The second edition of the RORC Caribbean 600, hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club, attracted crews from over 20 countries worldwide. The Antiguan Government recognised the importance of the event. Honourable John Maginley, Minister of Tourism, and the Honourable Howard Lovell, Minister of Finance for Antigua and Barbuda, were present at the welcome party sponsored by Lee Overlay Partners.
Clear blue skies and crystal clear ocean typify the Caribbean and the competitors in the RORC Caribbean 600 were treated to some superb champagne sailing conditions, as they started the only offshore race in these waters. At the start, there wasn't a foul weather jacket in sight as the fleet sailed upwind into a warm easterly breeze of 12-15 knots.
Huge swathes of spectators gathered on Shirley Heights and Fort Charlotte to witness the start of the RORC Caribbean 600. The first boats crossed the start line for the 605 mile race on 22nd February at 12:30 local time, to start an adventure that would take them around 14 Caribbean islands, in what is regarded as probably the finest sailor's play ground.
The RORC Racing Manager, Ian Loffhagen, got all classes away without incident and the big boat start was extremely competitive with several boats timing their approach close to perfection.
As the sun set over the Caribbean, the competitors in the RORC Caribbean 600 were preparing for their first night at sea. The leading boats had rounded the North Sails mark off Barbuda and were power reaching west towards the sunset under spinnaker. The ORMA 60 trimaran Region Guadeloupe was in pole position, setting an incredible pace as navigator Nick Lykiardopulo reported. "We are blasting through the water to Nevis, the speedo has barely dropped below 22 knots since we left Barbuda."
Karl Kwok’s Farr 80 Beau Geste was launched, screaming along at over 20 knots and behind them skirmishes had developed throughout the fleet. Danilo Salsi’s Swan 90 DSK Pioneer Investments and Jim Grundy’s Reichel Pugh 75 Bella Pita were in a close quarters confrontation. Richard Oland’s Southern Cross 52 Vela Veloce was in a fight with two Cookson 50s, the reigning RORC Caribbean 600 champion, Lee Overlay Partners and Ron O’Hanley’s Privateer and the three Farr 65s chartered by Ondeck were having their own private battle.
By the morning of the second day, the wind direction had changed to southerly and windless spots were appearing all over the race course. Highly unusual for the region. The longest leg of the course from St.Maarten to Guadeloupe had become a beat. Region Guadeloupe chose to go out far to the west, 90 miles off the rhumb line and did gain by doing so. Beau Geste’s crew hit the rail for 18 hours, for a 120 mile slog upwind. Region Guadeloupe came in on a sweet angle to round Guadeloupe and the nimble trimaran managed to sneak through the wind shadow and out of the other side. Beau Geste, on the other hand, stalled in the wind shadow at Les Saints and it was an agonising five hours before they could get going as navigator, Tom Addis explained; “It was very hard to deal with the corner at Les Saints - very few options of how to attack it other than close your eyes, plunge in and wiggle through as best you can with a rough sketch of what you think is happening with the breeze in the back of your head to make it easier to make the decisions as they thrust themselves upon you.”
Les Saints proved to be a nemesis for many boats that were caught in the wind shadow from the high mountains of Guadeloupe, the bigger boats managed to get through but the breeze was really beginning to tail off and the smaller boats became trapped. Marc Glimcher’s J/122 Catapult had been sailing a very intelligent race and were leading on handicap when the breeze died out and one of the smallest boats in the race, Richard Bamford’s Swan 38 Dolfijn led the rankings for nearly 24 hours before they too succumbed.
Although Claude Thelier & John Burnie's Region Guadeloupe had slowed, the flat water suited the trimaran but nonetheless, they were unable to break the course record first to finish, crossing the line on Wednesday 24 February at 18:49:03 clocking an elapsed time of 2 days 5 hours 59 minutes and 3 seconds.
Just a few hours later Beau Geste claimed monohull line honours with an elapsed time of 2 days 11 hours and 13 seconds. This was the first time Karl Kwok has sailed in the Caribbean and by the smile on his face it won't be the last. "I really enjoyed it, great sailing except for the long beat to Guadeloupe which meant we had no chance of beating Leopard's record but this is a great race and well run by the Royal Ocean Racing Club," he said on arrival.
