Competing Two-Handed in IRC Four with Nicolas Brossay, Ludo Gerard’s JPK 1080 Solenn for Pure Ocean © Rick Tomlinson
IRC Four in the Rolex Fastnet Race, labour of love
IRC Four may not be the fastest class in the Rolex Fastnet Race, but while teams may be short on pace, there is no shortage of passion and commitment. The 695-mile race is a thorough test for sailors in the smallest boats in the race. A labour of love, and in many respects the toughest challenge of the Rolex Fastnet Race. IRC Four will start the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race just after blast-off for the Multihulls and IMOCAs, which are likely to complete the race in less than 48 hours. The battle-worn crews in IRC Four are unlikely to make Cherbourg after four days and nights, or more.
Since its conception in 2011, IRC Four has always been won by a French boat, with the majority of the teams hailing from France. However for this edition, the entry list for IRC Four has only seven bateaux français. The cosmopolitan fleet looking to break France’s winning streak contains 16 entries from Great Britain and teams from Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Poland.
A fascinating collection of boats can be considered as favourites to be the first to finish in IRC Four and then count the minutes for IRC time correction glory. Victory in IRC Four is wide open with a huge variety of boats ranging from pocket-rocket flyers to heavy displacement timeless classics.
From Marseille, France, the boat with the highest IRC Four rating is Ludo Gerard’s JPK 1080 Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA), which will be racing Two-Handed with Nicolas Brossay, an amiable duo that are difficult not to admire. Solenn for Pure Ocean has raced two transatlantics, four Rolex Middle Sea Races, including winning IRC Two-Handed last year. Solenn for Pure Ocean can be counted as one of the favourites for both IRC Four and IRC Two-Handed. Ludo Gerard is just as passionate about the environment as he is offshore racing; the Pure Ocean Fund supports research projects protecting threatened ecosystems.
JPK 960 Casamyas (FRA) will be raced by the duo of Samuel Duménil and Antoine Runet from Le Havre, Normandy. Casymas is one of three JPK 960s, some of the smallest boats in the race. Casamyas has been in top form this year, placing second in IRC Four for the 2023 RORC Season’s Points Championship with a class win in the Cervantes Trophy, and third for the Myth of Malham.
Dehler 33 Sunhill 3 (FRA) is skippered by Francois Charles with three friends, all from Morlaix Bay, Brittany. Sunhill 3 has been something of a science project for the crew; the Dehler 33 was previously dismasted and now has a taller rig than the production design. Launched in 1996, Sunhill III will be taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race for the third time and made the class podium in 2021.
At just 29.5ft (9m) in length Sean Langman’s Sydney Ranger Maluka (AUS) is the smallest boat in the race, but by no means the slowest. Maluka is believed to be the second oldest boat racing in the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Originally built out of Tasman Pine in 1932, Maluka is the bigger sister of the 24ft Ranger Class Gaffers designed to day-sail Sydney Harbour. She has competed in multiple Rolex Sydney Hobarts Yacht Races. In 2017, Maluka was 12th overall for the signature Australian race. She won her class in an elapsed time of three and a half days, at a top speed of 17 knots! Sean Langman is also known for racing his high-octane former yachts; AAPT and Loyal, which he has raced in 30 Rolex Sydney Hobarts. Son Peter Langman, with nine Rolex Sydney Hobarts, will be on Maluka for the Rolex Fastnet Race, as will a number of professionals. Gordon Maguire has competed in four round the world races and all the classic 600-milers. Gordon emigrated to Australia 20 years ago and has been on the winning crew for five Rolex Sydney Hobarts.
Szymon Kuczynski’s Figaro One Hultaj (POL) is just 30ft (9.15m) in length. However for Szymon, Hultaj is a large boat. Sailing his 20’6” (6.3m) sloop Atlantic Puffin solo, he set a solo world record, circumnavigating in 270 days. For the Rolex Fastnet Race, Hultaj will be four-up with an all-Polish crew including Anna Jastrzębska. Szymon and Anna raced double-handed in this year’s RORC Caribbean 600, coming third in IRC Two-Handed. The pair are sailing around the world, taking part in all the big 600-mile races.
Sun Fast 37 Desert Star Irish Offshore Sailing (IRL) will be skippered by Ronan O’Siochru from Wicklow, Ireland. Built in 2002, Desert Star has completed in five Rolex Fastnet Races. In 2021, Desert Star finished an impressive 13th overall and second in IRC Four. Crewed with students from the RYA sailing school Irish Offshore Sailing, Desert Star is proof that you don’t need a pro-crew and a million pound yacht to perform in the Rolex Fastnet Race!
