40 Degrees leads the charge
At dawn on the third day of racing in the RORC Caribbean 600, the three Class40s are heading south, upwind, towards Guadeloupe with the tactical options opening up and the trio separated by 25 miles as 40 Degrees keeps the lead at the halfway point.
Having rounded the southern tip of Nevis pre-dawn on Tuesday, the Class40s gybed north-west towards the island of Saba with the Irish duo Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling racing with Miranda Merron and John Patrick Cunningham on 40 Degrees leaving Saba to starboard at 11:00 GMT as the leading monohull, Karl Kwok’s Farr-designed 80 footer Beau Geste rounded St Maarten – the northern turning mark in the race - 66 miles further up the race track.
“We continued our downwind run to Saba, arriving just after dawn, and rounded quite close to the spectacular, steep-sided island,” reports Merron this morning. “The peak, Mount Scenery, is over 900 metres high, which creates quite a wind shadow. We were allowed to pass without slowing down too much,” she adds.
“The next leg to St Barts was a fast reach,” continues Merron. “Once past the southeast corner, we were treated to some exhilarating downwind sailing with the wind gusting to 25 knots from time to time, flying along at 15 knots.”
As 40 Degrees set off northeast on a starboard reach to the southern tip of St Barts with Boyd and his crew harassing the two Farr 65 sisterships Spirit of Isis and Spirit of Minerva, Joe Harris and Ocean Warrior rounded Saba just under one hour behind 40 Degrees with the two Class40s separated by approximately four miles. Harris and his team were followed closely round the mark by Willy Bissainte and his crew on Class40 Tradition Guadeloupe with the Beneteau 47.7, Caspian Services and J/122 Catapult in pursuit. “We’re currently match racing the Pogo [Tradition Guadeloupe] who has been 20 metres from our hip for last two hours,” commented Josh Hall at midday yesterday.
By mid-afternoon GMT, 40 Degrees was around Grande Pointe, the south-eastern tip of St. Barts, with a lead of three miles over Willy Bissainte on Tradition Guadeloupe and four miles over Joe Harris and Ocean Warrior. By 16:30 GMT, after 24 hours and around 200 miles of racing, all three boats entered Saint-Barthélemy Channel. “We are four miles behind 40 Degrees, running up the west side of St. Maarten,” confirmed Hall as the boat’s tracker briefly began transmitting confusing data. “We held the huge kite tight-ish, reaching for the 30 mile run from St. Barts to St. Maarten, but someone moved the island left at the last minute,” he explains. “So we did a slick down-spinnaker-unroll-headsail, dog it to weather for 20 minutes, then re-hoist.” The team on Ocean Warrior are very pleased with the manoeuvre. “Ellison has been following us and emails constantly with AC job offers, but does not seem to understand that we are easy, but not cheap!”
As 40 Degrees headed along the west coast of St. Maarten, sailing along the Dutch section of the island between Point Blanche and Mullet Bay, Boyd and his crew overhauled the Farr 65, Spirit of Isis before turning right at 13:30 GMT, leaving Point du Plum at the north-western tip of St Maarten to starboard. Sailing along the island’s northern coast, 40 Degrees claimed another scalp, briefly overtaking Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy’s Swan 56, Noonmark VI and completing the S-shaped slalom around St. Barts and St. Maarten before the long leg south to Guadeloupe.
With the tactically constricted course through the islands behind them, the route south to Guadeloupe and southerly headwinds opened up the options. All three Class40s initially remained on starboard heading east with Boyd, Dowling and the crew on 40 Degrees tacking onto port at 18:00 GMT to find some west and cross closer to the direct route south to Guadeloupe and line up for a good entry into the 48km gap between Montserrat and Antigua before tacking back onto starboard. Shortly before midnight GMT, Willy Bissainte on Tradition Guadeloupe followed the manoeuvre while Harris, Hall, Kleinjans and Van der Wel on Ocean Warrior remained on starboard until 07:00 GMT this morning, tacking onto port north of Antigua, shadowed by the Farr 65, Spirit of Juno, three miles astern.
In the 10:00 GMT RORC Caribbean 600 position poll this morning, 40 Degrees is currently due south of Antigua, leading Ocean Warrior by 20 miles with Tradition Guadeloupe trailing five miles behind Joe Harris and his team. “We are now about half way, and the wind has gone into the southwest, so our course to Guadeloupe is quite respectable at the moment,” confirmed Merron earlier today as Boyd and his crew make the highest average SOG of the Class40 trio at 8.3 knots. “However, the wind has dropped, which is hampering progress as the boat slams gently into the oncoming waves,” she reports. “We must also avoid the wind shadow and volcanic ash of Montserrat.
With 300 miles of racing remaining and fatigue becoming a factor, the competition within the Class40 trio is still intense as the breeze is forecast to become increasingly light throughout today. The third generation, 2009 Owen Clarke Design 40 Degrees gives the 2007-vintage Express 40 Ocean Warrior around one hour every 24 hours under IRC handicap and both yachts give Bissainte’s Pogo Tradition Guadeloupe time. Consequently, the closing stages of the RORC Caribbean 600 are going to be tight.