The bulk of the fleet will race under IRC where the star attraction is likely to be Mike SLADE's (GBR) Farr-designed Leopard 3 due to be launched early summer. Said SLADE, 'We had a fantastic time with Leopard of London [the old Leopard boat] in the 2003 Rolex Fastnet and it was a great moment to win the Fastnet Rock Trophy [best overall in IRM] in that event. This year, with the new boat, we will be aiming for line honours but it will be a tough race. In light winds we are likely to struggle against some of the other super maxis like Alfa Romeo and Rambler, but given a bit of breeze I think we will be able to get going and show how fast she will be.'
Elsewhere, four ORMA 60s have expressed interest, including Yvan BOURGNON (FRA) with Nuku Hiva II and Sopra Group. The Open 60s will have their own start and the line up of ten or more is expected to feature Jonny MALBON and Graham TOURELL (GBR) on Artemis, Alex THOMPSON (GBR) and Andrew CAPE (AUS) on Hugo Boss and Roland JOURDAIN's (FRA) Sill et Veolia. Taking part in their first Rolex Fastnet will be a number of the Class 40, of which first to enter is Novidea/Set from France.
First sailed in 1925, the Rolex Fastnet Race is renowned for offering up an extreme range of conditions, from ghosting along the Solent in light summer breezes with tacticians forced to work hard to gain small advantages, to potentially gear-breaking and treacherous conditions in the western approaches to the English Channel and Celtic Sea.
Testament to the tactical challenges of this race lie with the course records that were set in 1999 and still stand despite the considerable technological advances in yacht design and build. RF Yachting (a water-ballasted, 80-foot Maxi One Design) holds the fastest monohull mark at an average speed of 11.48 knots over the course. The multihull record is held by the 60-foot trimaran Fujicolor at 15.03 knots. There will be no shortage of owners and crew hoping to break those benchmarks and put their own record in the books.
Back again will be New Zealander Neville CRICHTON (NZL) on his latest Alfa Romeo, the 100-foot canting-keeled super maxi that had a string of successes in 2006 including line honours at the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the Giraglia Rolex Cup, together with overall victory at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. 'There is no doubt that the Rolex Fastnet is one of the highlights of the season,' says CRICHTON, owner/skipper of Alfa Romeo. 'We have made some changes to Alfa Romeo for the 2007 season, including new, larger sails, but I will not say anything more than we plan to be amongst the front runners. This is because the conditions on the Fastnet can be so varied, even changing significantly during a race, and this is why it's such a challenge and why it's so hard to pick the winner!'
An interesting contrast will be American George DAVID's 90-foot maxi, Rambler (ex-Shockwave VI/Alfa Romeo, formerly owned by CRICHTON), which will be skippered by fellow American Ken READ, recently named as skipper of the PUMA Racing Team for the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race. The water-ballasted Reichel/Pugh maxi has just had a 'top to bottom refit' in Newport, Rhode Island. DAVID campaigned his N/M 50-footer Idler in the 1999 Admiral's Cup (the first one not to feature a Fastnet as part of the racing schedule) and while he is relatively new to distance racing, he has READ assembling a top-notch crew including offshore veterans Earle WILLIAMS (USA), Jerry KIRBY (USA), and Chris NICHOLSON (AUS).
The Rolex Fastnet is typically considered a 'big boat' race - as the bigger boats have the advantage of getting through the tidal gates early on in the race before the tide turns against the fleet. The latest generation of high-tech maxi flyers make their own wind and tick off the miles even in little or no breeze. But once in a while the little boats have their day and should never be discounted.
In 2005, conditions were perfect for the smaller yachts as the breeze filled in from behind and it was Jean-Yves CHATEAUS's (FRA) Nicholson 33, Iromiguy that corrected out to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup. Up until 2005, the last time a boat under 40 feet won this offshore classic was thirty years prior in 1975, and once again it was a Nicholson 33 - Golden Delicious. 2005 was the French skipper CHATEAU's fourth Fastnet; he came in second in 2003 and after coming so close, he was determined to try again for a win.
The first signal for the start of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 09:50 on Sunday 12 August.