1:50pm with the high performance yachts powering through the racing fleet.