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IMOCA fleet turns on the style in fast and furious Rolex Fastnet Race

Rolex Fastnet Race 2023

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The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race proved to be a particularly thrilling ride for the 29 competing skipper duos in the 29-strong IMOCA fleet.

At every stage of the ranking, the battle was ferocious, offering up some incredible one-on-ones, as evidenced by the duel at the head of the fleet between the duo of Yoann Richomme – Yann Eliès (Paprec Arkéa) and Charlie Dalin – Pascal Bidégorry (MACIF Santé Prévoyance). The latter ultimately secured victory, but it went all the way to the wire with just four minutes between the top two on the finish line, on Monday evening, in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin.

Rolex Fastnet Race 2023
Image © Lloyd Images

The start of the race was truly spectacular with some 450 boats in the Solent on Saturday with up to 40 knots of breeze serving up a testing beat to the famous Fastnet lighthouse, followed by an express downwind descent to the Scillies, then rather random conditions in a fading breeze for the closing miles: the legendary Rolex Fastnet Race at its finest.

On the 695-mile course from Cowes to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin via the famous Irish lighthouse of Fastnet, the sailors had little to no time to rest. “It was a particularly intense race. The standard of the fleet was incredible with everyone sailing with their foot to the floor!” explained Pascal Bidégorry, co-skipper to Charlie Dalin, who sailed an absolute blinder, winning their first race aboard MACIF Santé Prévoyance, exactly one month to the day since her launch!

“We’re really happy. We weren’t expecting that, especially given the weather conditions. We did wonder if it was reasonable to take part in the event with such a new boat. Naturally we’re thrilled with the way things went. We didn’t get the toolbox out once! I’m amazed by the team’s work, both in terms of the build quality and the tweaking!” commented Dalin.

“The end of the course was incredible, neck and neck with the guys on Paprec Arkéa. The opportunity to pit ourselves against talented teams and the fleet’s fantastic design offices is the reason we race in IMOCA”, gushed the skipper, who surely couldn’t have wished for a better scenario for a race debut. “Racing is clearly where you learn the most as everyone is sailing flat-out. We learned a massive amount and this is just the beginning”, assures Dalin, who has bagged his third victory in four participations in the Rolex Fastnet Race.

On top of this mighty accolade, the skipper also took overall line honours among all the monohull categories combined. “This is the icing on the cake”, concedes the double IMOCA Champion (2021 and 2022), who is particularly thrilled by the ever-increasing standard of the competition. “The fleet and the boats, especially in terms of the hull forms, are continuing to go up a notch. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, which we’re discovering bit by bit. This naturally drives the sailors and their teams onwards and upwards,” concluded the skipper of MACIF Santé Prévoyance.

Yoann Richomme fully echoes this sentiment, admitting that the duel was reminiscent of some of those from 2016, a season during which the two men, both in Team MACIF, shared a series of first and second places on the Figaro circuit. “A number of crews have real potential. We can clearly see that there’s a match race at every stage of the fleet, which is inevitably very interesting, even though the slightest technical issue now logically means that it’s game over for any contenders,” explains the double champion of the Solitaire du Figaro and the Route du Rhum in Class40.

Richomme and Elies led the way for a large part of this Rolex Fastnet Race, showcasing wonderful control with their trajectories, especially between Land’s End and the Fastnet Rock, which Paprec Arkéa was first to round with a sizeable lead.

Rolex Fastnet Race 2023
Image © polaRYSE / Paprec Arkéa

“There wasn’t too much fluff in our navigation. In fact, we sailed a fairly clean race and Yann and I can be very proud,” said the skipper, who matched the Charlie Dalin – Pascal Bidégorry pairing tack for tack, only narrowly missing out on final victory in the more random conditions offshore of northern France. “Our duel was intriguing as we’d never had the opportunity to compare ourselves with another boat in this way. We learned a lot from the process and we were able to validate a number of our choices,” explained the sailor from the Var region of southern France.

For him, as with all his rivals – including Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière (For People, structural issue) as well as Scott Shawyer and Martin Strömberg (Canada Ocean Racing, J3 halyard issue), both of them forced to retire – the race proved to be very instructive.

Rolex Fastnet Race 2023
Image © Lloyd Images

“We were able to sail a very rational race where we were constantly striving to identify areas where we could improve. We managed to keep a close eye on our competition and learn lessons from them wherever we could,” explained Sam Goodchild (For the Planet), who bagged a very fine third place, just as he did in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race in May, confirming the pedigree of his 2019 Verdier design and her ability to compete with the more recent models.

“We weren’t necessarily expecting to be able to battle it out so well against the brand-new boats, especially given the very varied conditions. We’re delighted to finish with a spot on the podium, and happier still with the way we managed to achieve that. We really had to dig deep though as the slightest lack of attention immediately translated as valuable miles lost on the water,” added the Briton, current leader of the IMOCA GLOBE SERIES 2023.

Rolex Fastnet Race 2023
Image © Lloyd Images

Though Goodchild clearly has every reason to be thrilled by his performance, he’s certainly not alone. Other duos that excelled out on the race zone include Sam Davies and Nicolas Lunven (Initiatives-Cœur), Clarisse Crémer and Alan Roberts (L’Occitane en Provence), as well as Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion (TeamWork), all of them finishing within 26 minutes of the leader to secure a Top 5 spot.

“It was really great to slug it out at the front of the fleet just a fortnight after getting the machine up and running again,” beamed Clarisse Crémer, who has quickly got back up to speed again out on the water after a year and a half away from competition. “Within this context, we were expecting to have a few minor technical issues. Initially, that was how things played out, but things soon calmed down again. We’re very pleased with our race and our sixth place. Inevitably there was a bit of apprehension at the start, but from the first night out I was relieved as I felt good out on the water and Alan and I were immediately in the thick of the action. It’s a nice surprise and we’ve certainly had our first good shakedown now!”

With its short ‘sprint’-style format, and some rather ‘hairy’ weather conditions, this Rolex Fastnet Race has enabled the vast majority of the sailors to resolve a fair few technical points, as well as narrow down an action plan for work going forward. Already, it promises to be an exciting programme of sport for the coming months given the amazing standard of the very well-matched IMOCA fleet. Up next is the Défi Azimut – Lorient Agglomération on 19 September with some 35 duos signed up to hit the racetrack.

Main image © Lloyd Images

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