Rolex Fastnet Race 2023 stacked IMOCA fleet set to entertain

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The IMOCA fleet in the Fastnet Race 2023 includes new launches, relaunched refits and a plethora or talent all hoping to impress. Here’s our pick of the IMOCA boats to watch

The famous Rolex Fastnet Race always provides an intriguing line up of amateur and professional teams all looking for race glory as they battle the 629nm course from Cowes, round the Fastnet Rock and back to the (new in 2021) finish in Cherbourg.

But there are consequences to the Fastnet Race beyond merely the spoils for the winners and this year will once again see a large fleet of IMOCA 60s taking to the startline.

For the 29 IMOCA 60s, though victory is a significant goal, it is not purely a question of who will win the Fastnet as the aims of the teams go some way beyond the Fastnet Race itself with many gearing up for the Transat Jacques Vabre later this year and, more crucially, the Vendeé Globe in 2024.

With around 18 months to go until the Vendeé Globe 2024, there will be a number of recently launched IMOCA 60s on the startline for this Fastnet Race as well as several boats that are fresh from significant refits.

In short, the IMOCA 60 Fastnet fleet is absolutely stacked with top-end talent and fascinating new boats, so much so, it can be difficult to know where to look. Here, we’ve picked out just a few of the competitors that fans will want to keep an eye on.

New and revamped IMOCA 60 Fastnet fleet

With the Vendée running on a 4-year cycle, those with the backing to do so will typically have only recently launched the boats that they hope will take them to round the world victory in 2024.

As such the Fastnet Race in 2023 represents the first time we will see a number of the new IMOCA 60 launches for the next Vendée competing against one another – though it must be noted there are still a significant number yet to be launched.

A new IMOCA 60 is a significant undertaking with 10,000s man hours involved in the design and build of these technologically advanced semi-foiling machines. But just getting one on the water is only half the battle with sailors needing to understand the performance of their new boats and start to build a better picture of the best moding of the boars in certain conditions and wind angles.

Much of this can be modelled on computers these days but there is still nothing like real-world testing to validate ideas. The challenge is also similar for any older boats which have been undergoing refits.

All this is to say that it may not be the very latest boats leading the field in this Fastnet Race, but it does give the fans a good chance to, at least, start to assess the potential of the boats at this early stage – even if that potential might only be seen in fits and bursts.

Who to watch in the Fastnet Race IMOCA 60 fleet

Photo: Maxime Horlaville / disobey / Macif

Charlie Dalin and Pascal Bidégorry – MACIF Santé Prévoyance

Charlie Dalin has been the standout star in the IMOCA fleet in recent years. He was the winner of the last Vendée Globe on the water – but came home second after Yannick Bestaven was awarded redress for the time he lost assisting in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier earlier in the race.

Dalin has been something of a dominant force in his Apivia IMOCA 60 winning almost everything he has entered. However, he came home second in the Route du Rhum 2022 being beaten by a few hours by Thomas Ruyant.

The 2023 Fastnet race will be the first proper outing for Dalin in his newly launched IMOCA 60 MACIF Santé Prévoyance. Dalin and his team have spoken about this new boat as an evolution of the previous one with refining overall performance.

As is the case with many of the more recent IMOCA 60s a lot of thought has gone into sailor comfort too, with a fully enclosed and more centrally located cockpit.

Dalin is undoubtedly a quick sailor and his new boat should be quick – Apivia was widely regarded as the quickest and best set up in the fleet – but the boat was only launched at the tail end of last month, so the team will be focussed on getting the new boat up to speed.

“To be at the start of a competition just four weeks after the end of construction is quite some feat,” say Dalin. “The team has done and continues to do a fantastic job to make that possible. The four or five sea trials we’ve done so far have been very encouraging, but naturally we’re yet to fulfil the boat’s true potential.”

Photo: IMOCA / TR Racing

Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière – For People

Such has been the close competition between Dalin and Thomas Ruyant over the last few years in the IMOCA fleet it almost seems unfair to refer to the former as the stand-out star. But, while Ruyant has pushed Dalin all the way and beat him in the recent Route du Rhum, Dalin has won more often than not.

Ruyant suffered foil damage in the last Vendée Globe sailing his LinkedOut IMOCA 60 but sailed an impressive race thereafter to come home in sixth overall despite the damage.

Ruyant has also launched a new boat this year, though unlike Dalin he has had the opportunity to complete a race already, the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race, which he won alongside co-skipper Morgan Lagravière, an impressive performance from a brand new launch.

Ruyant’s new boat is something of a change from his previous – very quick – LinkedOut with the Frenchman turning to a new design team in Antoine Koch and Finot-Conq to deliver the new hull.

Though the fashion for recent launches in the IMOCA class has been towards scow-style bows, his latest boat does not quite follow that tradition and though there is plenty of bow volume much of it is carried above a dramatic, sharp chine running the length of the hull.

Certainly the boat performed well in it’s first outing but where Ruyant has really been making headlines of late has been in the announcement of the fist ever fully integrated two-boat, two-skipper outfit in the IMOCA fleet, TR Racing, with the talented Brit, Sam Goodchild taking on the skipper duties of the old boat, now named For the Planet.

With the backing of Advens and Leyton this two-boat team is currently creating its own dedicated state-of-the-art team base at Lorient, where up to 30 people will be employed for the next three seasons. It is certainly set to be a potent combination.

Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut – polaRYSE / Charal

Jérémie Beyou and Franck Cammas – Charal

A devastating start to the last Vendée Globe saw Beyou – widely considered one of the favourites to win the race – taking significant damage, forcing him to return and repair his boat before setting off again, essentially dashing his Vendée hopes within days of the start.

