Record-breaking entry for Fastnet

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The Fastnet Race added itself to the list of events with record-breaking entries this year, with 350 yachts set to take the start of the offshore classic on Sunday.

After seeing bulging fleets in the Round The Island Race and XOD class at this week’s Cowes Week, the Fastnet has exceeded its 300-yacht cap by the simple expedient of not counting the ‘fully professional’ boats among them.

Instead, the maxi multihulls, VO70s, IMOCA 60s and the Class 40s will swell the hugely-oversubscribed entry list of ‘corinthian entries’ for the 608-mile Cowes-Fastnet-Plymouth race by around 50 yachts.

The race is still regarded as one of the great offshore sailing challenges.

And just completing the course is the goal for many of the thousands taking part.

However, the battle for monohull line honours is the most-anticipated clash from a spectator’s point of view.

It is expected to be between the two 100-ft challengers, Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard – first elapsed-time finisher in the past two races – and arch-rival George David’s Rambler 100.

The two crews have gone head-to-head several times in recent months – not least the Transatlantic Race, which saw Rambler 100 ease to line honours after ICAP Leopard lost her bowsprit.

And they are keen to renew their competition.

‘Having won the Rolex Fastnet Race twice, the big play is to win three in a row, which would be quite exceptional,’ said Slade, whose yacht set the course record of one day, 20 hours and 18 minutes in 2007.

‘During the RORC Caribbean 600, Rambler 100 proved to be the faster boat in her ideal conditions.

‘However, Rambler 100 may also need to protect herself in bad weather, more than ICAP Leopard.

‘We feel we have a good chance in light and heavy airs, it is the bit in between where we might have a problem.’

While the two giant yachts are clear line-honours favourites, they may not have it all their own way.

There is the significant presence of six Volvo 70s, including two of the latest breed, Abu Dhabi and French entry Groupama 4.

Then there is the Mini Maxi class, including defending Rolex Fastnet handicap winner, the 72-ft Rán, and Mills 68 Alegre.

Add American challengers the STP65 Vanquish and the Reichel-Pugh 66 Zaraffa, who competed in the Transatlantic Race, and it promises to be a tight contest.