86 boats retire as strong gales cause havoc at 50th Rolex Fastnet Race

WATCH the dramatic start of the 50th Fastnet race in Cowes. Video from Rolex Fastnet Race

Strong winds in the English Channel have forced at least 86 boats to retire in the 2023 Fastnet Race.

A record number of 430 boats set off from Cowes on Saturday afternoon, knowing they would be facing 40 knot winds overnight.

It's the 50th staging of the biennial race, which sees sailors travel more than 600 miles around the Fastnet Rock in southern Ireland, and back to Cherbourg.

Thousands gathered along the Solent to watch the fleet depart

Around 3000 sailors are taking part in the race this year, but within hours of setting off 50 boats had retired due to strong headwinds and a poor forecast.

Going into the first night at sea the trackers show yachts seeking safe refuge in Yarmouth, Lymington, Poole, and small harbours along the south coast.

A yacht rounds the Needles in strong winds

On Sunday, race organisers confirmed that 86 boats had retired so far.

HM Coastguard said they responded to 28 incidents as a result of difficult weather conditions affecting vessels participating in the race.

In a statement they said it was an "extremely busy" night:

"Working closely with our partners from RNLI and South West Ambulance Service, our air and coastal rescue teams were deployed to aid multiple damaged vessels and to assist in the safe retrieval of crew members.

"Lifeboats and Coastal Rescue Teams from Yarmouth, Poole, Weymouth, Swanage, Portland and Wyke were all deployed to multiple incidents.

There have been no official reports of any serious injuries.

All vessels are fitted with trackers and accounted for.

The 32m Ultim Trimaran SVR Lazartigue, skippered by François Gabart, was the first boat to round the Fastnet Rock on Sunday morning with others in hot pursuit.

The race leader has already reached the Fastnet Rock Credit: Rick Tomlinson
Fastnet Rock seen from onboard ULTIM Banque Populaire

You can follow all the race action LIVE here