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5 August 2003, 09:19 am
Rolex Fastnet Race Boasts Another 'Classic' fleet
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Rolex Fastnet Race

The start of the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race is just 5 days away and more than 250 boats are set to sail the course of the RORC's 'Classic' offshore race.
The start of the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race is just 5 days away and more than 250 boats are set to sail the course of the RORC's 'Classic' offshore race.

Run biennially, the Royal Ocean Racing Club's flagship event will start at 10:00 on Sunday 10 August from the traditional start line in front of Cowes' Royal Yacht Squadron on the Isle of Wight. The course will take the large fleet South West down the Solent past the Needles and out into the English Channel. The headlands along the South Coast of England - Anvil Point, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard, Lands End - must each be weathered on the way to open ocean and the leg North West to the Fastnet Rock with its mythical lighthouse.

Standing high on an isolated and jagged islet six miles from the most extreme Southerly point of Ireland, the Fastnet is the best known 'corner' in sailing. No sailor in the world can sail close past this landmark without being distracted for more than a moment as he marvels at this seething lump of rock where the ocean is seldom still and the surface rarely quiet. The return leg to the finish in Plymouth, via the Bishop Rock Lighthouse on the South side of the Scilly Isles, is just as demanding, as fatigue and competition take their toll.

The current monohull race record stands at 53 hours and amongst the fleet this year are several boats capable of setting a better time, the favorite being Neville Crichton's 90-foot Maxi monohull Alfa Romeo. Crichton's New Zealand-registered yacht has already picked up line honours in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race in December last year and recently broke the record for the Rolex Giraglia Race in the Mediterranean.

Another group of boats that is contending for line honours are six of the globetrotting Open 60 Monohulls. Amongst them Vincent Riou's bright orange PRB, winner of the recent Calais Round Britain and Ireland Race. These high tech machines are all capable of outstanding performances in the right conditions and will be enjoying further competition together in the build-up to next year's Vendée Globe Race.

But the Rolex Fastnet Race is not just about breaking the record. There are two main handicap trophies, the Fastnet Challenge Cup and the Fastnet Rock Trophy. Each will be awarded to the boat that sailed nearest to its rated potential to post the Best Corrected Time respectively from the IRC fleet, which represents the majority of the 240 boats entered, and the IRM fleet, which represents the best modern racing boats.

Like no other race the Rolex Fastnet Race attracts every type of sailor and boat from just about every sailing country in the world. Sailing schools, corporate institutions, family-owned and crewed cruiser racers, dedicated amateurs, club sailors along with the hardened champions from the Grand Prix circuits, are all attracted to compete in the best known offshore race in the world. All come to enjoy the challenge of one of the trickiest and most demanding sporting events that an individual or a team can aspire to today.

The duality of the Rolex Fastnet Race's overall title is due to the popularity of the two different handicap systems with which today's international racing fleet computes corrected time and determines a classification and results. The majority of the demand for the Rolex Fastnet Race comes from owners with either IRM or IRC rated boats. Other classes, such as IMS-rated boats, multihulls, Open 60 monohulls and Volvo 60s, benefit from the RORC's policy of being accommodating to all and race for separate trophies.

The iconic Rolex Fastnet Race, a 608-mile long offshore race, was first sailed in 1925. It has been the prime mover in the growth of offshore racing ever since, and is still intricately linked to advances in yacht design, boat handling and seamanship techniques, safety equipment - and generally to the popularity of the modern sport of sailing. It means different things to the more than 2000 different people who will sail the course this year. For some it is a once-in-a-life-time challenge, for others it is part of a much bigger picture. It is not undertaken lightly by anyone and each boat and crew must fulfil strict qualification criteria before being allowed to compete.

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 15th August. As ever, collecting the top division prize will be the result of meticulous preparation as well as hard and intelligent sailing over the whole course. Whatever size or type of boat, whatever level the game is played at and no matter what the individual and team goals are, the 2003 Rolex Fastnet Race has more than enough for everyone. Its' ongoing success says it all.
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