Helmsman Gavin Brady was very impressed with the event. "This race has something for everyone, certainly a race course where you have to concentrate all the time. I sailed in shorts and T-shirt the whole race, even though the wind strength got up to 20 knots. That's something you don't say very often after a 600 mile classic."
Danilo Salsi's DSK Pioneer Investments finished the RORC Caribbean 600 on 25th February 2010 at 11:25:41. The magnificent Swan 90 was the second monohull home, and in the light conditions they were never going to beat Beau Geste to Antigua. "It was more Mediterranean than Caribbean," commented Danilo Salsi, "because the wind was much lighter and the wind shadow effects are something that we have to deal with in the Mediterranean. It has been completely different to last year but we have enjoyed it as much. The 2nd RORC Caribbean 600 has been just as challenging, but in a very different way."
Back on the racecourse the other competitors were struggling for breeze. BLESMA stands for British Limbless Ex Service Men's Association and 15 members of BLESMA were crew on board Ondeck's Farr 65, Spirit of Juno. A key goal for BLESMA involves amputee helping amputee and sailing big boats is all about teamwork. Competing as a unit, sharing the burden, makes the difficult task of racing over 600 miles achievable. However the heavy displacement Farr 65 was in irons. The breeze virtually shut down, right across the racecourse, causing many yachts to retire. ‘H’ one of the BLESMA crew described the scene on board Spirit of Juno.“ The skipper went to every guy, everybody had their say but when he turned the engine on, it was a sickening feeling. We just ran out of time and needed to get back for flights home. We will be back for sure, The RORC Caribbean 600 is unfinished business.”
The prizegiving, held on Friday 26 February, was well attended and the undisputed star of the show was Karl Kwok. His Farr 80 Beau Geste picked up the monohull line honours trophy, Class Super Zero trophy and the RORC Caribbean 600 trophy for best yacht overall in IRC.
"I have never cleaned up as well before so it feels really good," said Kwok with a smile, upon hearing the news. "There may have been a lack of wind but we kept on going all the time and when the wind was with us we had flat water and some fantastic sailing. Beau Geste has a great spirit. Friendship is very important to me, we choose the best sailors but also the right people. I have to say a big thank you to Gavin Brady and the two watch captains, Jonno Swain and David Endean but all of the crew did a great job. Beau Geste races all over the world and I would like to invite all of the competitors we come across to do this race. The sailing is as good as can be and I have enjoyed it immensely."
Due to the highly unusual weather conditions, there were many yachts that had to retire however, one yacht refused to throw in the towel and defiantly stayed at sea. On 28 February, having spent six nights at sea, Willy Bessaint and Benoit Reffe’s Class 40, Tradition Guadeloupe were rightly proud as they crossed the finish line in the early hours.
They could have gone unnoticed, but that is not the way of the RORC Caribbean 600. A large contingent greeted Tradition Gaudeloupe including Elizabeth Jordan, Commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club and Ian Loffhagen, RORC Racing manager. Every yacht competing in the RORC Caribbean 600 was welcomed back to Antigua, regardless of the time. Jonathon Cornelius and his ABSAR team was on call day and night through out the race and piloted every yacht into Falmouth Bay.
“We were never going to retire,” said Willy Bessaint dockside. “The RORC Caribbean 600 is a big part of my training for the Route de Rhum, which I will be racing solo, later in the year. We always had at least a little wind, we kept going all of the time. It was great to have such a reception from the Antigua Yacht Club and the RORC. We will only be staying for a short while though, we must go back to work in Guadeloupe in just a few hours.”
Will Bessaint and his co-skipper Benoit Reffe picked up the Concise Trophy for the best Class 40 and the class trophy for IRC Zero. After a quick shower, the two sailors who defied the unusual weather, set sail for home.The last yacht in the 2010 RORC Caribbean 600 was finally accounted for.
IRC Overall results here