Two and half days and 600 miles, Matthew Sheahan reports after finishing the race
For all but the professional offshore sailors, the two and a half days that it took us to complete the 600 mile course felt more like four.
Hoisting, dropping, packing, humping and generally managing our sail wardrobe dominated our race. Selecting the right sail combination for each of the 13 legs of this 600 mile course is a task in itself, but the physical effort required to move, hoist and pack each one puts a big demand on the crew.
On top of this, there are the huge and potentially debilitating wind shadows in the lee of the many islands to consider which frequently adds to the number of sail changes that are required. In theory our watch system of two hours on, two standby (spent on deck) and two off, should have provided ample opportunity to slip into a comfortable routine, yet with so many corners to turn and just six berths for the 19 crew, we frequently found ourselves welded to the weather rail.
The Caribbean 600 is all about crew work and navigation and is a demanding race.
Sailing aboard Brain Benjamin’s new Rogers 82, Aegir, was also a revealing experience. Designed as a sophisticated cruiser with racing potential, this was her first competitive outing. With complex hydraulic systems for the winches and a generously canvassed and high tech sail plan, there was plenty of scope for things to break down. Yet despite some problems during the race including breaking the mainsheet and leaks in the hydraulics, we were the fourth boat to cross the finish line taking third in class and seventh overall.
She did however, have a helping hand from a crew list that included several experienced Volvo crew and other sailing rock stars. Ian Moore was our navigator, Andy Beadsworth and Steve Benjamin among the helmsmen Guy Barron as crew boss and ‘Shredda’ Duke as the boat captain.
As far as the trip itself was concerned, the wind was a steady 20-25knots for virtually the entire race. Our boat speed was rarely in single figures and most frequently hovered between 12-15knots for the reaches, (of which there were many) and up to 19 knots on the downwind legs.
Keeping us on our toes throughout, the 66foot Gunboat catamaran proved how potent she is on a reach. Unfortunately for her and her crew, her two hulls were no match for a performance minded 80ft monohull when it came to the upwind legs and we were able to haul her back each time.
In the end we finished at around 7pm local and were greeted by the organisers with crates of free cold beer and invited up to the Antigua Yacht. Here the club bar stays open 24 hours a day with music and a BBQ until the last boat has finished. It doesn’t take much to imagine the scene and as we discovered last night, is almost impossible to leave with new finishers arriving every time you plan to leave.
Antigua is buzzing and looks likely to continue right up to the prize giving on Friday. The sleep deprivation of the Caribbean 600 isn’t quite over just yet.
Matthew Sheahan will be reporting in full on the Caribbean 600 and his experience aboard Aegir in the May issue of YW