One thing is for sure, the Fastnet start is always spectacular. The starting line is set in front of the impeccable lawns of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and the armada heads west towards the Needles rocks which mark the western end of the Solent and the beginning of the open waters. Of the 450 or so boats set to take the start, twenty-one IMOCAs will play their own part, with finishing being their main goal. For most candidates for the Vendée Globe, the main objective will be to finish the course and to aggregate racing miles towards qualification for the Vendee.
An offshore sprint
This will be the shortest race of the IMOCA Globe Series. The round trip between the south coast of England and the south-west tip of Ireland often turns out to be particularly technical. From the Isle of Wight, you sail along the Devon and Cornwall coasts where some of the iconic points (Start Point, Cape Lizard) often create re-starts where the tidal currents (especially in light airs) are strong and hold up the fleet. The strong tidal coefficients (104 and 103) can create significant differences if the fleet experience maximum flow either with or against them. The leg to the Fastnet lighthouse across the Celtic Sea from the western tip of England is most often against the prevailing winds and requires good strategy to minimize time and miles. The reward though is that most of the time, the leg from Fastnet back to Plymouth is a downwind speed race where you cannot let up.
With miles in the bank, they can relax.
Those who were able to complete the Route du Rhum, and subsequently the Bermuda 1000 can start the Fastnet Race with the assurance that as the race earns only a few points and with their lead in the race for qualification miles for the Vendee Globe, they have little to worry about. As the race is doublehanded, the total of the miles traveled will have to be divided between the two team members, so a maximum take of 300 points per skipper and so there is little to play for in terms of championship points.
There are four skippers who have completed the Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe and the Bermudes 1000 Race: With this advantage, Boris Herrmann (Malizia - Yacht Club of Monaco), Damien Seguin (Apicil Group), Manuel Cousin (Groupe Setin) and Stéphane Le Diraison (Time for Oceans) can leave Cowes with a certain peace of mind. For them, the Rolex Fastnet Race should be above all an opportunity to refine maneuvers with their co-skipper in preparation for the Transat Jacques Vabre.
Four other competitors leave with no pressure at all: Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2), Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline Artipôle), Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest - Art et Fenetres), Alan Roura (La Fabrique) all finished the last Vendée Globe, they are therefore automatically validated provided they have completed a qualifying transatlantic race.
Strengthening their position.
Those who could not participate in the Route du Rhum but managed the Bermudes 1000 Race have managed to build an aggregate of 2000 miles. Finishing the Fastnet would allow them to grow their small advantage over the competition. Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian Group) and Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq) will want to continue the good performance they put up in the race between Douarnenez and Brest where they finished respectively third and second. Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) who finished at the foot of that podium will no doubt be divided between her desire to show she will be a player in the future and prudence with a still newly-modified boat. Maxime Sorel (V & B) faces the same dilemma. For all these competitors, weather conditions may be crucial: if they are manageable everyone will want to push as much as possible. If the wind picks up, as is possible in August in the Irish Sea, we could see some lift their foot to make sure they complete the course.
For other competitors, this Rolex Fastnet Race will be a kind of baptism by fire. First test for new boats or the start of a campaign, the race is a great opportunity to put a toe in the water before the big race of 2019; the Transat Jacques Vabre.