Despite its attraction to cruising and racing yachtsmen for many years, the Caribbean has never had an official offshore race. Now the RORC Caribbean 600 is providing a warmer alternative to the Fastnet or Sydney-Hobart. Louay Habib reports
At 605 miles, it’s the same length as the Fastnet Race and only a shade shorter than the Sydney-Hobart Race, but conditions couldn’t be more different. The RORC Caribbean 600 starts and finishes off English Harbour, Antigua, and the fleet races past some of the most spectacular scenery in the Caribbean. The inaugural event was held in February 2009 and it looks set to become a modern classic.
The Caribbean is without doubt one of the finest places to sail in the world, the warm tradewinds providing consistent breeze and the myriad islands offering an enchanting backdrop, so it is surprising that, although the Caribbean has been popular with cruising and racing sailors for generations, there has never been any official offshore race until now.
In all, 14 islands are featured along the route – Antigua, Green Island, Barbuda, St Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St Maartin, St Barths, Tintamarre, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Les Saints, Les Desirade and Redonda. To put this race track into perspective, it covers more sailing grounds than most Caribbean veterans have seen in a lifetime.
This is the ultimate sailor’s playground and, apart from two short beats, fast downwind conditions are almost guaranteed for most of the course, day and night. The 2009 event saw an average wind speed of 17 knots gusting up to 25 knots and yachts were often surfing down 4m waves.
Mike Slade’s 100ft maxi ICAP Leopard came to Antigua with a clear target, to set a monohull record for a new offshore race. They took 44h 5m 14s to complete the course, 13 minutes less than they took to the break the Rolex Fastnet record in 2007.
“A fantastic yacht race,” commented ICAP Leopard’s boat captain Chris Sherlock. “High speed sailing in warm conditions. We will be back next year and will look to take some time off the record.”
John Burnie’s ORMA 60 trimaran, Région Guadeloupe, set the time to beat for the multihulls, winning the class in an elapsed time of 40h 11m 5s. Burnie, one of the founders of the race, said: “We knew it would be a challenge and we certainly got one. Hurtling around the Caribbean at night at over 20 knots with nothing to hang onto is not for the faint-hearted.”
Adrian Lee’s Irish Cookson 50, Lee Overlay Partners, set a cracking pace around the track, beating ICAP Leopard by over an hour on corrected time, winning IRC Class Super Zero Canting Keel and the prize of overall winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 under IRC.
Eddie Warden Owen, chief executive of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, commented: “The RORC Caribbean 600 is a demanding race, in many respects. It is an exciting race with lots of corners, marks, reefs, rocks and island wind shadows to navigate. There really isn’t another race like this, anywhere in the world. The conditions are absolutely fantastic and the sailing as good as you can get.”
The overwhelming response from the competitors was that the RORC Caribbean 600 was a great success, on and off the water. The Antigua Yacht Club did a great job, every boat got a dockside welcome and the club was open day and night for the competitors and the prizegiving was a real night to remember. Warden Owen maintained: “We are expecting at least double the number of boats next year.”
The 2010 event will start on 22 February and Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard will be back to defend her record. Also expected are Niklas Zennstrom’s JV 72 Ran, Tom Hill’s RP 75 Titan 15, Karl Kowk’s Farr 80 Beau Geste, Danilo Salsi’s Swan 90, DSK Pioneer, Patrizio Bertelli’s STP 65 Luna Rossa, Roger Sturgeon’s Rosebud, Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63 Loki, Adrian Lee’s Lee Overlay Partners and Ronald O’Hanley’s similar-sized Privateer.
A large number of Class 40 yachts are also expected and strong participation is expected from the ARC fleet and yachts based in the Caribbean. RORC is looking into potential charter yachts in the region after a number of enquiries from would-be contestants. Swan and Oyster have indicated that they will be putting up trophies for the race.
Online entry and further details from www.rorc.org
More info on the 2009 event from http://caribbean600.rorc.org/