A race to remember
The fourth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club was a sensational success. The Caribbean's only offshore yacht race attracted some of the world's most fabulous yachts as well as corinthian entries. 578 sailors from 35 different countries took part in a memorable race. This year, the race attracted a truly international field including a number of world-class Spanish sailors racing on Volvo 70, Gran Jotiti, and Swan 56, Clem. There were also a significant number of Russian sailors, no doubt enjoying getting away from the cold Russian winter. Oscar Konyukhov's 90ft Maxi, Med Spirit, crewed by amateur Russian and French sailors, put in a great performance against fully professional competition. Anders Nordquist, owner of Swan 90, Nefertiti, was taking part in his first ever offshore race and loved every minute of it.
This year, the sailing conditions were more complex than usual and there were epic battles between competing yachts throughout the fleet. During winter, Antigua is home to some of the world's most extraordinary yachts and five yachts over 100 ft entered this year's race. The glorious 214ft Baltic Hetairos, skippered by Vincent Fauquenoy, was destined to take line honours, crossing the finish line in Antigua in an elapsed time of 2 days 2 hours 39 minutes and 32 seconds .The monumental ketch was well outside the record time set by Rambler 100 last year, however the international team aboard Hetairos were all smiles as they were greeted by well-wishers and a cacophony of horns from megayachts in Falmouth Harbour.
Hetairos navigator, South African Marc Lagesse, modestly admitted to being somewhat surprised to be the first yacht to finish:
"I have to say, I am genuinely surprised. I honestly thought that we wouldn't take line honours. From a navigator's point of view, I got a few calls not quite right. However, we did have a few decisions work out for us by chance and I would always say it is better to be lucky than good! I really enjoyed this race, an illustrious fleet with great people and a big atmosphere."
Hetairos were pushed hard all the way by George David's 90ft maxi, Rambler. It was not until half way through the race that Hetairos managed to pass Rambler. The all star American team put in a fantastic performance but could not match the pace of an opponent over twice their size.
George David spoke candidly shortly after the race: "It was great to get back in the saddle for a 600-mile race after the Fastnet and to hold out so long against Hetairos. Mick (Harvey) is a great project manager and Norm (David Petersen) is a great Boat Captain and all the Rambler team are just so much fun to sail with."
Niklas Zennström's JV72, Rán, was the next yacht home, less than an hour behind Rambler, to claim the overall win after time correction. Rán's owner and principal helmsman, Niklas Zennström, looked tired but full of joy after completing a race that he has wanted to do for some time:
"The whole of Team Rán have been looking forward to this race for a while. A few of the crew have done the race before but it has been somewhat new territory for us, which is always exciting. It is a complex course, more like a series of coastal races. I think the reason I was attracted to the race so much was that we enjoyed Antigua Sailing Week and the idea of an offshore race in the Caribbean is very appealing. Any 600-mile yacht race is hard but the fantastic conditions make this one even more satisfying. The close reach down to Guadeloupe from St. Barths was very memorable, fast reaching conditions in beautiful surroundings, some of the best sailing you can imagine."
The multihull record for the RORC Caribbean 600 has not been beaten since the inaugural race in 2009. Peter Aschenbrenner's 63' Trimaran, Paradox, skippered by Olivier Vigoureux, won this year's race in the multihull class but failed to better Region Guadeloupe's course record. However, Paradox did set an unofficial speed record with a ballistic 30 minutes run at night past Montserrat, close to 30 knots of boat speed!
Jules Verne record holder Brian Thompson was racing with old friends on Spirit of Juno, Ondeck's Farr 65, but he suggested that giant multihull Banque Populaire V could complete this course in about 30 hours. The MOD 70s would also be able to achieve that and it would be great to see a bigger multihull class next year.
Two Superyachts enjoyed an incredible battle around the course, Peter Harrison's 115ft ketch, Sojana, and Gerhard Andlinger's 124ft sloop, P2, have never done battle before in an offshore race. The two magnificent superyachts had a 600-mile match race around the entire course. P2 were the first home by just over 13 minutes in a race lasting over two and a half days. However, Sojana was well over an hour quicker than P2 after time correction. The two skippers, Marc Fitzgerald and Jonathan Kline, spoke dockside as the two yachts finally came to rest in Falmouth Marina.
"P2 has done lots of bucket racing and superyacht events but what attracted P2's owner Mr A to the race was that we could sail long legs and let P2 do what she was designed to do," commented P2's Kline. "The RORC Caribbean 600 gave P2 a chance to shine and give the owner the experience of long distance sailing offshore but still in the vicinity of great islands and magnificent views."
"We don't often have a match race on Sojana, we try an avoid it to be honest, especially when you are up against someone as good as Peter Holmberg who was at the wheel of P2," admitted Sojana's Fitzgerald. "P2 got away at the start but we reeled them in on the reach to Barbuda. All credit to P2, they came back at us at Guadeloupe and we didn't pass them until after the Barbuda mark. We had our problems on the beat to finish, which slowed us down but P2 sailed extremely well and made it a great race."
Both Adela and Windrose capture the imagination of years gone by. In spectacular surroundings the golden age of the schooners was recreated in an epic battle between two magnificent yachts and just before dawn on the fourth day of the RORC Caribbean 600, the gentlemanly duel was settled.
