Jostling for the best position on the start line in a 70ft Swan with the likes of Titan the 70ft sled, Pyewacket and the rest of the big boat racing class during Antigua Race Week storming in from all directions, the words nerves of steel, immediately came to mind. But for the super-cool professional race team aboard new Swan 70, Serano of London, it was just ‘another day at the office’.
With the fickle north-easterly winds skitting around all over the place in the starting area off the coast at Jolly Harbour, it was important to make the use the shifts, go for clear air and keep close to Pyewacket for as long as possible before she did her usual job of hitting the horizon. Every bit of time gained on her in the early stages was crucial for our overall result.
With Hugh Welbourn navigating and Ossie Stewart calling the shots, we had a good start in reasonably clear air and managed to get ahead of Titan (which had to beat us by about one and a half minutes on the length of the race). Having gone for the big bear away round the windward mark, we hoisted the lightweight spinnaker and took some good angles on the run to the next turning mark. Titan, designed for downwind sleigh rides, revelled in the early run and, also taking some good shifts, managed to pull out on us at this stage. Our course was basically a long downwind drag taking us along the western side of the island to English Harbour in the south, passing outside a series of buoys keeping us outside the reefs.
As we headed further south round the bottom of the island, the breeze filled in and Titan started to slip away from us. We managed to keep her in our sites but at one stage she was probably ahead of us on corrected time. We made up a lot of ground on the southern turning mark at Curtains off the south-west corner of the island and, by holding up high, we peeled to a three quarter ounce heavier reaching spinnaker and managed to make a big gain when several of the other boats around us went low and had to drop their kites. The race for us really started at the Curtains mark. Because of the Trade Winds blowing from a north-easterly direction, there’s always a bit of west-going wind generated current of about .3 of a knot. With this in mind, it was crucial to get inshore as close to the reef as soon as possible and take advantage of the slacker water in the shallows and the advantageous windshifts off the land.
So, with a combination of reef dodging and weaving our way through the slower classes, life on board became very interesting. But cool, calm and collected as they were, Team Serano, came out smelling of roses, even managing to catch up Titan in the process. Knowing we had an advantage over Titan, the downwind sled, we managed to engage ourselves in a close tacking battle all the way along the bottom of the coast and managed to get her in to a lee-bow situation and power over her. Having crossed the entrance to English Harbour, we rounded the last mark, bore off and engaged ourselves in a final run battle with Titan . We cross gybes at one stage and, in a very close finish, beat her by no more than a metre and, on corrected time, also beat Pyewacket.
So, it just goes to prove that despite being a cruiser/racer, the Swan 70 is capable – with a tip-top crew – to really give the likes of out-and-out racers such as Pyewacket and Titan a good run for their money. In racing mode, Serano’s cruising interior is completely stripped out giving masses of space below for sails. However, being primarily designed for cruising, the deck layout isn’t as ergonomic and useful as it could be for racing. And while the main sail controls such as the sheets, and halyards are led down to winches, the important controls such as the outhaul, cunningham, backstay and vang are all controlled by hydraulics which tend to be far too slow and ineffective when a quick response is needed.