Det finns race som är populära, och så finns det race som är populära. Fastnet fyllde alla 300 platserna på 24 timmar. Och det är 8 månader till start.
Matthew Sheahan på Yachting World försöker analysera:
The sell out is certainly impressive and flies in the face of a common mis-perception, particularly in the professional world, that yacht racing is in crisis. Sure, events from the Volvo, to the America’s Cup and even the Vendee Globe are struggling to hit their target fleet sizes, but this should not be confused with the general sailing fraternity’s desire to go racing.
But the Fastnet race is about more than just the race itself, it’s about the journey, the programme and the attraction of working towards a season goal and the sense of achievement that follows such a commitment. The fact that there are crew qualification requirements means that signing up to a season of racing is more likely and easier to justify to yourself, your family and your bank manager.
Given the high profile of this event and the glamourous boats that regularly steal the line honours and headlines, the type of boats that make up the bulk of the fleet is also surprising. Around 80 percent are boats around 40ft LOA. Beneteau 40.7s, J109s, Sigma 38s, Prima 38s and others of a similar ilk are by far the most popular boats.
Yet there is also a growing trend in the way that people are competing with a growing interest in shorthanded sailing.
“This is an area that’s definitely growing,” said Elliott. “I think we will see more than 30 boats in this category which would be our biggest entry.”
Over Christmas, while watching the progress of the Sydney Hobart race fleet and talking to friends who had competed in ‘ordinary’ boats, I began to wonder if one of the problems of long distance offshore races was the huge spread in finishing times between the modern greyhounds and the production plodders. By the time the latter group finish many of the big boats and their teams have left and the buzz has subsided. I’ve heard people say the same about the Fastnet, which led me to wonder whether offshore races like these should be run as a pursuit race instead.
Starting the slow boats off first and the fastest last could create a spectacular finish. The trouble is that Plymouth would struggle to cope with a sudden influx of 300+ boats. Indeed one of the key reasons that the RORC allowed more boats than the original 300 boat limit was that the additional boats were significantly faster than the bulk of the fleet and would be over the line and on their way home before the main fleet arrived.
The reality is that a 24 hour sell out suggests that there is little, if anything, wrong with the format of one of the world’s most famous races. There must surely be lessons to be learned from this popular format that might help other events.