The Fastnet Race, one of the most revered and feared tests in sailing, and a new Lisbon-Alicante Prologue will both feature in an intense period of pre-race qualifying for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 – serving as a first clash of the fleet while providing an early form guide for the fans.

In the sixth of a series of 10 major announcements in 10 days, Race Management outlined a number of mandatory qualifiers before the start in Alicante, Spain, in October 2017 – including provisionally a transatlantic test for all the fleet in June or July.

In August, the fleet will assemble in Cowes in the Isle of Wight, UK for ‘Leg Zero’, which will include the 600 nautical mile Fastnet Race.

Fastnet Race in 2017-18 qualifying schedule | Volvo Ocean Race

The Rolex Fastnet Race – always unpredictable – will take the teams from Cowes, through the English Channel, around Land’s End and out into the Celtic Sea. After rounding Fastnet Rock off the southwest coast of Ireland, they return to Plymouth. The boats will then race from Plymouth to Lisbon, Portugal to complete Leg Zero.

Teams will then tackle a brand new Prologue race from Lisbon to Alicante, where they will remain until the start of the 2017-18 edition.

“It’s good to be able to do more racing as a team before the start” – Charles Caudrelier

France’s Charles Caudrelier, who skippered Dongfeng Race Team in 2014-15, commented: “You train for months, alone, and so it’s good to be able to do more racing as a team before the start. It’s very different, racing under pressure, than training, and good for boat testing.”

“I’ve done a few Fastnet Races, some were windy and some were light. It’s a nice course, very fun and interesting to sail around the coast, with the effect of the currents. It’s a good test and a very dynamic race, with interesting weather.”

He continued: “In two or three days, you have a lot of decision-making to do, so it’s good to test not just everyone’s speed but also taking decisions quickly under pressure.

“And of course, you get to see which teams are stronger.”

Many Volvo Ocean Race teams have used the Fastnet Race as part of their preparations but it has never before been a mandatory qualifier.

The maxi yacht Drum, preparing for the 1985-86 race, famously capsized during the Fastnet and pop star Simon Le Bon was among the sailors who had to be rescued by the Royal Navy.

“The Fastnet Race is on the bucket list of every ocean racer in the world” – Richard Mason

Richard Mason, four-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran and now the Race’s Operations Director, said: “It’s super important to be doing these miles, at the right time of year.

“It’ll provide some awesome hours on the water for the teams, and that’s where they’ll learn the most – getting out there in the middle of the ocean, and getting amongst those weather systems, in a race that no sailor would dare take on lightly.”

Richard Mason on the Fastnet Race | Volvo Ocean Race

He continued: “The Fastnet Race is on the bucket list of every ocean racer in the world. It’s famous for being very tricky and coastal. You can have no wind, you can have enormous amounts of breeze, and vicious seas, out near Fastnet Rock, it’s navigationally and tactically tricky, you don’t get much sleep. It’s the perfect race – an amazing thing to be a part of.”

The Volvo Ocean Race made key announcements on crew rules regarding women sailors, a new crew communicator that will allow the athletes to send social media updates from the oceans, the building of an eighth Volvo Ocean 65 to join the existing fleet, the introduction of bespoke new premium team bases to enhance the pit lane experience in the Race Villages and the use of M32 catamarans to increase the amount of guest sailing at each stopover.