Back in Black

Thundering into Cherbourg as the last light of a beautiful evening faded, the carbon marvel of Skorpios, setting enough sail to cover Wimbledon Centre Court several times over, eked and groaned its way to the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race. What a sight.

©RORC / Paul Wyeth

Monohull line honours for the Monaco registered, Russian owned and Spanish skippered super-yacht heralded a new era of the mega-maxi and it’s no surprise to open the classifieds of this month’s Seahorse and see Rambler 88 very much up for sale and open to offers. The baton has passed. The Rambler trilogy attempt was trampled, steam-rollered by Nautor Swan’s finest vessel ever constructed to leave the super-maxi owners club in a quandary.

©RORC / Paul Wyeth

It’s a thumping statement win for Dimitry Rybolovlev, part owner of Monaco Football Club and the offshore Blue Riband events are all at his mercy now. If the Sydney-Hobart goes ahead, and I’m hearing that fingers are crossed for that on December 26th with the Covid situation down-under, then Skorpios is just about perfect for the Bass Strait. Wild Oats may well as be scrapped or converted for cruising or day trips around Hamilton Island. Rambler 88 may as well not bother. It’s a new dawn in offshore monohull racing, setting the highest bar and making the very apex of the game a place for committed billionaires only.

Sailing with his daughter Anna, this was Rybolovlev’s first ever offshore race and what a baptism of fire the Solent must have felt at the start. I wonder how many times skipper Fernando Echavarri must have said: “It’s not normally like this round here” as the team backed-off from putting the hammer down with the boss onboard.

At the finish Echavarri confirmed what us spectators felt at the start that they weren’t really driving it all-out as he said: “We backed off on speed coming out of the Solent, but so was everyone else. We had an idea of what the boat might be able to do, but we didn’t know for sure, so we learned a lot on this race. The owner is super happy, he’s a good sailor but new to offshore sailing and he enjoyed the experience a lot. I think there is a very good chance we will be back for the Rolex Fastnet Race.”

©RORC / Paul Wyeth

And those words set the clock ticking for the rest of this exclusive owner’s club. Build now and it’s all on to get to the start line in two years’ time. And you’re going to have to build bigger and more exotic than ever before. It’s a real marker on the big boat scene and a mighty headache for everyone else. Skorpios could dominate for five years or more – and that’s a lot of silverware. The team has got the world at check-mate now. Fascinating scene. Wouldn’t you just kill for a ride on it?

Behind Skorpios, the battle for top IMOCA went to Charlie Dalin’s Apivia – after a pretty comprehensive performance but what really interests me as I write this is the desperate racing between Jeremy Beyou’s Charal and the new 11th Hour Racing that’s being navigated by Simon Fisher.

SiFi is, to my mind, the world’s best navigator and the way that he’s come back on to the transom of the super-slippy Charal to only be within less than a mile of the speedy Frenchman is remarkable. Nip and tuck in the final 20 miles into Cherbourg and massive bragging rights if SiFi can sneak ahead – looks tough but there’s a new IMOCA announced on the circuit and it looks rapid.

Looking further down the fleet towards the back, I take my hat off to those struggling through the desperately light air around the Scilly Isles and Land’s End, drifting backwards on the tide. For some it’s a case of looking at the rations and deciding if they can actually physically make it, for other’s it’s a lifetime’s ambition to compete in the Rolex Fastnet and they’ll stick it out for how ever long it takes. All credit to them. It’s like watching the guy who completed a marathon in a diving suit – slow progress but every step, every tidal gate and every zephyr matters. All a far cry from last Sunday’s start.

©RORC / Rick Tomlinson

The party has started in Cherbourg. The Royal Ocean Racing Club are quite rightly celebrating a classic and the new format works so well. Over the next 48 hours, it will be the only place to be but the big grand prix machinery is leaving town almost as quickly as it’s arriving.

Last night my son and I had an unforgettable experience sailing our dinghies out of Gurnard Sailing Club. In the distance, up towards the western end of the Solent, we could see some jet black sails moving at pace. Within a blink of an eye we had Jason Carroll and Brian Thompson’s MOCRA – ‘Argo’ – flying towards us on port gybe at about 25 knots having finished the Rolex Fastnet Race and in the final throes of the short hop from Cherbourg back to Cowes.

In a Laser and an RS Tera it was the ultimate game of chicken. We held our nerve. Argo gybed a few hundred metres ahead of us and made a beeline over to the Beaulieu shore. A victory of sorts. But wow what an incredible sight and the sound of those sails gybing was off the scale impressive.

My son shouted over: “This is where it starts Dad,” pointing at his nine foot dinghy. “That’s where it ends…” pointing at Argo. Now that’s inspiration…

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