The sixth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 had a record entry of 60 yachts with 682 sailors taking part. All At Sea’s Louay Habib looks at why the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) Caribbean 600 is proving irresistible to a wide variety of yachts and sailors.
For over 50-years, the Caribbean has hosted inshore yachting regattas but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that sailing at night in the Caribbean was accepted as a safe practice, especially for sailors unfamiliar with the reefs surrounding many islands. In 2009, the RORC decided to start an offshore race in the Caribbean and in just six years, the RORC Caribbean 600 has become an internationally recognized offshore classic.
In February, the central Caribbean is undoubtedly one of the best places to sail, anywhere on the planet. Warm trade winds, ocean swell and stunning islands are complimented by fantastic sunrises and sunsets and enchanting night sailing. However, any 600 mile race is tough and the Caribbean 600 requires many sail changes. For the crew, sleep is a luxury and the demanding course, which uses various islands as turning marks, keeps tacticians and navigators on alert.
By far the most impressive class was IRC Zero, and what a race. George David’s RP90, Rambler was the favorite for Line Honours but Hap Fauth’s, JV72, Bella Mente was the first yacht home.
“Just looking at the hull shape on Bella Mente, you can see that the yacht is a reaching machine.” commented David at the finish. “Rambler 90 has been a great boat for 12-years but yacht design has moved on. We haven’t raced the 90 since September and we had some issues with race preparation but we were soundly beaten, which is hard to take. However, we will be back next year with the new Rambler.
George Sakellaris’ RP72, Shockwave, won the Caribbean 600 overall. The victory required enormous effort from the crew and a big slice of luck. Shockwave and Bella Mente were locked in a duel around the course. Shockwave was often behind on the water but enjoyed about a minute an hour advantage on corrected time. The wind shadow on the leeward side of Guadeloupe is a critical part of the course. Bella Mente almost had the fenders out as they powered through the lee, enjoying katabatic wind right under the cliffs on the island’s west coast.
Shockwave very nearly went offshore, which would have been costly. “There was a discussion about avoiding the wind shadow all together, Rambler went offshore and we thought about going with them.” admitted Shockwave’s tactician Robbie Doyle. “I spotted a cruising boat that was sailing along just fine inshore, so we stayed in and although we didn’t do as good a job as Bella Mente there, we got out okay but we knew we were behind on corrected time.”
Bella Mente rounded the most easterly part of the course at Les Désirade and cracked sheets for the power reach to Barbuda. In a few hours, she was 20-miles ahead of Shockwave and could taste overall victory. Bella Mente arrived off Barbuda at night and sailed beneath a huge black cloud near the mark, and suddenly, instead of continuing to romp along at 20 knots, she came to a grinding halt. Shockwave caught them up and hung on for the last 100 miles to take the overall win on corrected time.
The big boat duel had played out to a fascinating finale but that was not the only battle on the course. Two magnificent schooners, Adela and Athos, fought each other mile after mile.
“A 600 mile match race between two schooners, it doesn’t get better than that,” smiled Adela’s skipper Greg Perkins. “Athos has really upped their game since last year and they are quicker downwind, so the lead was swapping around a lot, maybe six times during the race. At Redonda we were level and we only pulled away on the beat to the finish. I am really proud of the boys on Adela, who put in something like 50 plus flawless sail changes.”
Piet Vroon’s Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, won IRC One and the oldest skipper in the race recounted his close encounters with Adela. “For most of the first half of the race, we were in close contact with the schooners. I imagine we must have been a bit of a nuisance,” smiled Piet.
IRC Two was won by Peter Sowery’s First 40, Lancelot II, with Vendee Globe sailor Alex Thomson on board. “That was far harder than racing an IMOCA 60,” admitted Thomson after the race. “I really enjoyed the race, but not Guadeloupe. It is pretty tough in the little boats, as we tend to get there at night with no wind inshore and going offshore is a long detour, so the bigger, quicker yachts will always have the advantage. However, the 600 is a great event with a great party atmosphere before and after the race.”
For full results and more, visit: www.caribbean600.rorc.org