A flash of smoke, high above the 'Pillars of Hercules' announced the start of the 5th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600. Before the start 25 knots of trade winds, gusting close to 30, provided feisty conditions. 53 yachts blasted into action, crashing to windward through the surf in the starting area. The international fleet, with crews from 31 nations, set off for the 600-mile race threading through 11 stunning Caribbean islands and the forecast strong winds promises a wild and memorable ride.
"This is going to be a fast and fairly tough race," commented RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen, prior to the start. "All the teams are aware of the forecast and they know it is going to be breezy and how they handle those conditions will have a big impact on their performance. They will be excited but also apprehensive about the conditions. However, watching the start I have to say it was stunning, sunshine, beautiful warm water, they are all going to have a fantastic race."
First to go were the multihulls. Peter Aschenbrenner's ballistic trimaran, Paradox, chose to start on port and had to dip Austin Hearst's Gunboat 66, Slim. Meanwhile Lloyd Thornburg's Gunboat 66, Phaedo, looked to have a mainsail issue with the crew battling to gain control in 25 knots of brisk trade winds. Phaedo fell behind but quickly rectified the problem and took chase.
The second start had 22 yachts barrelling towards the start line. Joseph Mele's American Swan 44, Triple Lindy, got a cracking start but the bigger yachts soon passed them, notably Christian Reynolds' Swan 53, Northern Child, who went inshore to benefit from a great lift back out to lead on the beat.
Next to go were the Class40s and CSA. Peter Harding's British Class40, 40 Degrees, was over eager and was OCS and had to return to the start line. Christof Petter's Austrian Class40, Vaquita, got away to a flyer at the pin end but Marc Lepesqueux's Sensation headed inshore and tacked back to cross in front of Vaquita. The Class40s are very close in speed and have a great battle in store.
The penultimate start for the Class Zero and Canting Keel was delayed due to the Race Committee electing to re-lay the line, which was carried out with great precision. Mike Slade's Maxi, ICAP Leopard, and Hap Fauth's Mini-maxi, Bella Mente, got away well, but Leopard's prowess upwind was a telling factor as they rolled Bella Mente to leeward. Heading perilously close to the rocky cliffs, Bella Mente tacked first, releasing Leopard, who tacked right on their line. Dramatic to say the least but more drama was to come. Close behind the 100ft Maxi Liara was dismasted. The crew, all safe and well, motored Liara back to the dock.
Last to go where the Superyachts; Filip Balcaen's 112 ft Baltic, Nilaya, was dwarfed by two mighty schooners, Athos and Adela. Nilaya had the line to herself, as Athos and Adela powered to windward on opposite tacks. They made a dramatic backdrop crashing through the waves as they made their way upwind to the turning point at Green Island off the Eastern end of Antigua with Adela crossing ahead of Athos to lead the private battle.
During the race there will be daily news stories, images and video updates from the fleet. All of the yachts are fitted with Yellowbrick trackers and competitors are encouraged to send blogs and images from the yachts, which will also appear on the website.
Article by Louay Habib