It is to Beyou’s credit that he returned to complete the race when victory was clearly out of sight and he achieved a remarkable comeback to finish in 13th position overall.

But Beyou is not a man here to merely compete in the Vendée Globe, he wants to win it and 2024 will mark his fifth attempt to do just that. Having secured an early commitment from his sponsors Charal to go again Beyou’s new Charal was the first of the latest generation to launch – as was the case with his previous boat.

The new Charal has some pretty radical features. She has significant volume in the bow, as with many other IMOCA launches trending towards more scow-like bows. But where she is truly radical is in the rudder assembly, with the twin rudders in an inverted ‘v’ shape.

In theory this should help with the boat’s stability while foiling. So far the boat in Beyou’s hands has proven to be pretty quick but has not quite shown stunning pace. The boat was pretty new when she was entered into the Route du Rhum race in 2022 and Beyou finished in third place behind Ruyant and Dalin on their older, more worked up boats.

Despite a very close battle between himself and Ruyant in the recent Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race Beyou just lost out to Ruyant in his newly launched For People.

Photo: IMOCA / TR Racing

Sam Goodchild and Antoine Koch – For the Planet

Sam Goodchild will certainly be one to watch in the Fastnet Race, he’s one of the two skippers in TR Racing team, alongside Thomas Ruyant. His IMOCA For the Planet is the ex-LinkedOut, on which Ruyant saw a great deal of success, most recently winning the Route du Rhum race in 2022.

Goodchild is an impressive and established offshore racer and was one of the favourites in the Multi 50 fleet heading into the Route du Rhum last year. Unfortunately the British sailor suffered a significant injury during the race start and could not compete.

Alongside co-skipper – and co-designer of For People – Antoine Koch, Goodchild’s first race in his new IMOCA was impressive with a third place in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race behind Ruyant and Beyou. But the Brit admits he has plenty to do to get up to speed with the front of the fleet, stating after that race that: “The new boats are going very, very fast, so it’s a bit scary but it gives us goals,” Goodchild told the IMOCA class in an interview at the end of the race.

Apivia, the IMOCA upon which Cremer will compete now rebranded under new sponsor L’Occitane en Provence. Photo: Pierre Bouras

Clarisse Cremer and Alan Roberts – L’Occitane en Provence

There will be a lot of people looking at Cremer’s performance in the Fastnet Race this year. The first female in the last Vendée Globe, Cremer’s sponsor, Banque Populaire dropped the skipper from their plans after she had a baby and went on maternity leave.

The subsequent fall out of that decision and the negative press the French banking giant received saw them pull out of the event entirely.

Cremer was set to sail Charlie Dalin’s IMOCA 60 Apivia in Banque Populiare colours upon which Dalin had seen so much success for the 2024 Vendée Globe once his new boat was launched. But that boat was promptly put back on the market when Banque Populaire pulled out.

The boat was picked up by Alex Thomson Racing, and, with the headline sponsor of L’Occitane en Provence will be sailed by Cremer as she aims to take a spot on the 2024 Vendée Globe startline.

Cremer is a talented sailor and the boat is incredibly fast, so much will be expected of this combination. Cremer has selected experienced Brit, Alan Roberts as her co-skipper for the Fastnet Race – and he will continue as co-skipper of the boat and sailing coach.

Given this is the first race in the newly launched boat and team, outright victory might be something of a stretch but fans will be watching closely for some signs that this rapid boat in the hands of Cremer could be a potent combination going forward.

Photo: Ronan Gladu / Initiatives-Cœur

Sam Davies and Nicolas Lunven – Initiatives-Cœur

British born Sam Davies will arrive at the Fastnet fresh from competing in The Ocean Race as a part of Team Biotherm. Davies will be taking part in her fourth Vendée in 2024 and for the first time will be doing so in a brand new boat under her long-time sponsor Initiatives-Cœur.

Davies has not seen instant success in the new boat with a disappointing finish in the Route du Rhum and only managing 5th in the the recent Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race – though it should be noted that took place almost immediately after the completion of the The Ocean Race.

However, the hugely experienced sailor has a strong history in the Fastnet having finished in the top five in the IMOCA fleet in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021, though she has yet to finish on the podium, something she will look to correct in 2023.

Photo: Lloyd Images / Pip Hare Ocean Racing

Pip Hare and Nick Bubb – Medallia

Pip Hare sailed a very impressive Vendée Globe in 2021-22 with a boat that was well known to be one of the hardest to sail in the fleet – with halyards led to the mast base, a block and tackle canting keel system, no foils, and little in the way of cockpit protection.

The Brit’s sponsor, Medallia was convinced to help her find a newer boat for the forthcoming Vendée. CEO Leslie Stretch had asked Pip mid-race on the race’s live video show: “What’s next Pip? Let’s get to the end and then let’s go shopping for a new boat, shall we??” – on her return they did just that, buying the fastest boat ever to complete the Vendée Globe.

Launched in 2015 as Banque Populaire, the new Medallia comes with an impressive history. It was one of the first generation of yachts that were built specifically to foil, and it won the Vendée Globe for Armel Le Cléac’h in 2016, setting an unbroken course record of 74 days.

However, development has moved on significantly since the boat was launched but Medallia has just undergone a substantial refit with new, bigger foils added requiring significant structural alterations and the bow has been reworked into a more modern, higher volume configuration too.

Medallia only recently came out of the shed following her refit, so this year’s Fastnet Race will be the first test of the new upgrades.

“We’re really excited coming into this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. It’ll be the first major test for the boat with her new set-up,” says Hare. “It’s a giant leap forward in terms of performance, but we also need to adapt to these changes with regards trimming and handling and then refine the new polars.”

See the full list of IMOCA Fastnet entries. 

Check out all our Rolex Fastnet Race 2023 coverage.

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