Now in its third year, the RORC Caribbean 600 has attracted competitors from all over the world and has established itself as one of the ‘must do’ offshore yacht races of the international racing calendar. A record entry for the race included yachts representing; Antigua; Australia; Belgium; Canada; Cayman Islands; France; Germany; Great Britain; Ireland; Italy; Lithuania; Netherlands; South Africa; Spain and the United States.
One of the main reasons for its popularity is the fantastic sailing conditions and this year the central Caribbean served up conditions that dreams are made of. Big breeze and swell provided fast surfing conditions on the intricate course, weaving through 11 Caribbean islands. The RORC Caribbean 600 is a new style of offshore yacht race, designed to test speed, agility and guile: more like a Formula One race track than a traditional windward leeward course.
"A wide spectrum of yachts and competitors decided that this is an event not to be missed," Commented RORC Chief Executive Eddie Warden Owen. "The RORC Caribbean 600 is a modern race in every sense; the course is designed to provide an exciting and inspiring race that compliments modern yacht design. The club is delighted that people from all over the world want to take part. There is a mixture of world class sailors and corinthian enthusiasts, but they all have one thing in common, a passion for offshore racing."
The battle for line honours was between the two canting keel 100-foot maxis, Mike Slade’s Farr designed ICAP Leopard, who set the record for this race in 2009, and George David’s Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Rambler 100. It was the first ever showdown between these two magnificent yachts, a true clash of titans. However, Hugo Stenbeck’s Dubois 90, Genuine Risk had beaten Rambler in the recent Pineapple Cup and posed a threat for a handicap win, especially in light airs. Two canting keel Cookson 50s were racing in class against the Maxis; Adrian Lee’s Lee Overlay Partners, who won the inaugural race and Chris Bull’s Jazz, which had been shipped up from Australia, after a highly successful Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
In all, 34 yachts started the race on Monday 21st February, ranging from the stunning 152 ft schooner, Windrose of Amsterdam to Bernie Evan-Wong’s Antiguan Mumm 36, High Tension.
Several days prior to the race, the wind began to fade but as if by magic, the trade winds blew into the starting area off English Harbour, Antigua on the morning of the race. 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.
10 minutes later, the line off Fort Charlotte was festooned with canvas. Andrew McIrvine’s 152ft Schooner, Windrose of Amsterdam came in fast on starboard at the outer 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.
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 ten-minute gun, Genuine Risk became the first casualty, the vang pulled clean out of its deck mounting and 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. 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.
Last to start were the multi-hulls, Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66, Phaedo and Warren East’s Yapluka 70, Wonderful. Phaedo’s Lamborghini orange catamaran was hotter than a pepper sprout, hitting a top speed of 28 knots during the race.
Rambler 100 gybe set at the North Sails mark off Barbuda and it was over 20 minutes before ICAP Leopard made the mark. Rambler 100 then pulled the trigger, power sliding down towards Nevis at over 20 knots. A fire-hose of water was smashing down the deck, as they smoked through the surf. Slade’s Maxi holds countless world records but Rambler 100 was just too quick and was soon quite some distance ahead. With constant breeze, it seemed that only gear failure on Rambler 100 was their only worry.
George David’s Maxi yacht, Rambler 100 crossed the finish line in Antigua in the early hours of Wednesday morning in an elapsed time of 1 day 16 hours 20 minutes and 2 seconds. George David’s team included Kenny Read and the entire crew of Puma Ocean Racing, which will be competing in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race. Rambler 100 smashed the record set by ICAP Leopard in 2009 by nearly four hours and very nearly eclipsed the multihull record in the process, falling short by just nine minutes. Rambler 100 also won the race overall, on corrected time to lift the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy:
"Rambler 100 is quite a handful, it’s like a Volvo 70 on steroids and this is a big fast race, which favours us," commented David. " The RORC Caribbean 600 is part of the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series. It has been a great race as part of that. We never took this win for granted, we have carried out some optimisation towards the IRC rating and we really didn’t know how we would perform as this is the first time that the boat has been raced to be IRC competitive. Leopard is a powerful boat and they are a good team that has been sailing together for a number of years. Thank you to the RORC and the Antigua Yacht Club. A lot of people have put a great deal of effort into making this a great race. I think this race is going to attract a lot of competitors. We have a record fleet this year and I can only seeing it growing, I think we will be back next year."
George David’s Rambler 100 may have defeated Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard, but Slade was his usual charming self, he even quoted Shakespeare: "Well, we have to suffer the slings and arrows. Rambler is really quick. We made a valiant effort and we enjoyed ourselves, as we always do, that was just a fantastic sail. We had a few issues which cost us, but Rambler sailed impeccably and hardly put a foot wrong the whole way around the course."
It was a full 10 hours before the third yacht crossed the finish line of the RORC Caribbean 600.
