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Interview: Eddie Warden Owen and the RORC Caribbean 600

Starting on the 23rd February 2009, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and Antigua Yacht Club will run the first ever offshore race to circumnavigate the Caribbean Islands. This exciting new race will be called the RORC Caribbean 600.

The race starts off Fort Charlotte outside English Harbour, Antigua. The course takes 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, then back up to a mark off Barbuda before returning to finish in Antigua—a total of 605 nautical miles.

Eddie Warden Owen, the CEO of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, has an impressive sailing career spanning over 25 years in the international sailing arena. He has raced in most of the classic offshore regattas around the world. An accomplished match racer, he has been involved in seven Americas Cups, the most recent as Coach to the Spanish team, Desafio Espanol 2007, in Valencia

Why did RORC decide to get involved in a 600 mile race in the Caribbean?

Earlier this year I was approached by a group of RORC members based in the Caribbean (also members of Antigua Yacht Club) with the idea of organising a 600 mile offshore race around the Leeward Islands. They came up with the course and I persuaded the committee that RORC should underwrite the event and we are pleased that Antigua yacht club wants to work with us to make it successful.  

Navigation at night in the Caribbean can be dangerous; reefs, unlit obstacles etc what is your view on that?

I do not see it as a problem and RORC would not support the idea if they thought the race would put the competitors at risk and we are not planning to put the race into un-chartered waters.

Who do you hope to attract to the race and how many boats do you anticipate?

The initial interest from our press release and mailing to RORC members produced a huge variety of boats from some of the biggest and fastest race boats such as Mike Slade’s 100’ canting keel ‘Leopard’ and the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed 100’ ‘Speedboat’ and the new mini-maxi boats, the STP 65’s ‘Rosebud’ and ‘Moneypenny’ to a locally raced Mumm36 called ‘High Tension’. Peter Harrison’s 115 ketch ‘Sojana’ was the first to enter. Her skipper Marc Fitzgerald helped design the course so we are very confident that it will be a good race for all the contestants. We have worked hard to get the message out throughout Europe and America and we would hope that many of the boats doing the ARC would find our race of interest. I would be delighted if we got more than 40 boats in its first year.  

What were the decisions and factors taken into consideration for the course? 

Firstly it had to be more than 600 miles, thus similar to a Fastnet, and it had to make use of as many islands as possible. We want everyone in the Caribbean to take an interest in the race and with trade winds and the RORC/OC tracker on every boat we will be able to predict when each boat is due to pass each island and hopefully locals will come out and meet the boats as they pass by. The course gives a mixture of upwind downwind as well as the usual reaching conditions found in this trade wind area. 

Why was February 23rd Chosen as the start date?

The original date was Monday 16th February but we moved it one week to allow boats doing the Pineapple Cup (Fort Lauderdale to Montego Bay) sufficient time to get to Antigua to race with us. The 23rd also allows those who want to do the Heineken St Marten sufficient time after they finish our race. 

The fleet will race under IRC and CSA.  Why is that?

IRC is the internationally recognised RORC rating rule which is used by event organisers all over the world to handicap their fleets. A large percentage of the boats entering our race will have IRC certificates. CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) is the handicap rule used locally and we felt there would be a strong local interest who wants to race under CSA. We will ‘dual’ score all boats if they want so that they can try and win under CSA and for the overall trophy under IRC.

The crew do not require the same level of competence as the Rolex Fastnet Race (50% must have raced 300 RORC miles in that boat)?

This race is very different from the Rolex Fastnet Race and whilst it will be very challenging in its own way, the boats will never be that far from ports of refuge so we have made it ISAF Offshore Special Regulations Category 3 plus EPIRB and liferaft. The race will, however, be a qualifier for RORC membership for competitors who wish to join the club.

Presumably you are seeking a sponsor for the event; what will a sponsor gain by association with the race?

As with all events The RORC Caribbean 600 will provide sponsors the opportunity to get their message across not just to a select group of participants but to a much wider audience outside of the Caribbean. The race is attracting high profile race boats and as a result will achieve very good media coverage. Also each boat will be equipped with a RORC tracker that sends its position at regular intervals to a base station via iridium satellite link. Each boat’s track is shown on the RORC race website overlaid on a Google earth map of the region. These tracker sites attracted a huge number of visitors from all over the world. The 2007 Rolex Fastnet race tracker website achieved over 48 million hits for the duration of the race. 

For more information visit:  The Royal Ocean Racing Club www.rorc.org

Louay Habib is a freelance yachting journalist. For the past twenty years, he has competed at yachting regattas and offshore events all over the world and represented England in the 2004 Rolex Commodore’s Cup. Louay writes for a variety of clients including the Volvo Ocean Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club.

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