North Sails powers two new course records and personal wins throughout the fleet
The 50th edition of the renowned Rolex Fastnet Race drew a record-breaking number of entries, with 430 boats from around the world participating in this challenging offshore classic. The race lived up to its reputation for competitiveness and difficulty, providing thrilling sailing action for participants and spectators alike.
The standout performers of the 2023 edition were the North Sails-powered skippers Francois Gabart and Charlie Dalin, who set new Fastnet Race course records in their respective categories. Gabart, aboard Ultim SVR Lazartigue, secured the overall line honors and set a multihull race record with an impressive time of 1 day, 8 hours, 38 minutes, and 27 seconds.
North Sails and Gabart have worked together across his various projects for over 15 years. The Ultim skipper commented on this collaboration and the critical role of the importance of advanced sailing technology:
"I started working with North Sails with my first IMOCA, and it's never stopped. With all the technology developed, the [3Di] material, all the design tools available for development… that's a long story, more than 15 years, but still working well. And I hope it'll be the same in the future."
MACIF Santé Prévoyance skipper Dalin with Pascal Bidégorry, was the first monohull to cross the line in Cherbourg, completing the race in 2 days, 7 hours, 16 minutes, and 26 seconds. Dalin's triumph continued his impressive performance following his IMOCA class win in the 2021 Fastnet Race.
Despite having only five days of practice on the newly launched IMOCA before the race, Dalin and Bidégorry showcased exceptional skill and determination throughout the challenging course.
"It was a very intense race from the first second, going upwind in 30+ knots in the Solent," said Dalin. "It was incredible with the big waves and winds getting out of the Channel. Then there was the leg from the Fastnet to the Scillies when we reached almost 40 knots several times - crazy speeds – the boat just flying. Then the crazy battle at the end with Yoann [Richomme] and Yann [Elies]. We caught them, they took off again, we caught them again and managed to overtake and then when we'd got a two-mile lead, we got some seaweed on the keel! Finally, we got rid of that and extended again to the finish."
The race's 50th edition was not without difficulties, as adverse weather conditions greeted the fleet, making for a dramatic initial 24 hours. One of the pre-race favorites, Peter Morton's Notorious, whose crew included North Sails UK General Manager Ian Walker, decided against risking severe damage in these conditions and withdrew before the start.
Morton's decision proved wise for the powered-up JV72 as strong winds gusting up to 40 knots, combined with a fierce tide, tested the sailors' mettle, leading to nearly 100 retirements, one sinking, and four dismastings in the first 12 hours. Additionally, Niklas Zenstrom's North-powered Ran with Bouwe Bekking on the crew roster was slated as a strong IRC Overall contender until structural damage forced their retirement along with Oystercatcher XXXV.
Despite the challenging conditions, many boats continued down the course, only to be met with tricky conditions further down the track.
Walker, who set a race record in 2011 as skipper of Abu Dhabi commented:
"For the big boats who pressed on with the journey to France, Mother Nature did not play kindly. Lucky, the Juan K designed 88-footer, made great use of their new North J6 jib, designed for exactly the rougher conditions, and looked to be heading for Monohull and IRC overall victory until light winds and foul tide beset them on the final approach to Cherbourg. Another highly fancied, new-build, Carkeek 45 Ino Noir, powered by North Sails, sailed a well-managed race to put themselves in contention but fell off the back of the best wind in the Irish Sea and could do nothing as the 50-footers sailed away in a better breeze."
In the IRC Two-handed fleet, which encountered harsh conditions exiting the Needles Channel, remarkable displays of seamanship were witnessed as teams fought to survive the first 24 hours. The French teams dominated the podium, but local North UK clients, Kelvin Matthews and Tim Goodhew sailing their Sunfast 3200, performed admirably, finishing fourth overall in IRC 3. Additionally, the father and daughter duo of Ellie and Jim Driver onboard the Sunfast 3300 Chilli Pepper secured 10th place in IRC Two-handed and 33rd overall in IRC.
The Rolex Fastnet Race 2023 will undoubtedly be remembered for its exceptional competition, remarkable performances, and celebration of the enduring spirit of sailing. The event again solidified its status as a must-do offshore race, leaving participants and spectators anticipating the next edition in 2025.