Mike Keusgen and myself were very fortunate to again join SYC’s Robi Stauber and his team of Finnish sailors to race in the just completed 2019 Fastnet Yacht Race. This event was the fourth leg of a great campaign of racing in Europe over the last few years, having now competed in the 2016 Rolex 50th Swan World Cup in Porto Cervo, the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race (from Malta around Sicily), the 2018 Palermo-Monaco race and now the most famous ocean race in the world, the iconic 608 Nm Fastnet.
For this years’ race, Robi chose to go up a notch and chartered the Volvo 65 Team Brunel, which finished third in the most recent Volvo Ocean Race, and also held the 24hr distance record for a short time. A brute of a boat, the Volvo 65’s perform best overpowered, especially off the breeze and we often sailed triple headed. The loads in a breeze are unbelievable with more than 10tonnes on the backstay/runners and six grinders required for all manoeuvres. In 25 knts off the breeze, a consistent 22-25knts boat speed is expected, though the boat can be very wet – when the breeze drops to 20knts and the boat speed is 15knts it feels unbelievably very slow.
We met up in Southampton a week before the race to get use to the boat and to compete in the 160 mile Channel Race as warm up/qualifier. Starting off historic Cowes, on the Isle of Wight the race is very tide affected through the Solent and finishes with a lap of the island. Raced in great conditions we finished 4th across the line and then elected to continue under race conditions for a further 140 miles by blasting across to the French coast and back in 10 hours.
We were racing with a crew of 16, which apart from Mike and myself, was made up of Finns and Dutch, with a broad mixture of Olympic sailors and Gold Medallist, Round the World, Mini Transat and experienced sailors – all very accomplished and preofessional. Most importantly they are all great people and fun to be with, both on the boat and on-shore.
The Fastnet Race started on Saturday 3rd August in light conditions and sunny skies. A fleet of 388 yachts started and in our division IRC 0 we had very stiff competition with the 100ft Scallywag, Rambler 88, a number of Maxi 72’s, a mix of Volvo 70’s, 65’s and 60’s and other speed machines. In addition there were three 100ft Ultim trimarans competing and an incredible 20 IMOCA 60’s many of which were the latest foiling versions, and raced either fully crewed or sailed two-up.
The racing started in beautiful conditions reaching in 10-14 knts of breeze and an outgoing current. As we started in the last group, the next couple of hours was exciting passing through the massive fleet in the Solent before we all entered into a light transition patch in the evening. With great sailing conditions we passed the Scillies in the morning entering the Celtic Sea in a building breeze to a maximum of 25-28knts with a fast reach to Fastnet Rock, off the southern Irish coast arriving there midnight on the second night. We then cracked sheets on Team Brunel for a fast 20-24knt reach back to the UK finally finishing at Plymouth in 2 days, 3 hours, 50 minutes.
Due to the building breeze and lumpy conditions, this years’ Fastnet ended up being a “big boats” race. The race was won overall by the Volvo 70 Wizard which has an incredible pedigree having won the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race as Groupama 4, the 2016 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as Giacomo and this year the 2019 Transatlantic Race and the RORC Caribbean 600.
We then had a great couple of days recovering in Plymouth, and Robbi and the entire crew were very satisfied with the result, sailing in the unfamiliar and powerful Team Brunel and contemplating what could be on the cards for next year? Thanks Robi,
Luke and Mike