August 7, 2005 Final preparations are underway in Cowes for the start of one of ocean racing’s elite events – the Rolex Fastnet Race - on Sunday morning. The start is one of sport’s greatest spectacles with 230 yachts amassed prior to tackling the treacherous 608-mile course from Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, out the Solent and across the often tempestuous Celtic Sea, around the Fastnet Rock off the SW Irish coast and back to Plymouth. First sailed in 1925, and run biennially since the early 1930s, the Fastnet race immediately captured the imagination of sailors the world over. It was one of the first true tests of offshore sailing skill – to win this race is an ambition of every racing sailor.

Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) the Fastnet tests inshore and offshore skills, preparation and speed potential. It has been the prime mover in the growth of offshore racing over the past 75 years, and is still intricately linked to advances in sail boat design, sailing techniques, safety equipment – and hence to the popularity of the modern sport of sailing.

It means different things to the more than 2000 different people who will be on board the fleet this year. For some it is a once-in-a-life-time personal challenge to see if the human side can be dealt with, for others it is part of a much bigger picture, part of a lifetime of sailing, but never just another race. It is not undertaken lightly by anyone and each boat and crew must fulfill a strict qualification regime before its entry is accepted.

Above all the Rolex Fastnet Race is a challenge of seamanship in taking a suitably equipped sailing boat across what have often proved to be some of the most treacherous waters in the world.

View gallery - 10 images