The RORC’s new 600 mile classic starts on Monday, Matthew Sheahan reports from Antigua

After a week where negotiating the pontoons in Antigua’s Falmouth harbour meant threading through mini mountains of tools, ropes, sails and repair kit to get to your boat, the dockside clutter has now become one of crates of food and drinks as the hours count down to the start of the race.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Caribbean 600 looks set to become a classic offshore race. This year is the third that the club has run the event and sees the entry list up from 24 to 34 boats. While this is a long way from the Fastnet race that has 300 entries (and apparently 100 on the waiting list), there is still a real buzz around the dockside.

Within this small fleet there is a surprisingly broad range of sailors from fully paid up pros, to completely amateur teams. Many have sailed their boats over 1,000 miles to take part, others have flown in to hitch or rent a ride aboard boats that range from super maxis to standard production cruiser/racers.

The weather has been the biggest talking point all week and has intensified during the last 12 hours. At present the word is that the first day at least could be a brisk affair with 20-25 knot winds and a lumpy sea state towards the top of the course off St Marten.

Another topic of conversation is that of the complexity of the course where the number of legs that require major sail changes means that there seems little point in banking on the watch system that’s been pinned up on each boat’s saloon bulkhead – sleep is unlikely for the first half of the race.

Among the fleet, Mike Slade’s Leopard will be looking to better the course record that she currently holds, but it won’t be as simple as that. This year she’ll have the 100ft Rambler (ex Speedboat) breathing down her neck. She’ll also have the canting keeler Genuine Risk on her case. Although 20ft shorter, this Dubois designed, skinny, lightweight flyer put on an impressive display recently winning the Pineapple Cup and beating Rambler on handicap.

Another boat that has been attracting attention will be Brian Benjamin’s new Rogers 82 Aegir. (I shall be aboard this boat for the race and be reporting back as we thread our way around the course). Designed as a performance cruiser racer this will be her first competitive outing. So far during sailing trails in the light sub 10 knits breezes, we’ve been able to exceed the true wind speed by about a knot on all points of sail other than upwind. Even then we’ve still been able to match it. She’s also expected to be very slippery downhill in a breeze.

Elsewhere, the fleet is a fascinating mix from two Cookson 50s, seven Class 40s, a pair of Beneteau 40.7s and even a Mumm 36 as examples. The most prestigious, and surely the most elegant, boat in the fleet is the 155ft schooner Windrose. Chartered by RORC Commodore Andrew McIrvine for the race, 600 miles will surely be far too short to enjoy the kind of luxury few of us have ever experienced in a hotel let alone afloat.

The first class start is at 11.30am local. You can follow our progress aboard Aegir here on the YW site as well as following the progress of the fleet on the RORC’s brand new online tracker.