The sky was heavy and there was a scattering of showers as we left the marina to get to the start line for the commencement of the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race.
This famous regatta, starts from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, tracks west along the south coast of England and then heads across the Irish Sea to round the Fastnet Rock, before returning to finish in Plymouth Bay.
The longest standing member of our Elements programme, Harry Sherrard, had agreed to take us out on his Shearwater rib, Saxon, so that we could get a close up view of the action. As we approached Cowes from the east the horizon began to fill with sails of all sizes and colours. We ran alongside a very tidy line of yachts with their bright orange tri-sails and storm jibs hoisted waiting patiently to sail past the committee boat for the final check and approval to compete.
We navigated our way through the throng of vessels, that were either competitors, spectators, ferries or commercial shipping. We also noticed someone out on what appeared to be a dinghy sailing lesson!
As we headed west through the pack of boats the biggest yachts came into view, both multihulls and monohulls. We made a beeline for Spindrift 2 whose massive black sail dominated the skyline, and this was to be her inaugural race. We came alongside and we were moved by the majestic stance, beauty and obvious capability of this 40 metre trimaran – we were then moved along by its support rib to give it space to tack!
Having spent the final 4 minute preparation time traversing the line, at 12.00 precisely the gun fired and the 45th edition of the Fastnet race was underway. The multihulls headed off first and then there was a staggered start over the next 2 hours for the various classes. The multihulls would expect to complete the race the following day, but the smallest cruising yachts would be pleased to finish in a week!
The mighty sailing vessels rounded up into wind and accelerated towards the Needles end of the Isle of Wight, accompanied by an equally impressive flotilla of spectator’s power boats that included Saxon.
In the relatively light winds for this race, the competitors soon accelerated to a speed, where the smaller power boats were struggling to keep up. The calm Solent was being churned into a maelstrom by the fleet of craft speeding through the water. Overhead helicopters circled filming this epic sight.
Ten minutes later the gun fired for the start of the largest monohull race, which included the affable Alex Thomson aboard the Hugo Boss in which earlier this year he finished third in the Vendée Globe solo round the world race. This time he was racing 2 handed.
A record number of 347 boats from 20 nations are competing in this biennial race. The 611-mile course is highly tactical with the difficult currents and varying wind conditions along the route. Having competed twice in this fabulous race on smaller yachts I can endorse how difficult and variable the conditions can be. In 2003 the lack of wind caused us to go backwards as the tide changed. Whereas in 2007 the start was delayed for 24 hours due to a massive storm, which eventually forced 211 boats to retire before Lands End, including us!
Follow this link to track the progress of this years race.