Team AkzoNobel ready for the off in England on the classic Rolex Fastnet Race

Race start scheduled for 12.40 Sunday, August 6 in England

Team AkzoNobel – the Dutch ocean racing campaign preparing for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race around the world – is primed and ready on the English south coast to take on one of yacht racing’s classic challenges, the 603-nautical mile (1,117-kilometer) Rolex Fastnet Race.

The 46th edition of the challenging biennial open sea race starts on Sunday August 6. The longstanding course takes the fleet from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, across the Irish Sea and into the Atlantic to round the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland, around the Isles of Scilly and back to England to the finish in Plymouth. 

Three hundred and forty boats are scheduled to take part in the latest edition of the 92-year-old race. The team AkzoNobel crew – skippered by renowned Dutch yachtsman Simeon Tienpont – will race in a special division against the six other Volvo Ocean Race teams in the second of a four-race “Leg Zero” qualifying series.

Three hundred and forty boats are scheduled to take part in the latest edition of the 92-year-old race. The team AkzoNobel crew – skippered by renowned Dutch yachtsman Simeon Tienpont – will race in a special division against the six other Volvo Ocean Race teams in the second of a four-race “Leg Zero” qualifying series.

On August 2, the team, backed by global paints, coatings and specialty chemicals company AkzoNobel, finished third in the opening stage of Leg Zero – a high-speed race around the Isle of Wight in windy conditions during the Lendy Cowes Week regatta.

First raced for in 1925, the Fastnet Race has a unique place in the yacht racing annals. For team AkzoNobel’s British navigator Jules Salter, the Fastnet has long been a firm favourite. 
The Isle of Wight resident has raced it 12 times, including in 2011 setting the current monohull record time of one day, 18 hours and 39 minutes as navigator aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s VOR70, Azzam.

For his thirteenth time “around the Rock” Salter says he is expecting little sleep for the 60 to 72 hours he expects the fleet of identical Volvo Ocean 65s to take to complete the course this time.

“This is a good race, but it’s a hard race,” Salter said. “You have to stay awake most of the time because there are lots of corners to go around and weather to deal with – but that’s what makes it so exciting and interesting. 

“It’s going to be a hard two and half to three days, but a good test for us. It will be quick fire, with stuff coming at us every hour. No one will get much sleep or rest. We probably won’t get out of our oilskins the whole time because we need to be ready for every sail change and every eventuality.” 

As navigator, Salter’s job is to translate complex weather data into a race strategy that makes the best of the wind and tides to sail the high-performance Dutch yacht around the course as quickly as possible. 

He has powerful routing software on his navigator’s laptop to help him, but never relies totally on technology. Salter describes his navigational style as “holistic” and is renowned for spending plenty of time on deck taking his own observations of the weather and how the race is playing out.   

“A lot of the time the weather models are just that – models – and they can be wrong,” he said. “Sometimes you have to sail by eye and monitor where you are in the fleet.”

The longstanding Fastnet Race course begins from the start line of the ancient Royal Yacht Squadron clubhouse in Cowes. From there the seven one-design Volvo Ocean 65 yachts will head west, through the strong currents and sandbanks of the Solent strait between the Isle of Wight and the English south coast, before entering the English Channel at Hurst Castle. 

There they will pass the magnificent chalk towers of The Needles and – taking care to avoid the notorious Shingles Bank sand spit – head off across Christchurch Bay towards the Portland Bill promontory near Weymouth. 

Leaving the coast at Land’s End – the south-western tip of England – the crews will switch modes from coastal to open water sailing to cross the Irish Sea. Weather systems here move fast and can be unpredictable. Storms with strong winds and big waves are not uncommon and the teams will need to be ready for whatever the weather gods throw at them.

Once around the Fastnet Rock – Ireland’s most southerly outcrop – and its solitary unmanned lighthouse, the now weary crews will set a course for the Bishop Rock on the Isles of Scilly – an archipelago of 145 islands located 45 km south west of Land’s End – the final turning mark before the finish in Plymouth.

The approach to the English coast is renowned to be tricky with swirling currents and shifting winds around The Lizard peninsula – the most southerly point on the British mainland. 

Salter expects the fleet of powerful and perfectly-matched 65-foot yachts to remain tightly packed during the race and predicts some close finish line tussles in Plymouth Harbor. 

“If the wind is steady throughout the race I imagine all the boats will be in sight of each other most of the way, probably within three or four miles of each other at the end.

“You always hope that there is good breeze all the way in to the finish,” he said. “But there’s a breakwater where sometimes you can find boats that have been becalmed there for six hours or so.”

Leg Zero races are for qualification only and do not count towards the Volvo Ocean Race. The team AkzoNobel crew will use the race as a valuable opportunity to assess the performance of the team’s yacht – the only new boat built for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race – against the other teams.

“We have a very defined set of criteria for what we want to achieve in this race,” Salter said. “There are lots of great sailors in the other teams and many who have lots of experience in sailing these boats offshore. We will take full advantage of the opportunity to observe and track ourselves against them.”

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is scheduled to start the Rolex Fastnet Race in Cowes at 11.40 UTC (12.40 in the UK and 14.40 in the Netherlands) on Sunday, August 6. The yachts are expected to finish in Plymouth on Wednesday, August 9. 

After a quick turnaround by the shore crew, the boats will leave Plymouth the following day for stage three of Leg Zero – a sprint race across the English Channel to the French Port of St. Malo, followed on Saturday, August 13 with stage four – a three-day offshore race from St. Malo to Lisbon, Portugal. 

Team AkzoNobel Rolex Fastnet Race Crew List 

Simeon Tienpont (NED) – skipper
Roberto Bermúdez de Castro (ESP)
Brad Farrand (NZL)
Martine Grael (BRA)
Brad Jackson (NZL)
Emily Nagel (BER)
Jules Salter (GBR)
Nicolai Sehested (DEN)
Joca Signorini (BRA)

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