Peter Harrison’s Sojana got close to her Antigua round the island race record but aboard Jan Rupert’s Blackbird we had issues right from the start

Peter Harrison carried off the Yachting World Trophy for the
fastest elapsed time in a monohull for the Yachting World Round Antigua Race
for the second year running and in doing so got within 13 minutes of his record
for the 55-mile sprint of 4h 37min and 43sec. This year Sojana got round in 4h
50min 46sec despite having to recover a man overboard in feisty 25-knot trade

Although 38 yachts were slated to start this shake down race
for Antigua Sailing Week, only 21 finished due mainly to the conditions which
off English Harbour were lumpy.

Aboard Jan Rupert’s 75ft Bill Tripp designed Blackbird
everything looked set for a crack at beating Sojana. Mike Reardon, who runs the
yacht for Rupert, delivered one of the best safety and race plan briefings I’ve
heard for some time and one got the feeling we had the boat and the crew to do
the job despite not having sailed together as a team. Jan and his two sons ‘JP’
and Francois were on a mission before taking Blackbird to the US for a refit.

Blackbird is described as a performance cruiser but she is
tricked up with some tasty Evolution string sails, batteries of push button
hydraulic winches and a ‘brains trust’ to make it all work. “Keep your hands
off the winches,” warned Reardon, 
“they’re can openers for human body parts,” a graphic phrase which
certainly concentrated the mind.

Bowman Adam Davis, fresh from performing ‘point’ on the
monster ketch Hetairos was running the foredeck and Scott Gibbs from Evolution
was tending the inventory.

But before we got to the start we had issues with both
headsails as Blackbird drove in to the swell. She’s a relatively narrow boat
and fairly hacks it upwind but at 10 knots she came off some of the big waves
with a thump.

First the number 2 jib pulled out of the luff groove at the
head. With that on the deck the number 3 went up and looked the better sail for
the conditions although this was fitted with vertical battens as it was
designed to furl. About 30 minutes before the start this too jumped the groove
at the head and was dropped and re-hoisted, this time followed by Adam Davis
who went to the masthead and lashed the head to the foil.

At our start under the Pillars of Hercules cliffs just off
English Harbour Jan Rupert put us at the leeward end, out of the worst of the
adverse stream and just beneath Sojana – a goodish start which forced the 115ft
ketch to tack away onto port.

We followed suit when it looked clear that Sojana was faster
but not necessarily sailing as high.

We settled down for the beat to the eastern end of the
island when we were all looking forward to letting rip and enjoying a
sleighride in the sun along Antigua’s northern flank, hopefully riding Sojana’s
stern wave.

But then it all went horribly wrong. Once we’d crossed
Sojana’s track and cleared her ‘exhaust’ we tacked onto starboard. Blackbird
has a square head or ‘fathead’ mainsail with a stiff carbon fibre batten
holding the shape at the top of the sail. As we went through the tack the new
weather runner had flopped to leeward of the batten and snagged. Down on the
deck the runner trimmer wound on (hydraulically) with the runner on the wrong
side of the sail.

The worst then happened, the runner, in effect,
cheese-wiring through the top of the main. For those of us on the rail the deep
mechanical thud of something nasty happening had us all looking up at the torn
ragged head. Game over.

“It’s made me all the more determined to get this fixed and
do better tomorrow,” said a defiant Jan Rupert as we returned to the dock for
an early lunch and the prize giving activities in the evening. The sail was,
indeed, back on the boat before the day was out and as I write this Blackbird
has just left for race one of 2012
Antigua Sailing Week. I wish her the very best of luck!

Full picture gallery from onboard Blackbird here.

Photos courtesy Ted Martin/ Tim Wright/ YW

Read the full race report at the Yachting World Antigua Sailing Week homepage

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