The Fastnet Race is on many a sailor's bucket list and part of the appeal is the challenge it represents. Pete Goss follows two boats that took part in this years edition

The Rolex Fastnet Race is of course a race – it’s in the title. But lightly scratch the surface and it quickly reveals itself to be much more than a competition, for it is also a test. A test of boat, a test of crew and a test of dogged persistence well beyond the experience of many offshore sailors. To win you have first to finish and finishing in many cases is more important than the result.

This year’s 50th anniversary of the Fastnet, with one in four of the entrants falling by the wayside, will go down in history as a tough one. Its appeal was far and wide, drawing in 32 nationalities from 12 to 80 years of age. The fleet, ‘like a box of chocolates’, ranges from massive 100ft Ultime trimarans through to 30ft monohulls and everything in between.

Tracey and I had two horses in the race with my long-time friend Paul Larsen acting as race skipper on the mighty 85ft catamaran Allegra. We caught up with him in Cherbourg to be regaled with tales of derring do that resulted in a class win. An impressive boat with a professional crew chasing speeds of over 30 knots.

At the other end of the spectrum, thanks to the fantastic tracking services of Yellow Brick, we were able to follow Emma – a Garcia 52 owned by Mark Wilkinson and Rebecca Hirsch. She’s a new boat and this would serve as a shakedown before heading off across the Atlantic later this year.

An entry born of an epiphany in the bar above Cherbourg Marina. Clothilde Bernard was doing the official owners’ handover on behalf of Garcia when three past Fastnet veterans wandered in.
Overhearing them, Mark thought, ‘We could do that’.

‘Clothilde, why don’t you skipper Emma in the Fastnet with a crew of ladies from the Garcia family,’ he suggested. Word went out and a crew quickly formed. Clothilde would be skipper and the youngest at 27 but with a fair amount of experience. At 60, Rebecca would be the oldest and a complete novice.

The crew of six quickly pulled together as a team during their qualifying races. Clothilde was very reticent about being skipper and took some persuasion but we knew she had what it takes. I spent a wonderful day with them and was soon caught up in their infectious enthusiasm.

It reminded me of the British Steel Challenge and how much I love to teach. This would be a huge step beyond their comfort zone individually but within their ability as a group. They were up for it and their determination shone through. I left confident they would complete the course, particularly as they had a Garcia to look after them. Some thought otherwise.

Going against the grain takes courage, and so a measure of them was when the tracker showed they had chosen the seamanlike option of anchoring in the Solent to let that first vicious night blow through. Furler damage contributed to this decision but it didn’t dampen their spirit and sure enough the next morning Emma beat her way into the Channel.

The massive trimarans had finished before they made it to Portland and every shift seemed to go against them as they plugged their way west. Theirs was a varied race with a final run up the Channel, which was hampered by losing the spinnaker over the bow. They might have missed the official party but nothing could dampen their finish.

They had passed their self-imposed test and were not found wanting. The prize? Enduring memories and friends for life.

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