Probably the toughest battle in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race was the duel for the lead in the largest class of the smallest boats, IRC Four. This was an all-French affair, both in French-built JPK 10.10 sisterships and both teams from northern France. However one was doublehanded from Cherbourg; the other fully crewed from Le Havre. And they have considerable history.
In 2013 the father and son team of Pascal and Alexis Loisin aboard Night and Day became the first doublehanded crew ever to win the Rolex Fastnet Race not just in their class, but outright, ahead of all the fully crewed boats. But in second place overall that year was Noel Racine’s Foggy Dew. This was also the case two years ago when Night and Day finished fifth overall with Foggy Dew ninth. And while it would be nice to say that it was third time lucky for Racine’s Le Havre crew, in fact, Pascal Loisin, the Cherbourg-based orthopaedic surgeon and his professional Figaro sailor son Alexis prevailed once again. This time both boats were racing in the same class, Night and Day’s time correcting to out to 2 hours 13 minutes ahead of her rival, although this year neither made an impression on the overall IRC results, which favoured larger boats.
“It was very nice race…” Alexis Loisin began, his father interjecting: “It was a bit hard at the beginning! I don’t think I have spent the best part of three days of upwind like that!”
The Loisins were pleased with their tactics at Portland Bill where they went very inshore (too far inshore, judging from the look on the face of père Loisin), however that gained them three miles. Crossing the Celtic Sea, their tactics were conservative, not hitting one or other side of the course hard although they are renowned for tacking on every shift. However they did err to the right of the rhumb line en route to the Fastnet Rock leaving them in good shape when the wind veered right.
The fight for IRC Four honours was initially between four boats including the lead duo, another JPK 10.10 Richard Fromentin’s Cocody and the rather different S&S 41 heavyweight, Harry J Heijst’s Winsome. “The first to separate was Cocody which made a small mistake and after that it was Winsome and from Land’s End to the Fastnet it was just the two of us fighting,” recounted Racine.
Incredibly, the two nimble JPK 10.10s led the whole IRC fleet at the Fastnet Rock. Racine continued:
“We were very close, but we fell into a wind hole 100m from the Fastnet and stopped for two minutes and they disappeared.” Night and Day is recorded as rounding Fastnet Rock 20 minutes ahead on corrected time and their lead just increased from there. “Then a patch of light wind was coming from astern, so the boats behind had more difficulty than us, but the boats ahead were gone,” Racine explained, or as Alexis Loisin put it after the Fastnet, “we took the wind and closed the door. Maybe we had 20 knots, but I think Foggy Dew only had 15. We extended by 10-11 miles.”
While the JPK 10.10s had the best conditions going to the Rock, the larger planing boats came into their own, recovering their lost time downwind and reaching in the second half of the race towards the Plymouth finish.
Aside from winning IRC Four, Night and Day also claimed the IRC Two Handed prize, which they had won in 2013 but lost to Kelvin Rawlings and Stuart Childerley on the J/105 Jester in 2015. This year, the Loisins said they had been worried about the bigger J/122e Ajeto! sailed by Dutch Two Handed Champions, Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre. The Netherlands boat had been leading the IRC Two Handed class until Night and Day finally overhauled them yesterday, leaving them second.
The Dutch duo, racing their new boat which they have optimised for two handed racing, had an up and down race.
“We sailed well, but we had some bad luck with a wind hole at the Lizard,” said Verhoef. “We were not close enough to the shore and not far enough from the shore to get away from there. There was a big wind hole and we had to anchor twice for about 30 minutes letting out 120m of line!”
This episode dropped them to 13th by the time they reached Land’s End, however they recovered this lost ground by going up the favourable east side of the Land’s End traffic separation scheme and then sailing into the favourable right hand shift in the Celtic Sea.
“The Irish Sea was like lake sailing – wind shift-tack, wind shift-tack,” said van der Starre. “Then at the TSS we were up with the leaders in the group again.” They rounded the Fastnet Rock shortly before dawn, under the full moon. After the prolonged upwind conditions, there was tangible relief as they turned downwind. “That was one big smile. Then at the Scillies we saw for the first time we were leading our class again.”
However soon after they got stuck in another wind hole forcing them to back down the course and then sail south in order to extricate themselves. It was this that allowed Night & Day to move ahead of them in the IRC Two Handed class.
Third overall in the IRC Two-Handed was Rob Craigie and Deb Fish on the Sun Fast 3600 Bellino. They are also the first winners of a new prize being offered to the first Mixed Two-Handed yacht overall. Craigie and Fish were generally pleased with their race. The low point was went the wind went light for them off Plymouth.
“Some people went right inshore and they pulled out miles on us,” said Craigie. They made a good job of the outbound Celtic Sea crossing and maintaining some height reaped rewards. “We got lifted so we didn’t have to tack in the last bit,” said Fish of the final run into the Fastnet Rock. “Those boats ahead of us that did, like Game On, and had to tack lost a lot.”
Once again the blast back from the Rock was among the most memorable of sails.
“It was moonlit night and we were hooning along, going like a train with a few dolphins around. It was just great, only we were having such a good time we overstood!” recalled Fish, who was helming at that point.
The reach to the finish from Bishop Rock was a case of having the perfect sail for the job even if they were forced to push their asymmetric beyond its comfort zone.
“It really paid over the whole of that 60 mile reach. We were catching Redshift,” concluded Craigie. As to their third place behind Night and Day, Fish admitted: “They are in a different league, but that is the nice thing about the race – you get to pit yourself against the best.”
This morning, the sole remaining all-female IRC Two Handed yacht arrived in Kirsteen Donaldson and Judith Eastwood, sailing the X-332 Pyxis. Donaldson reported that the race itself was not without challenges.
“We endured 400 miles on the wind, which was quite tough. The race wasn’t unkind but it was just a bit frustrating in places, with some very quiet patches. We had to put a lot of tacks in around the Fastnet Rock, and we also encountered a light patch south of the Lizard. We hit a tidal gate there just at the wrong time, so we were stuck for a bit. We had a quiet run into the finish, but although we had to work hard to keep the boat moving the last bit was an enjoyable stretch of sailing.”