Peter Harrison’s magnificent 115 ketch Sojana, produced a powerful performance, completing the course on Wednesday afternoon. There were happy smiles on board, especially Peter Harrison, who has been an admirer of the race since conception: "Due to circumstances, we couldn’t race in the first two editions, but it was third time lucky and what a magnificent race this is. It is a fantastic way to see some of the beautiful islands in the Caribbean." Commented Peter dockside.
Next home was Brian Benjamin’s stunning Carbon Ocean 82, Aegir. Brian typifies the characters in this sport: "We broke a few things, but that was to be expected really. This is the first time that the new boat has been fully tested. It is always better to win but I will always remember my first race with this delightful boat and the great people that were sailing on her." Commented Benjamin after tying up. Lloyd Thornburg’s head turning Gunboat 66, Phaedo finished the race in the early evening. The futuristic catamaran has been flashing around the course, eating up the miles.
Soon after Phaedo came Canadian Richard Oland’s Southern Cross 52, Vela Veloce. Last year Velo Veloce was second overall to Beau Geste and they were bridesmaid again this year, coming second overall to Rambler 100. That may seem tough, but the crew was rightly proud of their achievement. Vela Veloce’s crew are not out and out professionals bar one; two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, Stu Bannatyne, who is preparing for his fifth lap of the planet with Team Camper:
"We didn’t really make any big gains or losses around the course, we just kept chipping away and sailing the boat to the best of our ability. I am not just pleased with the result, I am delighted," said Stu Bannatyne dockside. "Richard and all the crew showed great dedication and handled the boat well, but in fast reaching conditions, Vela Veloce was never going to get near Rambler."
Chris Bull’s Jazz and Adrian Lee’s Lee Overlay Partners, both Cookson 50s, had a great battle on the water but it was Jazz that pulled away in the latter part of the race to take second place in the Canting Keel Class, behind Rambler 100. Chris Bull’s crew is multi-national: British, Maltese and Australian accents were joined by the Lithuanian team from Ambersail and the crews from Oyster Catcher XXVIII and Lee Overlay Partners, who have a largely Irish contingent. There was a lively meeting of minds in the Antigua Yacht Club bar until the small hours. One of the features of the RORC Caribbean 600, is that the Antigua Yacht Club make sure that the bar is always open, no matter what time, to welcome the crews back to Antigua!
The longest yacht competing in the RORC Caribbean 600 is the 152 ft classic schooner, Windrose of Amsterdam. Boat captain, Alex Howard was joined by RORC Commodore Andrew McIrvine and CEO Eddie Warden Owen, along with several members of the RORC and the Royal Yacht Squadron. "I am a really big fan of the race," Commented Howard. "The event is an ideal way to enjoy sailing on Windrose and other spirit of tradition yachts. The regular crew and our guests got on very well and we have all enjoyed the experience and pushed the boat hard in lively conditions. I am pleased to say the job list for repairs is very small indeed."
Piet Vroon’s Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens 3 crossed the finish line just after eight in the morning, on the third day of the RORC Caribbean 600. Piet’s corinthian crew were tired and a bit deflated. They had been enjoying a fantastic ride all the way to Guadeloupe but they became caught on the windless southeast corner of the course. Tonnerre struggled to get free but remained there for seven hours. Tonnerre’s performance around the rest of the racetrack proved to be their savior, winning IRC One on corrected time.
Class 40, Concise completed the RORC Caribbean 600 after just under 3 days at sea. With an average age of just 22 years, they are by far the youngest team in the race. Concise retained the Concise Trophy for the third year running, much to the delight of the owner, Tony Lawson.
The Army Sailing Association’s A40, British Soldier came out on top in IRC Two. The team largely consists of British soldiers on leave from active duty in Afghanistan, but not entirely. Two of the crew were from the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and had no offshore sailing experience. British Soldier had a cracking race but by the end they were fighting off a rear guard action from Christian Reynolds Swan 51, Northern Child.
Not everybody gets to race a ballistic maxi, but there where many private battles which are just as important. Andy Middleton’s First 47.7 EH01 claimed second overall in Class One with Richard Balding’s Swan 60, Fenix taking third. Philippe Falle’s First 50, Hydrocarbon Logic and Ondeck’s Farr 65, Spirit of Minerva also finished this lively race, which was a great achievement. First 40.7s Spirit of Athena skippered by AYC and RORC member John Duffy, and Coyote, skippered by RORC member Peter Hopps, finished the RORC Caribbean 600 on Friday afternoon, wrapping up a fantastic event. Coyote were the last boat to cross the line but beat Athena on handicap. The two boats had been locked in a private battle all the way around the course.
The 2011 RORC Caribbean 600 received unprecedented worldwide media coverage and the brand new tracking application was widely acclaimed as a tremendous success. The new RORC Caribbean 600 minisite received millions of hits during the race and thousands of entries on popular social media networks. Yachts are already entering for the next edition of the race and a Spirit of Tradition Class may well be added.