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Rolex Fastnet Race 2017

Max Deckers

After a successful start of the season with many relatively short races, it was time for the most important race of the year: the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. This race is held every two years and is seen as one of the most prestigious offshore sailing races in the world. With a length of 605 nautical miles, 385 participating yachts and over 2700 competing sailors the Fastnet Race is definitely a highlight in the career of most of us, being young ROST sailors.

Our main goal for the Fastnet Race 2017: learn. How does a watch system work? How will the tasks be divided? How do make sure we perform optimally? Although learning was the main goal, the race was also a good way to compare with other teams. We shared the starting line with strong competitors, among others the Lady Mariposa (also a Ker 46), several maxis (of over 100 feet) and the complete Volvo Ocean Race fleet. We were determined to show what we are capable of as a young team.

After careful preparations the moment was there: the start in Cowes, UK. Under perfect circumstances the fleet departed and sailed upwind out of the Solent, witnessed by the crowd that observed the start from the shore. The start was impressive as well as hectic, tacking between imposing yachts while considering depth, tide and wind shifts. Despite the excitement we managed to sail our way to the front and arriving at the Needles – out of the Solent – we were in a very good position. Now it was time to get into the cycle of watches, distribution of tasks and work as a team to keep pushing the boat all the time. The entire leg to the Fastnet Rock – the rock in front Ireland that has to be rounded – was upwind. This led to some tough strategic decisions, which together with a difficult swell made challenging circumstances.

It took us 60 hours of upwind sailing to arrive at the Fastnet Rock in twilight. At this point we were not happy with our position: 10th in our class and 145th overall. Despite this the morals were high, the ship was still in perfect condition and we were determined to start the pursuit. The circumstances were also starting to be in our favour; the wind was increasing and came from astern! When the night fell we were surfing one wave after the other, and in the middle of the night – with loads of water over (and inside) the boat while the bow pierced the waves – we reached our top speed of over 26 knots.

After a downwind blast during which time flew by we already had the UK in sight again. It turned out we did well during the night, and considering the relatively short time left we had ‘all hands on deck’ during these last eight hours. A few hours later we arrived – tired but pleased – at the finishing line in Plymouth with a strongly improved position: 6th in our class and 19th overall.

The Rolex Fastnet Race 2017 was a fantastic experience for the team. We did a good job, but there are plenty of points that can be improved. Next stops: Offshore Worlds in 2018 and of course the Fastnet Race 2019!