Sue Pelling joins Team ABN AMRO One during the fourth day's racing at Antigua Sailing Week 3/5/07

With the easterly Trades continuing to blow in from the Atlantic and temperatures in the 30s, I couldn’t have picked a better day today to join Mike Sanderson and team aboard the VO70 ABN AMRO One for the fourth day’s racing at Stanford Antigua Sailing Week.

An early start following yesterday’s lay day activities and the event’s 40th anniversary party at Shirley Heights was a tough one this morning but the excitement of stepping aboard the big black boat at Falmouth Harbour was an instant wake up tonic.

The 15-strong, all-star racing team aboard ‘Black Betty’ this week for Antigua Sailing Week includes Sanderson on the helm, Mike Quilter at the nav station, Brad Jackson on tactics and Justin Slatery on the bow. So with about 25 per cent of the team from the core VOR winning team I knew I was in safe hands for my blast round the cans for the South Coast Race.

The wind started to build as we headed off on a training beat out to the east so all was looking good for an exciting ride ahead. Back at the start area with 20 minutes to go, just off the eastern point of the entrance to Falmouth Harbour, the traffic was building and Sanderson’s skill of weaving his way through the rest of Division A fleet was truly impressive.

Even at ‘rest’ this 70ft racing machine gallops around with boatspeed well up in the teens so judging the speed to the line without facing a major pile up takes incredible skill. Fortunately with top man Justin Slatery on the bow calling the distance to the line there was never any moments of doubt.
As the start gun went, we hit the line, fully powered up, in relatively clear air towards the pin-end of the line, which was quite unbelievable given the relatively short line. No shouting, not even any raised voices as the team worked like a machine squeezing out every millimeter of speed.

Not so fortunate on the startline today was Team Pindar – the VO60 – at the other end of the line who suffered when she was forced between the inner distance mark and the committee boat and had to extract herself from the mess before she could start the race.

Meanwhile Team ABN AMRO was piling on the power and within minutes of the start was able to build up enough distance to cross the group of Swan 601s and Titan 12, happily on port. That was the last we saw of them.

Taking a couple of shifts off the shoreline we made great pace upwind. With the canting keel cranked up to windward the bulb torpedoing through the azure blue water we made a steady 12-14kts of boatspeed upwind and not surprisingly led all the way up the five-mile first leg to the windward mark. We covered the distance in no time at all and before we knew it we were bearing off for the ride of out lives downwind. Out popped the whacking big A4 asymmetric kite and staysail, up came the daggerboards, and we were off powering downwind, accelerating down the back of the sizeable waves built up from the big winds of the last few days.

It was difficult to judge the speed at first but once we started overtaking some of the slightly smaller 50-60 footers from previous starts it all became clear just how fast we were moving. Flying downwind doing nearly 20kts in 20kts of breeze may have been tame for the likes of Sanderson who’s more used to Southern Ocean speeds of 40 kts but for me it was an amazing experience. Sitting on the rail in 30 degress and in the tame conditions as we had today one can’t help trying to visualize just how mind-blowing it would be to experience the 42.6kts that Sanderson said he topped when he was down south in the pitch black of the icy, Southern Ocean, and not for just a couple of hours but for days on end – unbelievable.

Back concentrating once again on my sitting out skills I was then summons to help Mikey Howard on the grinding pedestal on kite trim. Poor Mike, I sure my feeble efforts couldn’t have made any difference but it felt like I was helping anyway.

We made a series of gybes on the five/six-mile downwind sleigh ride and crossed the finish line off Curtain Bluff – to the west of Falmouth Harbour – well over six minutes ahead of Tom and Dotty Hill’s 70ft maxi which means we should have won on corrected time too.

ABN AMRO One’s Caribbean season success – leading the Caribbean Big Boat Series after two of three events – has continued throughout this regatta. She’s won most of Division A Racing 1 class races this week including the Yachting World Round the Island Race and is set to continue her domination in the event’s last two races.

Interestingly this is one of the final regattas for some of the crew aboard ABN AMRO. When the boat finishes this regatta she’ll be shipped immediately from Tortola in the BVIs back to Europe. And within six weeks she’ll be handed over to her new owners – Team Ericsson – who’ll be using her as trainer for their forthcoming VOR campaign while their new Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed VO70 is being built.

Click here for Stanford Antigua Sailing Week results.