Only a handful of these Ultims exist, so the Fastnet in August 2019 was an exciting clash between four of them. Image Fastnet Race Media
Multihulls will lead the world’s largest and most diverse offshore fleet from England during the Rolex Fastnet Race, reports KEVIN GREEN.
As one of the big three bluewater classic races, along with Australia’s Sydney-Hobart and America’s Bermuda race, the Fastnet is often the testing ground for new yachts and crews with global prospects in mind. Multihulls are barred from the Hobart and have only recently been allowed into the Bermuda race, thus the Fastnet’s appeal for such a diverse field of multihulls and monohulls that number 453 yachts.
Sodebo 3 completed the 605 mile Fastnet in only 31 hours. Image Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
And so it this year on Sunday, August 8, 2021, as the fastest offshore yachts in the world, the 100ft Ultim trimarans gathered like giant spiders in search of prey. The main aim for them is testing their equipment before record-breaking attempts around-the-world and trophies such as the Jules Verne. Even more significant is their recently announced race, the first ever single-handed race around the world in 2023. At least six Ultims have signed up for what must be the ultimate challenge of man and machine.
Ultim Actual rounding the Fastnet Rock. Image RORC
HISTORIC COURSE CHANGE
A historic decision to change the Fastnet course, a first in the history of the 96 year race, will see navigators and tacticians scratching their heads this year, and sailing masters changing their suite of sails. The reason is a finish in France, which will increase the downwind sailing and extend the course by 90 miles to, 695 miles. The course milestones will now be: depart the Solent to race west to Ireland’s Fastnet Rock then return further south-east along the English Channel to the French port of Cherbourg. Among the reasons for organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), doing this is catering for the large number of continental racers and the recognition of France’s influential offshore racing scene. Safety will be paramount in this infamous stretch of water that is exposed to some of the worst westerlies from the Atlantic. This seaway caused a significant loss of life during the 1979 Fastnet Race when 19 died in the Irish Sea. Five boats sank and 75 capsized among the 303 entrants, with 194 retiring. It would be about 20 years after this that the first multihull raced in the Fastnet.
Maxi Edmond de Rothschild skippered by Cyril Dardashti will be a strong contender to defend its 2019 Fastnet win with experienced sailors Franck Cammas and Charles Coudrelier among the crew. Image RORC/Carlo Borlenghi
RUNNERS AND RIDERS
In the last event, in 2019, French yachts won nine of the 10 overall classes, although the race was won overall by the American Volvo 70 Wizard. Leading multihulls home were the TS42 built by Marsaudon Composites in Lorient, skippered by Frenchman Christian Guyader, in an elapsed time of two days and 12 hours. He was closely chased by a trio of English built Dazcat catamarans (1495s and a 1295 model). The open class multihull division was all about the 105ft Ultim Class. These monsters of the deep were led home by Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, skippered by Cyril Dardashti. He will again attempt to repeat the feat this year on a new Ultim and better his time of one day and four hours. Thomas Coville was pipped into third place on his new Ultim Sodebo 3 last event. Before the race I was invited aboard by Thomas to marvel at this incredible piece of French engineering at its launch in La Trinity Sur La Mer, just before I raced in Spi Ouest, France’s largest regatta. Most interesting was the cockpit/cabin in front of the mast on Sodebo 3 and the fact it was the first purpose built foiling Ultim.
The Ultims were developed over the last 30 years by teams attempting to break the non-stop round the world record - the Jules Verne Trophy – so these giant 32m long by 23m wide flying multihulls are the fastest offshore racing yachts by far. Incorporating huge stability, gained from the width of the three hulls and now with reduced drag, thanks to foils, these yachts are capable of doing 50kts and perhaps more. If adequately brisk conditions materialise, these craft are more than capable of finishing the Fastnet in less than a day, despite the new course to Cherbourg being longer.
The 2021 launched 2m Banque Populaire XI may be the fastest Ultim yet, skippered by Vendee Globe winner Armel Le Cleac'h. Image Banque Populaire XI
Newest is Banque Populaire XI that launched in May and skippered by Vendee Globe winner Armel Le Cléac’h: “We will carry out the first tests in Lorient before focusing on the sporting aspect by going offshore to take it in hand. We have been able to imagine and visualise the potential of Banque Populaire XI in the simulator for several months. But now, it is on the real playground that we want to demonstrate all its abilities.”
Other Ultims, returning to the race are Maxi Edmond de Rothschild skippered by Cyril Dardashti and Team Actual (formerly MACIF) skippered by Yves Le Blevec and currently holder of the single-handed non-stop around the world record. “In light air it is similar and in big wind and big waves it is not much different, but in medium conditions the boat is between 10-15% faster,” said Le Blevec of the refitted yacht. While foilers usually prefer flat water, Le Blevec maintains that it is in fact in wavy conditions where they are seeing performance gains. “With the old boat we had big difficulties to go fast against the waves because the boat falls into the troughs. On the new boat with the foils, it stays up out of the water and doesn’t fall off into the waves, so they go faster.”
Christian Guyader will defend his 2019 Fastnet win on a Marsaudon TS50 this year. Image Guyader Mext
Thomas Coville and his Sodebo 3 are late entries this year and have unfinished business at the race, after struggling to tune the new boat for the last event, so were a bit underdone. After a racing program over the last two years, the 105ft foiler should be more than a match for his compatriots. Sodebo3’s racing program included an aborted attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy during November 2020 that ended with rudder failure, as they passed Australia doing 30+kts. Among the French crew was a rosbif, the affable and talented Englishman Sam Goodchild, who Thomas told me he rates very highly as multihull racer.
MACIF is now renamed Team Actual for 2021; skippered by Yves Le Blevec and currently holder of the single-handed non-stop around the world record. Image RORC/Carlo Borlenghi
Closely following them could be the little sisters, the 70ft MOD70s such as Jason Caroll’s Argo and Maserati of Giovanni Soldini. I’ve been fortunate to race on some of these, so can testify to the incredible exhilaration and speeds (38-40kts) that I experienced. But offshore, these vessels are truly awesome and scary to sail, requiring incredible seamanship to manage their power and speed over the large waves. Behind them is an assortment of custom built and small trimarans in the Multihull Offshore Cruising & Racing Association (MOCRA) division. Among them this year is at least four Marsaudon catamarans and a few English built Dazcat catamarans as well. The mix of nationalities includes American, British and several continental nationalities but sadly no Australians among the 14 boat fleet. They will be hoping for reaching and running conditions to maximise their potential, while also battling the strong tides of the English Channel before a big arrival party in the famous old port of Cherbourg, so bonne chance to them all.