Hundreds of crew are making final preparations in Cowes before the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race this morning. It is a nervous time for some, particularly those venturing out to the Fastnet Rock for the first time.
Jo CACKETT barely knew one end of a sailing yacht from another before this year, but as an Australian living in London and working for a British sailing magazine, she felt she really ought to know more about life at sea.
Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end, embarking on nothing less than one of the great offshore races. But CACKETT says she feels confident. 'It's great getting a chance to do something like this, when there are sailors far more experienced than me, who would love to get this opportunity.'
She is one of a number of Fastnet rookies that will be sailing with experienced owner/skipper Ali SMITH aboard the Reflex 38, Puma Logic
CACKETT has undergone a steep learning curve to ensure she is prepared for whatever weather or problems are hurled in their path during the 608-mile passage. She has certainly come a long way since taking her RYA Competent Crew course at the end of last year. 'We've done four offshore races this year, and we've done a lot of training. I just hope that the first couple of days out of Cowes are light winds, as I've discovered I tend to get sea sick. I'm praying the weather is gentle with us so we have time to get used to it.'
Presumably seasickness is not a problem for Alex WHITWORTH and Peter CROZIER. These Australians raced their 33-footer Berrimilla
in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race last Christmas time, and then sailed half way around the world to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Having completed this race, their plan is then to return to Australia via Cape Horn at the bottom of the African continent, in time to race in this December's Rolex Sydney Hobart. For most sailors, sailing out to the Fastnet Rock off Ireland's southern coastline, and back to the finish is Plymouth, is exhausting enough as part of a team. WHITWORTH and CROZIER, however, are one of a number of double-handed teams contesting this race.
One of the most experienced competitors will be 2001 winner Piet VROON who, at the age of 70, will be sailing in his 23rd Rolex Fastnet having just sailed his brand new Lutra 56, Formidable 3
, across the Atlantic. Almost every one of the 286 boats entered has a story to tell, and if they don't now, they certainly will by the time they reach Plymouth. For the big boats such as the 100-foot racing Maxis, Skandia Wild Thing
and ICAP Maximus
, they might cover the 608 miles in two or three days. For the smallest yachts, the 32-foot Contessas and Sigma 33s, it could take anything up to a week before they hear the finish gun in Plymouth Sound.
Mike BROUGHTON has competed in many past editions of the Rolex Fastnet, but this year is sitting onshore providing weather analysis for other teams. He predicts a long, slow race this year. 'The first few days of this race are going to be dominated by a big high pressure system. The skill is going to be all about seeking the best wind. And with the strong spring tides that exist at the moment, people should have their kedging anchors at the ready.'
Kedging is one of a sailor's least favourite pastimes, the act of dropping anchor to stop being pushed back the wrong way by an adverse tide. For some sailors, this will be a hugely frustrating process, but for the more experienced racers in the fleet, kedging is just one of the many and varied skills that the Rolex Fastnet Race will demand over the coming days.
The first signal for the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race sounds at 1050 on Sunday 7 August. In addition to the two main prizes - the Fastnet Challenge Cup and the Fastnet Rock Trophy, there are more than 30 trophies to be awarded at the conclusion of this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. The prizegiving will take place at the Royal Citadel, home of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, in Plymouth on Friday 12 August.