Looking back on an iconic Rolex Fastnet 2023 Campaign

This summer, Clipper Round the World Yacht Race’ sister company, Clipper Events, offered the chance for novice sailors to compete in the iconic Rolex Fastnet Race. Five yachts were entered into the Clipper Events class, with mixed experience teams formed from a blend of ex-Clipper Race Crew, future Race Crew, and those new to Clipper Ventures. Each of the five teams was led by a professional Skipper, First and Second Mate.

Whether participants are hardened sailors or have limited experience Clipper Events offers appropriate training to offer racing experiences on board yachts that have circumnavigated the globe. Race Crew from different corners of the world, from the USA to Australia to Ireland, formed five respective teams that would sail together throughout the Fastnet Race campaign.

The campaign consisted of two RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) qualifying races: the Myth of Malham, and Cowes-Dinard-St Malo. All five teams had to complete these qualifiers in order to gain the necessary mileage required to take on the iconic Fastnet race, as well as having the opportunity to gel as a team and build skills sailing on board a Clipper 68.

Qualifier 1: Myth of Malham Race

The Myth of Malham race saw participants take to the water on a scorching May weekend for the first qualifier in the series. The racecourse was a 230nm loop from Cowes to the Eddystone Lighthouse offshore from Plymouth, mirroring the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race. The race was characterised by light winds, followed by a short stint of spinnaker sailing before the wind eventually died off near Plymouth. The teams rounded the Eddystone Lighthouse before the poor wind conditions eventually forced to the fleet retire. However, the mileage still counted towards the qualifying miles required for the race.

Image: Myth of Malham Race

Qualifier 2: Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race

The second qualifier, the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo race, proved more gracious with the conditions, and all teams that entered successfully crossed the finish line to qualify. Although at times the wind was low, the action was high and intense, which saw a great effort from all teams. Curious, skippered by Nigel Parry, came in first, closely followed by Tenacious, skippered by Sophie O’Neil, and last but no means least Ambitious, skippered by Nick Graham.

“It was a great race, enough wind to finish this time so all the better. Crossing the finish line we had a brilliant sunset, spinnaker up in light winds, fading light. Lovely.” Says Paul Comyn, Race Crew from Ambitious.

Image: Clipper Events yachts at the start of the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo Race

The 50th Rolex Fastnet Race 2023

The 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race unfolded to be an epic event, with conditions ranging from gale force winds to light and sunny conditions, and an incredible offshore racing adventure for the teams involved.

To mark the start of the race, the five Clipper Events teams lined up alongside just over 400 boats, including some of the biggest sailing names and fastest racing yachts in the world.

The first day of racing served up some very testing conditions for Race Crew, as teams battled through winds of 40-50 knots coupled with sheets of rain.

Image: Teams faced very tough conditions at the start of the Fastnet

Reporting from the first night in the nav station, Skipper on Adventurous Dale Smyth set the scene: “It’s gusting over 40 knots at the moment, we’re going upwind. It’s pretty hard going…”

After a tough day or so, conditions eased and became more variable, with some wind holes thrown in to really test the crew. The teams rounded the Fastnet Rock late at night, adding an extra layer of difficulty and excitement, before racing ‘downhill’ to Cherbourg. After sailing more than 600miles in challenging conditions, teams crossed the finish line of the Rolex Fastnet Race and were welcomed in by a bottle of champagne, sprayed over the boat (and the team!) to celebrate their victory in style.

After a challenging race and a big adventure, the teams spent a night in Cherbourg, enjoying further celebrations at the Race Crew meal, before returning to soak up the Race Village atmosphere. The teams were waved off shortly after prizegiving, where Adventurous was crowned winner of the Clipper Events class.

The Clipper Events class standings were:

1st Adventurous

2nd Tenacious

3rd Ambitious

Matt Pettit, First Mate on Adventurous, the winning team in the Clipper Events class, describes the race, which reported some of the toughest Fastnet conditions in many years. He said: “The conditions of the Fastnet Race were pretty tough – we started with 50knots of wind on the nose and heavy rain heading out of the Needles, which continued overnight into the English Channel, accompanied with large, steep waves. Being first in our class out of the Needles was an incentive for Race Crew to work tirelessly overnight to keep our lead.

Image: Difficult conditions to kick off the Fastnet

Image: Matt Pettit

Image: First place team in the Clipper Events class: Adventurous

“For the rest of the race, conditions eased, and the crew settled into a racing watch system. We kept our lead throughout the race, but with Courageous hot on our heels. Crossing the line in first in our class was an amazing achievement for the whole team and a well-deserved celebration.”

Harriet McDonald, Race Crew on Courageous added: “It felt like an adventure because it was just so varied. There were bits that were really, really tough and frightening, and you had to dig deep. And bits of it were just so enjoyable with such lovely sailing – it was quite a trip!

Image: The Courageous team in Cherbourg

Curious skipper Nigel Parry, whose team unfortunately had to stop racing due to time constraints, said: “It’s been challenging, but the spirit on the boat is fantastic and everyone is in high spirits! We knew that we wouldn’t make the entire course in time when the wind went very light around the Scilly Isles. The decision to retire was a tough one but everyone is feeling very good about what we have achieved.”

Image: The Curious team

Sophie O’Neill, Skipper of Tenacious summed up the event on arrival into Cherbourg: “It was wild, it was everything, the team are so stoked and happy. I felt really proud to be the Skipper of this yacht. It was the ideal boat for the conditions. When you finish an offshore race, and see your crew smiling when they step off, that’s a great feeling.”

Image: Ambitious team

Image: The Tenacious team

On the entire Rolex Fastnet campaign, Matt Pettit said: “The development in the team over the qualifying races and passages has been massive – everyone stuck in and helped each other out. We had an amazing crew with so much energy, and there was always great chat and laughter on board – even in the middle of the night on tough watches.”

Clipper Events offers the chance to take part in sailing races with all necessary training provided. Choose to sign up as an individual or charter a whole yacht. Register your interest here for incredible sailing events, no matter what your sailing experience is.