With two days to go until the start of the RORC's Caribbean 600, crews are busy at work making final preparations to their yachts, moored at Antigua Yacht Club.
Piet Vroon’s Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens, the RORC 2010 Yacht of the Year, arrived just before dusk on Friday. The delivery crew, all six of whom will also be racing, endured a 1,000 mile beat to Antigua from Jamaica: “This will be our fourth and final event in the Caribbean,” explained Vroon. “This is the first time that I have done this race and it is the main reason that we came to the Caribbean. All of my crew said that this is a race that they want to do and I am very much looking forward to it.”
Tonnerre is one of three boats that competed in the Pineapple Cup, the opening event of the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series alongside George David’s Rambler 100, Richard Oland’s Vela Veloce and Hugo Stenbeck’s Dubois 90 Genuine Risk the winner on corrected time. Vela Veloce, a Southern Wind 52, cleaned up in Key West race week in January.
Yachts representing 15 Nations have come to Antigua to compete in the 600-mile spectacular, but none have come as far as Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz. The canting-keel flyer arrived in Antigua on Friday, having made an epic journey by container ship and sail from Australia, following the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
“It’s been hard work getting the boat here from Australia, but we have done it, which just goes to show it is possible,” commented Boat Captain, Anthony Haines. Jazz’s journey started on 8 January from Sydney from where she was shipped to Savannah, Georgia. From there the delivery crew sailed 1,400 miles to get Jazz to Antigua in time for the start.
“Ever since the RORC conceived the idea of this race I have wanted to do it,” said Chris Bull on the dock in Antigua. “I am also keen to do the Transatlantic Race and try and win the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series which I think is an excellent initiative which the RORC are involved with.”
From Lithuania, the Volvo Ocean 60, Ambersail is making her debut in the Caribbean. Her crew includes veteran round the world sailor Magnus Olssen. Ambersail is well travelled, having competed in last year’s Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland and the Rolex Middle Sea Races.
Six Class 40s are expected, possibly more. Tony Lawson’s Concise and Gonzalo Botin are past and current Class 40 World Champions. Tony Lawson, owner of Concise expects a close duel with Botin's Tales: “There is no doubt that the Spanish team will be fast and possibly more suited to lighter conditions, but I am confident that the team on Concise will be fully focused and they are in control of a quick, well prepared boat.”
RORC Commodore, Andrew McIrvine will be on board the giant 154ft schooner, Windrose of Amsterdam. The crew has taken the magnificent yacht through its paces, spending two days practicing manoeuvres: “It is a very different kind of sailing to my First 40,” commented McIrvine. “The sheer size of the sails and equipment make for extremely physical work and manoeuvres are far more complex. Communication from front to back is only possible by hand signals. We had some good pressure during our practice session, which confirmed that Windrose is a powerful yacht, literally built for Caribbean sailing.”
Brian Benjamin’s Carbon Ocean 82 Aegir has been out testing sails and the crew, visiting the top part of the race course all night Friday. Night sailing makes up close to half the time during the race. Boat captain Shreda Duke confirmed that the exercise was very successful in bedding in the crew to their proposed watch-system. Aegir’s navigator for the race is Ian Moore on loan from Oracle Racing. Moore concurs with Hugh Agnew, ICAP Leopard’s navigator, the forecast of stable trade wind sailing, but added "the first key area of the race may well come as night falls. Aegir should be approaching Nevis at dusk and the first really tricky part of the course. The islands of Nevis and St Kitts are high, which will throw out quite a wind shadow through this area; there will be a lot of gear changes in between the lulls and puffs of acceleration. The big decision from a navigator’s point of view will be how far off the leeward side of these islands to go.”
In Falmouth Harbour, the air temperature is a balmy 27º C and a fair breeze is flowing in from the northeast, meaning that the trade winds are functioning, but it’s an ever-changing picture.
However all eyes will be on the battle for line honours between the 100ft supermaxis. ICAP Leopard set the monohull course record in 2009, completing the course in 44 hr 5 min 14 sec.
This year Slade will be joined by co-skipper Clarke Murphy from New York. Together they will lead a crew of experienced offshore talent, including top Volvo Ocean Race sailor and former Green Dragon bowman Freddie Shanks, Volvo Ocean Race and Ericsson 4 crewman Guy Salter on the bow and former Puma Ocean Racing watch leader, Rob Greenhalgh as tactician. Other notable members of the crew include former GBR America’s Cup sailor Ian Budgen and veteran navigator Hugh Agnew.
Speaking about the conditions expected during the race, Greenhalgh said: “The weather is quite changeable at the moment. The Caribbean has been experiencing an intensely dry season for the last few months and we have recently been experiencing severe squalls. These squalls produce intense rain combined with strong winds which, if used advantageously, will really boost our chances of beating our previous record.”
“The RORC Caribbean 600 is both physically and mentally challenging for all taking part” said skipper Mike Slade. “Weaving between the islands, we face varied winds and muddled seas which add to the excitement and challenge of the race. These testing conditions, coupled with the stunning scenery and beautiful weather, make this race one of my favorites in recent years. This year we face some stiff competition from other boats in the super-maxi class and the crew will have to be on top form, working speedily and precisely, to gain and maintain the lead. Fast and steady will win this race”
Mike Slade’s team believe that they could beat the record, although they may not be the first home. Favourite is George David’s Rambler 100, the former Speedboat. David has secured the assistance of Ken Read and some of Read's Puma Volvo Ocean Race crew. It is the first time that these two 100 foot canting keel maxi’s have raced each other with ICAP Leopard having taken an interesting strategy and dropped their rating considerably, in a bid to gain handicap honours.
34 boats are expected on the start line on February 21 February.