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A new record should be set today at the Rolex Fastnet Race. This classic 603-nm offshore race, running from Cowes to Plymouth in the, is set to welcome its largest ever fleet, comprising almost 370 international yachts.

The impressive number, and range of competitors, reflects the race’s popularity with the huge number of starters set to comfortably pass the current record of 336 competitors set two years ago.

Both the Rolex Fastnet Race, partnered by Rolex since 2001, and organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) celebrate their 90th anniversary this year. “We are delighted this is a record year and by the quality of the competition and fantastic sailors who have donated their efforts and energy to be here for this special race,” explained RORC Commodore Michael Boyd.

Following departure from Cowes today, the famous Rolex Fastnet race course takes the fleet down the English Channel passing The Needles – where they will spectacularly converge – Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard and Land’s End, ahead of the open water passage across the Celtic Sea and the symbolic turn around the Fastnet Rock off the southern coast of Ireland; a rounding that heralds the race’s emblematic moment as the fleet embark on the long return leg and the finish in Plymouth.

With the current weather forecast pointing to a light wind race, a convincing challenge at overturning the monohull race record set in 2011 by Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi (42 hours, 39 minutes) appears unlikely.

One of the yachts keen to challenge that record is Jim Clark’s 100-ft Maxi Comanche (USA), launched last year ahead of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Skipper Ken Read is philosophical about the prevailing weather forecast. “We all play with the same breeze and have to adapt as best as we can. Dragging around seven plus metres of beam in very light air is no fun but we have to deal with it. Ian Walker is feeling very confident that his record is not going to be broken!” That said Read was still optimistic the forecast may improve following tomorrow’s race start. “We just need a little bit of breeze – and if we get it – we like our chances.”

Comanche’s closest challengers for monohull line honours include George David’s 88-ft Rambler (USA) and perennial Rolex Fastnet challenger Mike Slade with his 100-ft Leopard (GBR), one-time holder of the race record. Also in monohull line honours contention is the Maxi 72 MOMO (CAY) in addition to Volvo 70s Camper (AUS) and Monster Project (RUS) and Volvo 65 SCA.

An impressive array of multihulls – set to feature Spindrift 2, Musandam-Oman Sail (OMA), Phaedeo 3 and Concise 10 (GBR) – will compete for their own line honours title.

The Rolex Fastnet fleet, comprised of some 4,000 sailors, has everything: from the 22-strong range of Class 40 boats, former winners, intrepid first timers, crews who will be cheered by local Irish support as they round the Fastnet rock to those competing for a 26th time such as Dutchman Piet Vroon on Tonnerre 4 (NED).

The fleet also includes American entry Dorade, the 52-ft two-time winner of the race in the 1930s, who will compete against fellow S&S classic yawls comprising Argyll, sailed by actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones.

Helming one of the smallest boats in the fleet are the double-handed crew of Lucinda Allaway and Tom Barker on Contessa 32 Hurrying Angel. Their target for the week is typical of the race’s Corinthian spirit: “Our aim is to be in Plymouth in time for the Friday night party,” explained Allaway. “We probably have a little bit more food onboard than the other boats….” Anything is possible at the Rolex Fastnet Race, often dubbed ‘The Everest of the Ocean’. In 2013 the race was won – for the first time – by a double-handed crew in the shape of father and son team Pascal and Alexis Loison on Night and Day (FRA). They are back to defend their title.

The first of seven starts will be called from the Royal Yacht Squadron today at 12:00 BST. The start of the 46th edition of the Rolex Fastnet will be streamed live on rolexfastnetrace.

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