Fastnet Race Attracts Sailors for Test of Skill and Endurance

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Every other summer, thousands of sailors converge on the south coast of England to compete in one of the marquee events on the yacht racing calendar.

This year’s Fastnet Race took place over seven days from July 22 to July 28. It was the 50th edition of the biennial race, and featured the largest fleet ever assembled, with 430 yachts taking part.

The 625-nautical mile course begins near Cowes on the Isle of Wight, rounds Fastnet Rock off the Irish coast, and finishes in the Normandy port of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin.

In addition, sailors must navigate tricky wind patterns and horrendous weather. The challenges and heritage of Fastnet make it one of the world’s classic offshore races, mentioned alongside the Hobart Yacht Race and Newport-Bermuda Race.

So how did the race go? 

The conditions at the outset of the race were even more brutal than normal, with gale force winds and rain.

One boat sank when water leaked into the engine compartment. Four boats saw their masts break. And one crew member fell overboard after being knocked on the head, but remained tethered to the yacht and was rescued by a lifeboat.

We recreated how the action transpired using Spire AIS data transmitted from individual yachts. We selected a sample of boats drawn from the six divisions.

We recommend viewing the interactive dashboard in full screen mode:

You can follow the routes taken by individual ships; however, there were moments when the AIS reception dropped off because the distance from shore increased beyond the range of terrestrial AIS.

Moreover, the Class B transponder used by yachts is weak compared with the Class A transponders used by larger ships, such that satellite AIS had a difficult time picking up the signal. 

AIS signals in the Celtic Sea overlaid with buffers indicating 15 and 20 nautical miles from shore.

In the end, the Caro led from start to finish to take the crown. The New Zealand-based yacht crossed the finish line in 3 days, 19 hours and 22 minutes, over 2 hours and 30 minutes ahead of the next fastest boat.

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