Stronger, faster and more experienced, Oman Sail’s Class 40 campaign team are gearing up for their next challenge, the Rolex Fastnet Race which starts in The Solent on England’s south coast on Sunday (August 6). The classic 650-mile ocean race has attracted a record entry of 390 boats this year, ranging from 100-foot-plus supermaxi racing yachts to VO65 one-designs tuning up for the start of the Volvo Ocean Race in October, and a wide range of amateur and semi-professional entries racing each other in a variety of handicap rating classes.
None, however, will face as much direct competition as the Class 40 division, with no fewer than 34 entries. They will battle it out along England’s south coast, across the Irish Sea and around the Fastnet Rock off southern Ireland before heading back over the Irish Sea to the finish in Plymouth.
It is a demanding head-to-head challenge that is relished by Oman Sail’s Class 40 duo of Sidney Gavignet and Fahad Al Hasni.
“It is a classic race and a good one,” said Gavignet from the boat’s home port of Lorient. “I have done it many times as part of the race, and during the MOD70 campaign we used it for training – I think one year we went around the rock five times.”
For Al Hasni too, also a member of the MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail trimaran crew, the Fastnet landmark is a familiar destination, and the race an event to savour.
“There are a lot of challenges around the Fastnet Race course so it is a real test of boats and their crews,” he said. “Sidney and I have sailed a lot of miles now and we are still making progress and improving our knowledge of the boat. Having so many other Class 40s to compete against will only make us better.”
Having recently completed the two-handed 2,500-mile Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race as co-skippers – coming a competitive seventh despite being handicapped by a failed bowsprit – the two will be joined by Omani sailor Sami Al Shukaili and experienced Spanish racer Alex Pella. Both will bring something extra to the boat, said Gavignet.
“Sami only started sailing with me about three years ago, he was an absolute beginner with no experience, but he is the guy who has probably made the best progress of anyone,” said Gavignet of his former MOD70 crewmate. “He is also a former bodybuilder and a really strong guy.”
Pella also raced on the Musandam-Oman Sail trimaran, and was part of Gavignet’s winning crew at the 2015 edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
“He has a lot of experience and also has a great personality, he is a very enthusiastic person, very positive, very smiley, and for me that is as important as the sailing background,” said Gavignet.
“He also won the last Route du Rhum on a Class 40, so he is not coming from nowhere and it will be good to have his feedback on our boat.”
Before heading to Cowes on the Isle of Wight for the Fastnet start, final preparations have included sail testing – the Class 40s are limited to eight sails when racing, so selecting the ones that will maximise performance is crucial.
Other testing has focused on boat systems that will come into play when the Oman Sail Class 40 campaign culminates in November with the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre, a 3,000-mile race from Le Havre to Salvador in Brazil.