Down with the rain but up with Open 60 sailing. Sue Pelling joins Pindar Alphagraphics in Antigua 1/5/06

Global warming? Maybe there is some truth in the theory if today’s weather at Rolex Antigua Sailing Week is anything to go by. Torrential rain for most of last night and today may be good for the banana tree plantations but for the competitors sailing here at Antigua Sailing Week it’s starting to lose its novelty value.

Worse still rain squalls that constantly appear on the horizon generally kill the wind and result in massive shifts which turn the fleets upside down. And for the Division A fleets that were sailing windward/leeward courses further offshore there was even more bad news with the abandonment of racing for the day, halfway through the first race.

For me however, lucky enough to be invited aboard Open 60 Pindar Alphagraphics for the day, I had a fantastic time, and despite the rain, windshifts windholes and eventual abandonment of the racing I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Afterall it’s not every day one gets the opportunity to race an Open 60 with some of the world’s talented racing sailors including the likes of Open 60 sailors Alex Thomson,
Brian Thompson, yacht designer Simon Rogers, Nick Crabtree from North Sails Auckland, Liz Rushall, Olli Smith and Nick Black.

Black who usually looks after the boat as captain has been given the chance to take the helm this week and despite having Thomson and Thompson on board calling the shots, appeared fairly relaxed about the situation. I, on the other hand, was feeling far from relaxed as I was given the job joining Bill as one of the chief grinders for the day.

I don’t think that Brian Thompson realised he’d chosen possibly the most unfit member of the crew to take charge of this most gruelling of jobs. I thought I’d probably get ‘sacked’ from the job within two minutes once they’d found out how feeble I was so I decided I’d really put my back into it and enjoy it while it lasted. Fortunately (or possibly unfortunately) Bill did a good job of covering up my average performance and I managed to keep my job for the duration of the short-but-sweet race.

Sailing on an Open 60 is quite unique and possibly one of the most rewarding big boats I’ve ever had the experience to race on. By nature of its singlehanded concept the systems are incredibly well sorted with most of the major controls led aft to the big, open but secure-feeling cockpit, but it’s still difficult to contemplate how the likes of Alex Thomson can race these boats solo particularly considering we had 14 crewmembers on board today, all working hard. “Actually,” said Thomson, “It’s not very efficient having all these people on board the cockpit’s not set up for it and we all get in each others’ way? sometimes it’s quicker on your own.”

Trying not to feel too insignificant I concentrated on the job in hand and even helped out with moving the canting keel around (well pressing a button) and assisting with shifting the massive sails around, something I really cannot comprehend how you would tackle alone.

But the piece de resistance of today’s race aboard Pindar Alphagraphics had to be my stint at the helm in the best breeze of the day, after the racing. At 15kts of breeze she really started to wind up and by cracking off a fraction from close-hauled it was amazing how the speed instantly increased from 7 to 11kts within seconds. What she’s like to sail in a big breeze with the kite up I can only imagine but judging by the lightness of the helm and how instantly responsive she was, I can totally understand why the people who sail these boats are so passionate about them.

Back safely on our mooring off Jolly Harbour the Pindar crew water taxi was ready and waiting to ship us back to shore. Fortunately the rain had temporarily stopped and the Caribbean sun had broken through the fairly evil-looking sky giving everyone the chance to enjoy the Caribbean party delights of Jolly Harbour.

With no racing within Division A completed today, the results are as they stand from yesterday with the TP52 Rosebud leading Titan12, the Farr 60 Numbers, Pindar Volvo 60, and Pindar Alphagraphics currently trailing the fleet.