Photo: Olivier Blanchet / DPPI

IMOCA Ocean Masters World Championship kicks off next week

Old versus new as ten doublehanded 60 crews compete in next week's Rolex Fastnet Race

Thursday August 6th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Since its inception 90 years ago, the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race has developed into the world’s largest offshore race, this year attracting more than 380 entries. Throughout this time, this classic race has stuck to the same course starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes, heading west down to the Solent, rounding Land’s End and crossing to the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock, before returning to Plymouth, leaving the Scilly Isles to port.  

This year the event will be particularly special as it will also herald in the 2015-2016 IMOCA Ocean Masters World Championship.

The IMOCA fleet due on the start in Cowes for their first competition in the new championship will be impressive. With ten boats entered, it is expected to be particularly competitive, because it will be the first significant occasion the initial crop of new generation IMOCA 60s has lined up against older boats that competed in the last Vendée Globe. Apart from the Trophee SNSM race in which SMA won against the new Safran, and some training races in Port-la-Forêt, how the newest generation IMOCAs perform compared to the older boats remains largely unclear.

Testing the foils

The three-four day long Rolex Fastnet Race should provide an informative first glimpse into each type of boat’s potential. Against the new generation Banque Populaire and Safran are three of the four highest ranked IMOCA 60s from the existing fleet - PRB, Groupe Quéguiner (ex-Safran) and SMA (ex-MACIF).

Of particular interest will be how the new style of foils fitted to the latest boats will perform. These foils are designed to reduce leeway, like conventional daggerboards, but also to provide vertical lift, a turbo-charger that dramatically increases performance by reducing the wetted surface area of the hull and in turn speed-sapping drag.

How will these new foils perform in unfavourable conditions such as close hauled in light air? Will the speed gains while reaching compensate for any potential losses on different points of sail? These are some of the questions from which the Rolex Fastnet Race may provide some early, tentative answers…

Testing life in tandem

The IMOCA 60s will be racing the Rolex Fastnet Race two-handed, the teams using the race as an opportunity to strengthen their partnerships in preparation for the Transat Jacques Vabre, starting on 25 October from Le Havre bound for Itajai, Brazil.

Competing are some impressive names: Paul Meilhat and two time Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux on board the SMA or Eric Bellion together with Sam Goodchild at the helm of Stand As One (Comme Un Seul Homme).

Others have already been rubbing shoulders for a long time, such as Bertrand de Broc and Marc Guillemot on MACSF. They are cousins and have already raced together in the Transat AG2R. The same goes for Sam Davies, Tanguy de Lamotte’s co-skipper on board Initiatives-Cœur - they met when they both competed in the Mini Transat and have kept in touch ever since, a similar story to two other former Mini sailors Thomas Ruyant and Adrien Hardy on Le Souffle du Nord.

Finally, some made their choice based on competence. Yann Elies on Groupe Quéguiner had enough time to study his teammate Charlie Dalin, who was runner-up to him in this year’s edition of the Solitaire du Figaro. Similarly, Morgan Lagravière is being joined on Safran by another former Figaro sailor Nicolas Lunven while Armel Le Cléac’h will be taking Erwan Tabarly with him on board Banque Populaire.

The Rolex Fastnet Race, a coefficient 1 event,  promises to be a suitably thrilling way to start the 2015-2016 IMOCA Ocean Masters World Championship.

Prospective crews lined up for the Rolex Fastnet Race:

Banque Populaire VIII: Armel Le Cléac’h – Erwan Tabarly
Safran: Morgan Lagravière – Nicolas Lunven
PRB: Vincent Riou – tbc
SMA: Paul Meilhat – Michel Desjoyeaux
Initiatives-Cœur: Tanguy de Lamotte – Sam Davies
MACSF: Bertrand de Broc – Marc Guillemot
Bureau Vallée: Louis Burton – Romain Attanasio
Groupe Quéguiner: Yann Elies – Charlie Dalin
Le Souffle du Nord: Thomas Ruyant – Adrien Hardy
Comme Un Seul Homme: Eric Bellion – Sam Goodchild

2015-2016 IMOCA Ocean Masters Championship program:

Rolex Fastnet Race (double-handed), starts on 16 August 2015
Transat Jacques Vabre (double-handed), starts on 25 October 2015
Transat from St Barts (single-handed), starts on 6 December 2015
Transat New York – Vendée (single-handed), starts on 29 May 2016
Vendée Globe (single-handed), starts on 6 November 2016

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