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Blast off – RORC Caribbean 600 Starts in Antigua

As if by magic, the tradewinds blew into the starting area off English Harbour, Antigua after several days of light winds. With 22 knots or more in the gusts. The strong winds launched the RORC Caribbean 600 fleet into action for the start of what is probably the world’s most exciting 600- mile offshore race.

First off were the smaller boats, but powerful yachts by any normal standard. Piet Vroon’s electric blue Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, seared through the line on port like a guided missile. The Army Association’s A 40, British Soldier sprang into action, stealing a march on the competition in IRC Two. Whilst, Tony Lawson’s Class 40, Concise nailed the middle of the line to lead their class.

Ten minutes later, the line off Fort Charlotte was festooned with canvas. The 155ft Schooner Windrose of Amsterdam, chartered by Andrew McIrvine, came in on port at the pin end with amazing power; Peter Harrison’s Farr 114, Sojana opted for a middle of the line start and engaged Brian Benjamin’s Carbon Ocean 82, Aegir, who were right in under the Pillars of Hercules. Sojana then tacked into Windrose’s path, but thankfully there was no issue.

Whilst a battle royal was going on, Simonas Steponavicius’ Volvo 60, Ambersail stole the line, taking a flyer on port. The Lithuanian team with veteran Swede Magnus Olsson on board, got away in clear air to lead their class at the start. No doubt, the amateur crew would have been welling up with pride and adrenalin, having pulled off the best start of the race.

Next up was the big showdown between the canting keelboats and there was drama even before the start. Inside the 10 minute gun, Hugo Stenbeck’s Dubois 90 Genuine Risk, heard a sickening crack as the vang pulled clean out of its deck mounting: the team had no choice but to return to the dock.

Meanwhile, Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard and George David’s Rambler 100 were getting on with big business. This is the first ever show down between two of the fastest boats in the world. ICAP Leopard came smoking in on port from course side, Rambler chose starboard under the cliffs. ICAP Leopard may have thought they were too early and tacked onto port, just before the line, whilst Rambler 100 wound up the canting keel flyer under the cliffs off Fort Charlotte. But it was Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50, Lee Overlay Partners that judged the line to perfection. However, they were very quickly rolled by Rambler 100, who rounded Green Island in no time at all. Rambler 100 has pulled the trigger and power, sliding down the windward side of Antigua, at over 20 knots. A fire-hose of water will be smashing down the deck, as they smoke through the surf, barreling towards Barbuda.

Last to start were the multihulls. There may be only two of them this year, but that didn’t stop Cam Lewis from match racing at the start on Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66, Phaedo who turned Wonderful about in a pre-start dial up. The bright orange catamaran will be hotter than a pepper sprout when they turn downwind later in the day.

Heart-felt commiserations to Genuine Risk who are safely moored up in Antigua. They are missing out on a race which is already providing some ballistic sailing action. To quote Juggy Clougher, the veteran round the world sailor who is on Rambler 100: “Why wouldn’t you want to do this race?”

Read John Burnie’s expert analysis on the RORC Caribbean 600 website which contains regular updates on the race, blogs from the boats and follow the yachts on trackers:

http://caribbean600.rorc.org/

http://caribbean600.rorc.org/race-information/tracking/2011-fleet-tracking.html

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