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As Good As It Gets – RORC Caribbean 600

Royal Ocean Racing Club members John Burnie and Stan Pearson have often talked about an offshore yacht race and their plans, devised over a few beers, became a reality this year.

The inaugural RORC Caribbean 600 Race started on February 23, 2009 off Fort Charlotte outside English Harbour, Antigua on a course that took the fleet to the north passing a mark off Barbuda, the islands of Nevis, Saba and St Barths, to circle St Martin before heading down to Guadeloupe as the most southerly point. The fleet then went back up to a mark off Barbuda before returning to finish in Antigua—a total of 605 nautical miles.

Mike Slade’s 100ft Maxi, ICAP Leopard came to Antigua with a clear target, to set a monohull record for a new offshore race. ICAP Leopard needed 44 Hours 5 minutes 14 seconds to complete the RORC Caribbean 600 course, 13 minutes less than they took to complete the 2007 Rolex Fastnet, a race of roughly the same length, but of totally different conditions.

“A fantastic yacht race,” commented ICAP Leopard’s boat Captain Chris Sherlock. “High speed sailing in warm conditions.”

John Burnie’s ORMA 60 Trimaran, Region Guadeloupe, set the time to beat for the multihulls, winning the multihull class in an elapsed time of 40 Hours 11 minutes 5 seconds. Burnie, one of the founders of the race, said, “We knew it would be a challenge and we certainly got one. Hurtling around the Caribbean at night in over 20 knots with nothing to hang onto is not for the faint-hearted.”

On handicap, Irish eyes were smiling. Adrian Lee’s Irish Cookson 50, Lee Overlay Partners, set a cracking pace around the track, beating ICAP Leopard by over an hour on corrected time and in doing so, winning IRC Class Super Zero, Canting Keel and the prize of Overall winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 under IRC.

“We wanted to set a course which showcased the Caribbean, giving the competitors some stunning scenery but also we wanted it to be a challenge. The feedback we are getting says that we have achieved both of those things,” commented Stan Pearson, one of the committee who devised the course.

The success of any yachting event should be measured by the satisfaction of the competitors and Swan 45 President, Vittorio Codecasa knows all about high profile regattas. He was competing on Danilo Salsi’s Swan 90 DSK Pioneer, winner of IRC Class Super Zero and first Swan at the RORC Caribbean 600.

"There is only one word to describe this regatta – fantastico!  The course; weather; route through the Caribbean islands; including the active volcano on Montserrat; reefs like Redonda; the sunshine; ideal temperature; constant 20 knot breeze; organisation and logistics. It’s bound to become one of the most aspirational regattas among the classics such as the Rolex Fastnet, Rolex Sydney-Hobart and Rolex Middle Sea Race," said Codecasa.

David Aisher’s Rogers 46, Yeoman XXXII was the winner of IRC Class Zero. The crew included RORC Commodore, Andrew McIrvine: “Nearly half of the RORC membership are overseas and we wanted to bring this race to them. The RORC has a well-known domestic race programme but IRC is now raced all over the world. We wanted a RORC race in the Caribbean and now we have got one. I must say that it was not a Caribbean cruise. After we finished, I had a feeling of accomplishment, similar to competing a Fastnet. I was just as tired, but no where near as cold!”

In IRC 1, Bernie Evan-Wong’s Mumm 36, Café Americano High Tension was the class winner. The Antiguan boat showed experience and guile around the course and Evan-Wong showed immense courage – he injured his ribs but refused to throw in the towel, carrying the injury for over two days.

In IRC two handed, Willy Bissante’s Class 40 Lou came out on top. Bissante is from Guadeloupe and plans to compete in the Route de Rhum in his Class 40 next year. The benchmark for the Class 40 was set by Tony Lawson’s Concise, fully crewed by young offshore sailors from Hamble UK. They were the first Class 40 to complete the course in just under 75.

There were many close fought encounters right across the course, none more so than that between Adam Cleary’s Gienah and Daniel Segalowicz’s Schider, two identical Swan 62s. The two were never out of sight of each other for over three days of racing. Back at home in Guadeloupe, their friends in the local bar had hooked up the RORC Race tracker to a television screen and were following the battle by the hour. After the race, the two teams enjoyed a cold beer together and swapped tales of their race.

Commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club Elizabeth Jordan commented after the race, “To bring an exciting new event to the Caribbean has long been a dream of the members of Antigua Yacht Club and with the efforts of the RORC the dream has become a reality. The RORC Caribbean 600 can be added to the calendar of the most prestigious events in the Caribbean.”

For complete results, www.caribbean600.rorc.org.

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