Sigma 38s in IRC Four
Eight Sigma 38's will have their own private battle within IRC Four; seven from Great Britain and Murphy and Buckley’s State of O’Chassis (IRL) from the Royal Irish YC. Designed in 1985 by David Thomas in collaboration with the RORC and the Royal Thames YC, the one-design sloop was built to stand up to tough offshore conditions using data from the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race.
Sigma 38 With Alacrity (GBR), owned by Chris and Vanessa Choules leads IRC Four for the 2023 RORC Season’s Points Championship. The experienced crew have completed in multiple race; this will be skipper Chris Choules’ ninth race. With Alacrity has done seven Fastnets but did not complete the first one in 2007. This year, the whole team from that retirement is back together. With Alacrity was top Sigma 38 for the last three editions of the race and was fourth in IRC Four last year.
Skipper of Sigma 38 Sam of Hamble (GBR) is Peter Hopps, who has been racing for over 40 years and is an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor. This will be his 17th race, finishing all bar one; the tragic 1979 race. This will be Peter’s fifth race with Sam, but the boat has done many more. For Sam’s crew this will be their third race on board. Sam is probably the most travelled Sigma 38 in the race as Peter has taken her across the Atlantic to compete in numerous editions of the RORC Caribbean 600.
Classics in IRC Four
The 50ft (15m) Fred Shepherd yawl Amokura (GBR), skippered by Paul Moxon is by far the longest boat in IRC Four. Amokura was built in Moody’s Yard up the Hamble River in 1939 but now calls Dartmouth, Devon her home. Amokura competed in the 1959 Fastnet Race and again in the 2019 edition, but completed neither. In 2021, Amokura finally crossed the finish line for the race she was built for. At 84 years old Amokura is one of the oldest boats in this year’s race and will be fully crewed this time round.
Ten boats designed by Sparkman & Stephens have won the race since the first Fastnet Race in 1925. Roderick Stephens, Jr. with Dorade was the first in1930 and 1931. The last S&S design to win the Fastnet Challenge Cup was Ted Turner’s 61ft sloop Tenacious in the infamous 1979 race.
Will & Jenny Taylor-Jones S&S 39 Sunstone (GBR) was launched onto the Clyde in Scotland in 1965. Designed with a centreboard for heavy weather sailing, Sunstone won her class in the 2000 Rolex Sydney Hobart under the previous owners. The Rolex Fastnet Race will be a family and friends affair for Sunstone. Will and Jenny will race with their daughter Issy and Will's brother Tom, supplemented by two of Issy’s friends.
Father and son, Henry and Ed Clay will be racing double-handed with the S&S Contessa 38 Flycatcher of Yar (GBR), which is 50 this year and one of only six Contessa 38s ever built. Previously owned by John Roome (RORC Commodore 1976-1978), Roome suggested the 1976 Round Britain and Ireland Race and came second in Flycatcher. John Roome also raced her in the 1979 Fastnet Race. Now under the guardianship of Henry Clay for the past 25 years, Flycatcher has cruised round the Atlantic and Baltic, and is still competitive under IRC, coming fourth in class for this year’s Myth of Malham.
Two sailors walked into a pub and after quenching their thirst dared each other to take on the Rolex Fastnet Race double-handed! Joph Carter and Robbie Southwell will be racing 1968 S&S Swan 36 Scherzo of Cowes, owned by Joph’s in-laws Peter and Alison Morton. Cowes resident Joph Carter is the Boat Captain of Swan 90 Freya, and Gurnard Pro’ sailor Robbie Southwell races Maxis and TP52s. The classic Swan Scherzo of Cowes was the 2022 Overall Cowes Week winner, and this season Joph & Robbie won class in the Myth of Malham.
The weather conditions will play a big part in deciding who will win IRC Four and the Iolaire Trophy. Big upwind conditions will suit the classics, downwind big breeze will be welcomed by the lightweight fliers. However, there are numerous other trophies up for grabs for IRC Four: the Sparkman and Stephens Trophy, the Hobo Bowl Fastnet Trophy (Sigma 38), the Berrimilla Dog Bowl (IRC 4 Double handed), the Ken Newman Endurance Trophy (Longest elapsed time), and The Galley Slaves Trophy (Boat Chef with the longest elapsed time).
IRC Four has never produced an overall winner for the Rolex Fastnet Race and the chances of that trend being reversed are unlikely. It will take an unusual weather scenario for a boat in IRC Four to have a shot at the biggest prize for the world’s largest offshore race. On top of a perfect weather scenario, the team will have to sail an incredible race. However, after IRC time correction, anything is possible. Take Nicholson 33 Iromiguy winning in 2005, or Night and Day winning in 2013. If their success was repeated by a boat in IRC Four in the 50th edition of the Rolex Fastnet Race, what a story that would be.