The wondrous 180ft schooner, Adela, crossed the finish line to take the gun just 1 hour and 42 minutes ahead of great rival, the 154ft schooner, Windrose of Amsterdam. The two schooners had enjoyed an intense battle around the 600-mile course with the two yachts trading places for the lead on eight separate occasions, Adela counted 51 energy sapping sail changes during the race.
Windrose of Amsterdam was chartered for the second year running by members of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, including past RORC Commodore, Andrew McIrvine and current RORC Commodore, Mike Greville. Windrose skipper, Alex Howard said dockside: "It was a tiring race with only 5 hours sleep and an interesting battle with Adela, but they got away from us and after Désirade. It's a shame we didn't do better, but there is always a next time. It was a great race and it is good to get five big Superyachts and Spirit of Tradition boats in this event for sure."
Adela's skipper Greg Perkins spoke after the race: "This season, Adela races Windrose at three regattas and we have a barrel of rum on each event and I am two up at the moment, so I think Alex will be fuming! The boats are evenly matched; we have had tacking duels, luffing matches and all great fun. I would love to say that Adela will do the race next year if there is a schooner class, I say bring them down."
Without doubt, the closest racing for this year's event was in IRC One. Colin Buffin's Swan 62, Uxorious IV, was first to finish, but the team did not celebrate a class win. Buffin and his young team knew that Amanda Hartley's Swan 56, Clem, was extremely close to eclipsing their corrected time. Just over three and a half hours passed before Clem crossed the finish line to win the class by just 21 seconds on corrected time. There were euphoric scenes dockside as the Spanish crew of Clem celebrated. The entire crew of Uxorious IV including Colin Buffin sportingly applauded their rivals. Amanda Hartley spoke of their win.
"'We had no idea until we crossed the line and turned on our phones which went crazy. We got stuck at Guadeloupe for four hours and we could only sit and watch Uxorious get away. We are obviously extremely delighted and really appreciate Colin and his team coming over to give us such a lovely welcome back to Antigua."
Scarlet Logic came close to a fairy tale finish, the Oyster 48, co-skippered by Ross Applebey and Tim Thubron had been vying for the overall win. In the end Scarlet Logic missed out, but the team had put in an incredible effort to take a convincing win in IRC Two. Scarlet Logic also recorded best corrected time in IRC One, Two and Three and as a result were awarded the fantastic prize of a week's accommodation generously donated by race sponsor, The Inn at English Harbour.
"Fantastic, elated but bloody tired," admitted Tim Thubron, co-skipper of Scarlet Logic. "We were aware that we were in with a chance of beating the big, well funded professional teams and that really spurred us on. A lot of credit must go to the whole team, especially Ross Applebey. Scarlet was immaculately prepared, however we did need to drop the main to replace a sail slide. The main back up in eight minutes, that to me says it all about the crew work on board."
The Class40s produced a battle royale between Christophe Coatnoan's French Partouche and Christof Petter's Austrian Vaquita. The two Class40s were locked in a heroic tacking duel for the final push to the finish line. Vaquita crossed the line just 15 minutes ahead of Partouche. However, Vaquita failed to start the race correctly and to the Austrian crew's disappointment, the class win was awarded to Partouche: "It was a tough race and we had a couple of moments that really slowed us down," commented Christophe Coatnoan who raced two-handed with Eric Calmard. "We picked up a fishing float after Nevis without realising and we probably lost 8 miles before we knew it was there. Later at Guadeloupe, I had to dive into the water to free Partouche from yet another fishing buoy. The race was an excellent test for our new design especially for our sails as I think we used every one of them during the race."
Without doubt the biggest reception for any of the yachts was reserved for Bernie Evan-Wong's Mumm 36, High Tension. Falmouth Harbour exploded with noise as the smallest yacht in the race tied up right outside the Antigua Yacht Club. Thunderous blasts from megayachts, superyachts and foghorns literally shook the dock as the whole of the sailing community in Falmouth heralded the arrival of local hero Bernie and his crew.
"I said we would be here by tonight but I always like to be early for appointments," joked the Antiguan dentist. "It was a hard but satisfying race and the beat from Redonda to the finish seemed to take forever. We could see Antigua but it just didn't seem to be getting any bigger, however a few miles out a massive rain squall hit and veered the wind favourably. After last year's dismasting, I think maybe someone was looking out for us!"
The RORC Caribbean 600 now attracts some of the world's best professional offshore sailors but they are not the only ones. Corinthian crews such as the Lloyd's of London Yacht Club took on the professionals in Class Zero and the vast majority of the hundreds of sailors were sailing for pleasure not for pay. Probably the most noteworthy entry was Spirit Of Venus. The First 40.7 was chartered from Ondeck by the Royal Armoured Corps Offshore Racing Team, many of whom were returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. A ripped mainsail before the start was heroically replaced by local charter skipper Chris Jackson. The Royal Armoured Corps was late on parade by nearly half an hour however, just before being timed out, Spirit of Venus charged out of Falmouth Harbour. The British Army team may have been the last yacht to finish but their valour and determination was nothing short of commendable.