They are hailing it a new offshore classic – a warm weather Fastnet – and this year's Caribbean 600 lived up to the hype!
Once again the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the regatta experts in Antigua put together an amazing race. A superbly constructed website allowed armchair sailors to track the race and there was almost as much excitement following the race through comments on Twitter as could be found on the course.
Light winds leading up to the race had people on edge but then, as if by magic, the trade winds returned for the start of the race off English Harbour.
First off were the smaller boats. Piet Vroon's electric blue Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, seared through the line on port. 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.
As spectators thrilled to the sight of the 155ft Schooner Windrose of Amsterdam on port at the pin end, Peter Harrison's Farr 115 Sojana, opting for a middle of the line start, engaged Brian Benjamin's Carbon Ocean 82 Aegir. There were sharp intakes of breath when Sojana then tacked into Windrose's path, a brave move, thankfully, with no angry consequences.
As the Twittersphere lit up, the much anticipated battle between the canting keel flyers ICAP Leopard, the course record holder, and Rambler 100 began to unfold. This was the first ever showdown between these two boats.
Sadly, for Hugo Stenbeck's canting keel Dubois 90 Genuine Risk the race finished before it began when the vang pulled clean out of its deck mounting, leaving them no choice but to return to the dock.
Early views of the online tracker showed a scribble of boats heading north up Antigua's windward coast for the first mark off Barbuda. But it wasn't long before the electronic lines invisibly attached to Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard and George David's Rambler 100 began to draw away.
For Antigua's well known Yachtsman Bernie Even-Wong the race came to a spectacular end south of Saba when the rig on his Mumm 36 High Tension came down. Fortunately, there were no injuries and they motored off towards distant Antigua, punching into the steady 20 knot trade wind most of the way.
Another race casualty was the Open 40 Tales, they had to return to Antigua when a crewman developed a swollen foot.
Twenty four hours into the race and the tracker showed a mass of writhing lines between Saba and St. Barth's as the bulk of the fleet beat into the stiff east-northeast trades. Meanwhile, towards the bottom of the course Rambler 100, skippered by Kenny Read, and crewed by the entire compliment of the PUMA Ocean Racing team, had fallen into the wind-shadow in the lee of Guadeloupe. This reduced their speed from 20 knots to a mere walking pace and ICAP Leopard, thundering along behind, managed to narrow the gap. But by the time Leopard sailed into lee of the island, Rambler was round the point and powering away to windward and eventual glory.
Kenny Read said the race had been lots of fun but hard work. "You do something like sail around the world and that's almost easy compared to this because there is no time to take any sleep. You're taking so many corners and turns, but it is also a gorgeous course, it's a dream-come-true type of event. Probably the most memorable part of the course was at night with a full moon at the top of St.Maarten, big breeze and massive breaking waves. It was huge fun and really cool, we came out of there doing 26 knots."
For full results and photos visit: caribbean600.rorc.org
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net