by Louay Habib
With less than two weeks to go before the start, the Rolex Fastnet Race will see over 300 yachts racing using the Spinlock IRC rating rule. For 29 years IRC (formerly known as CHS) has been used for a huge number of races and regattas all over the world. In 2012 nearly 7000 boats from 30 countries on all 6 continents held IRC certificates, issued by either RORC or UNCL, joint owners of the Rule.
Not only is this year's Rolex Fastnet Race likely to claim its first record as the largest blue-ribbon offshore race in the history of the sport, but also to attract the most diverse fleet of yachts to race anywhere in the world. Over 170 different designs will be racing using the IRC rating rule. Whilst a high performance racing yacht will undoubtedly be the first yacht to cross the finish line, every IRC rated boat has a chance of winning the Fastnet Challenge Trophy. This will be the 45th edition of the race, and 37 different yachts have won the trophy since Jolie Brise won the inaugural event in 1925.
Jeremy Robinson will be in the afterguard of Niklas Zennstrom's JV72, "Rán 2", the current holder of the Rolex Challenge Trophy. Jeremy is one of only a handful of yachtsmen to have been part of winning teams for both the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart, both scored using IRC ratings.
"The size of the fleet and the variety of boats means that this is a tough race to come out on top," commented Jeremy. "You have to try and win your class by sailing the boat to its optimum and then hope that the conditions are going to suit your boat. In ocean racing, the Fastnet Challenge Trophy is undoubtedly a major prize and probably one of the hardest to win."
The Rolex Fastnet fleet is split into six different IRC classes, the largest of which is IRC Four with 82 yachts from eight different countries, typifying the diversity of yachts that makes the Rolex Fastnet Race so special.
IROMIGUY, FRA, Jean-Yves Chateau, IRC 3 Rolex Fastnet Race 2005 Daniel Forster/ROLEX
The winner of the first race in 1925, the 1913 Pilot Cutter 'Jolie Brise' is celebrating her centenary. Raced by Dauntsey's School Sailing Club, she will have a crew that includes seven girls and boys under 18 years of age.
Nine Sigma 38s will be racing in IRC Four. This one design class dates back to 1985 but is still highly competitive in IRC. Kevin Sussmilch's Sigma 38 "Mefisto" has been in fine form this season, winning IRC Four in the Morgan Cup and De Guingand Bowl Races, and currently leads the class for the RORC Season's Points Championship.
Noel Racine's JPK 10.10, "Foggy Dew" is one of the most modern yachts racing in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race. With a retractable bowsprit flying asymmetric spinnakers, and a surfing hull shape, "Foggy Dew" may be one of the smallest yachts in the race but is by no means the slowest and is eminently capable of beating far larger yachts after time correction.Although simply taking part is a lifetime's ambition for many, the ultimate prize for the hundreds of teams competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race is to win overall, and rating under IRC every yacht has a chance. In 2005, Jean Yves Chateau's Nicholson 33, "Iromiguy" won the Fastnet Challenge Trophy despite being over 30 years old and with a totally amateur crew. "Iromiguy" will be racing again this year, keen to triumph over the latest breed of ocean racing machines.
Perhaps the fact that any boat can win on its day is a large factor in IRC's popularity. RORC Technical Director Mike Urwin explains why it is the most popular rating rule in the world:
"IRC is aimed at a very wide range of keelboats of all shapes and sizes. The Rule is continually developed to encompass new developments in both cruisers and racers, while at the same time protecting the interests of the bulk of the fleet. It is a permissive rule, taking into account a wide range of features such as code zeros, asymmetric spinnakers, bowsprits, novel keel and appendage designs and rig configurations, and IRC deals with these features as equitably as possible."
The Rolex Fastnet Race starts on August 11 and the RORC Rating Office wishes all competitors fair winds and a memorable race.