On the first night of the RORC Caribbean 600, there was virtually no letup in the phenomenal pace for the competing yachts. Warm Trade Winds gusting up to 28 knots was the norm. Downwind under spinnaker, the broad reach to the magical island of St. Kitts was spectacular as Andreas Hanakamp on board Class40, Vaquita, explained by satellite phone:
Bella Mente - 2013 RORC Caribbean 600
'Just amazing racing, all the crew were grinning from ear to ear as we blasted downwind with the sunset lighting up the spinnaker. It was so special, we decided to have a-la-carte dinner with each crewman choosing his favourite freeze dried dish, it was beef stroganoff for me. The racing is really close, Sensation did well at the North Sails mark, sailing higher but we got back at them after turning downwind. However, we have less righting moment than 40 Degrees, so I expect them to come back at us on the beat to St.Barths, we will just try and sail as fast as we can.'
Andreas' forecast was spot-on, Peter Harding's Class40, 40 Degrees has taken the lead with Vaquita back in second place.
Class40 Vaquita - 2013 RORC Caribbean 600
In the Multihull Class Lloyd Thornburg's Gunboat 66, Phaedo, threw the dice at about 2200 last night by taking a more northerly route than Peter Aschenbrenner's Paradox ahead of them. However, the move did not pay off with Paradox extending their lead. Paradox is now blast reaching south and has nearly made Montserrat. The volcanic island marks the halfway distance (in miles) for the course. Paradox completed 300 miles in 20 hours, which is on course for the multihull record set by ORMA 60 Region Guadeloupe in 2009 and never beaten.
Mike Slade's British Maxi, ICAP Leopard has, for now, lost sight of its imaginary prey. Leopard is now 30 miles behind Rambler 100's position in 2011. However all is not lost. Before the race, Leopard's navigator, Hugh Agnew predicted that this year's wind direction would slow them on the route south to Guadeloupe but the Palma Blue Maxi Leopard is still trucking along at a VMG of 15 knots. If they can maintain that pace, the record could still be broken.
Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50, Privateer, leads the IRC fleet overall but only just from Hap Fauth's JV72, Bella Mente. At 0700, Privateer was at the very top of the course, beating into 24 knots of easterly breeze. Soon they will clear St.Barths for the second time and launch downwind. Privateer has a fractional Code Zero and a Jib Top in their armoury, ideal sails for blast reaching.
In the Superyacht category Filip Balcaen's Belgian Baltic 112, Nilaya, leads on the water, having successfully negotiated the Anguilla Channel and is about to unfurl her downwind sails to head south at a rate on knots. Meanwhile, behind Nilaya, the two goliaths of the RORC Caribbean 600 have been enjoying a moonlight match race. Geert Pepping's 208ft schooner, Athos and the 180ft schooner Adela, skippered by Greg Perkins have been virtually side by side all of the first night. However, Adela seem to have won the sparring match having kept themselves to windward of Athos on the tricky beat up to St.Barths. However, Athos should have a distinct advantage when the two mighty schooners crack off south later today.
Close racing during the first night as the two majestic schooners Adela and Athos were virtually 'side by side' - 2013 RORC Caribbean 600
Hap Fauth's American JV72, Bella Mente, is currently leading IRC Zero and is very much in contention for the overall prize. The Mini Maxi World Champion is on a tight reach south and going extremely well. Although conditions are faster this year, it is impressive to note that Bella Mente are currently 60 miles ahead of the position of Niklas Zennström's JV72, Rán 2, when taking the overall win last year.
In IRC One Simon de Pietro's Irish Briand 76, Lilla, and Colin Buffin's British Swan 62, Uxorious IV, are still out in front. However Lilla made just one extra tack last night on the beat to Saba, which looks to have paid off giving Lilla a slender lead on the water and also class lead, after time correction.
In IRC Two reigning class champion, Oyster 48 Scarlet Logic, co-skippered by Ross Applebey and Tim Thubron, have opened up a three mile lead on the approach to St.Barths. The tough beat will have suited the vintage Oyster more than her close rival, Grand Soleil 43, Quokka LLYC.
Quokka LLYC (Lloyd's of London YC) and Scarlet Logic - 2013 RORC Caribbean 600
Several other yachts put in a great performance over night, notably Boyd, Cunningham and Dowling's First 40, Lancelot II. RORC Admiral, Andrew McIrvine, sailing Weir Kracken is having a great race, as is local hero Bernie Evan-Wong on High Tension. The Antiguan dentist turned 60 just before the race and is putting in a performance fit for a man half his age. In feisty conditions with one of the smallest yachts in the race, Bernie is punching well above his weight.
In IRC Three Jonty Layfield's British J/39, Sleeper, has opened up a ten mile lead on the water and leads after time correction, but Adrian Lower's Swan 44, Selene, and Valerio Bardi's Italian Swan 46, Milanto, are revelling in the tough conditions. They may be astern of Sleeper, but hard upwind conditions at the top of the course may well see the two heavy displacement Swans close the gap.
Adrian Lower: Swan 44, Selene: 'Morale is high and Selene is in good shape, our AIS tells us we are in touch with Quokka with mates from Lloyds of London Yacht Club on board with whom I did this race last year. Quokka is a fast, well-sailed boat who just beat us in the ARC, so we are pleased to be close to them.
There are a couple of other bigger boats still well in sight and we were close enough to enjoy the spectacle as the fleet gybed round North Sails mark off Barbuda and began the down wind leg to Nevis. We saw Adela and Athos bowling along under full sail looking magnificent as they ploughed through the fleet.'
'It feels a bit lonely now that they are all pushing on, but that is what we expect as the slowest boat in the fleet. Our mission is to stay as close as we can and at the moment our boat speed is very good. For now it is something of a procession and waterline length is key. We hope to manage the next important tactical phase which will be the beat from Saba up to St.Barths. We should see something of the faster boats making their way south after rounding St Marten. That will be a bit exciting as we shall be on reciprocal courses with a closing speed of over 30Kn, so eyes peeled then!'
Overnight retirements were received from Whisper and Haspa Hamburg, both with torn mainsails. All are well on board the boats and they are heading back to Antigua.'
2013 Fleet Tracking
RORC Caribbean 600 website
Bernie Evan Wong's High Tension - 2013 RORC Caribbean 600