The Fastnet Race is a famous biannual offshore yachting race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club of the United Kingdom. Generally considered one of the classic offshore races, ‘Fastnet’ is a difficult contest testing both inshore and offshore skills, boat and crew preparation, and speed potential. From its inception, the Fastnet Race has proven highly influential in the growth of offshore racing, and remains closely linked to advances in yacht design, sailing technique and safety equipment.
The Fastnet Race has been sponsored by the Swiss watch manufacturing company Rolex since 2001. The Race prize is known as the Fastnet Challenge Cup.
The Fastnet Race takes place every two years over a course of 608 nautical miles (1,126 km). The race starts off Cowes
50°45′34″N 1°18′1″W on the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England at the Royal Yacht Squadron. Leaving The Solent through The Needles Channel, the race follows the southern coastline of England westward down the English Channel, before rounding Land’s End. After crossing the Celtic Sea, the race rounds the Fastnet Rock
51°23′3″N 9°36′1″W off the southwest coast of Ireland. Returning on a largely reciprocal course, the race rounds the Scilly Islands before finishing at Plymouth 50°22′17″N 4°8′33″W.
The Fastnet is a challenging race. Taking place in August, the race is often provided with Westerlies that are strong to gale force in strength. The succession of low pressure systems which advance on the British Isles across the North Atlantic Ocean provide a constantly moving weather pattern for which Fastnet navigators must plan. These depressions are mostly centered north of the English Channel. Knowledge of where meteorological disturbances are likely to occur, and how best to use them, is the keynote to success in the race.
Coastal landmarks passed along the route include: The Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard, Land’s End, the Fastnet Rock, Bishop’s Rock off the Scillies and Plymouth breakwater.