The RORC Caribbean 600, now in its third year, has attracted competitors from all over the world and has established itself as one of the ‘must do’ offshore yacht races of the international racing calendar.
One of the main reasons for its popularity is the fantastic sailing conditions as well as the intricate course, weaving through 11 Caribbean islands. The RORC Caribbean 600 is a new style of offshore yacht race, designed to test speed, agility and guile: more like a Formula One racetrack than a traditional windward leeward course.
When the gun goes at Fort Charlotte, Antigua on the 21st February to mark the start of the RORC Caribbean 600, the racing crews will be pumped up with adrenalin to begin a high-speed adventure in arguably the best sailing grounds in the world. Warm breeze, day and night with big waves typify this race, making the central Caribbean a very special place to race.
'This race has it all,' said Boogie, the skipper of the Swan 51 Star Chaser: 'Lots of wind, no wind, big seas, flat seas, rain and sunshine. Our crew and Star Chaser have enjoyed every part of it and we worked very hard to keep the boat racing as fast as we could. When doing 8.5 almost 10 knots going to windward, you forget about getting soaked on the foredeck and just enjoy the ride!'
Those in the know will stay close to the shore to stay out of the current and get a lift from the shore. Right at the start the fleet should be heading straight for the Pillars of Hercules, giving the spectators along the cliffs, a fantastic bird’s eye view of the impressive fleet. The yachts should be bashing to windward, crashing through the surf, before easing sheets, as they approach Green Island to turn the first corner. Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard, who holds the monohull record for the course, summed up his thoughts during the inaugural race. 'Any ideas that this race was a holiday jaunt out of Antigua have now been binned! A cracking start into heavy seas soon dispelled any thoughts of an easy trip.'
After passing Green Island, the racing fleet should accelerate as spinnakers are hoisted on the windward side of Antigua. The fleet should experience the full effects of the Atlantic on a broad reach, delivering a thrilling ride. There are passing opportunities on the approach to the North Sails mark off the south west side of Barbuda, the only laid mark of the race. Gains will be made and lost on this second corner of the track, especially as the yachts set the spinnakers as they sail downwind towards Nevis. For many it will be dusk at this point, with the spinnaker set against the falling sun. It will be a memorable reach across to Nevis.
As night draws in, much of the fleet will be reaching along the leeward side of St Kitts, enjoying flat water and fluctuating breeze as they progress to Saba island. 'To enjoy a fabulous evening sail along the southern coast of Nevis and St Kitts with flat water and 20 knot plus boat speed, is as good as it ever gets,’' said Mike Slade during the 2009 race. 'It’s undoubtedly one of the best yacht race tracks in the world.'
After rounding Saba, it is likely that the yachts will be beating for the first time since the upwind leg to Green Island at the start. By now it will be the middle of the night for most of the teams. The racing yachts will enter the ‘chicane’ at the top of the course. Rounding St Barts requires caution. It is a lee-shore festooned with rocks and reefs, navigators will really need to be on their toes, as will all of the crew, to keep a watch out for faster boats on a reciprocal course, which have already rounded the top of St Martin and making their way down to Guadeloupe.
Rounding Tintamarre northeast of St.Martin marks the halfway point in the race and the beginning of the longest leg in the course, a 170-mile reach to Guadeloupe. The yachts may well be power reaching, close to top straight-line speed and the crew will be able to settle down and recover from a tough first day. They will be beginning to feel the effects of fatigue, after long periods of concentration and the physical exertion of numerous sail changes.
The rhumb line course passes close to the volcanic island of Montserrat. It is an amazing sight. The volcano erupted again last year and as a result it is probably not a good idea to get too close as the island is still growing.
John Burnie checked in during the last race from the ORMA 60, Region Guadeloupe on the way to setting the multihull record for the race. 'It is very rough, unbelievably wet and we were glad to see dawn to bring on the sunshine. 26 knots of boat speed, in ocean swell, just amazing sailing.'
Rounding Guadeloupe adds another tricky twist to the race as the island throws out a huge wind shadow, which can trap yachts that venture too close to the stunning remote cliffs. Also, the shores around the island have several shallow spots festooned with lobster pots. The beat from Les Saintes to La Desirade is the toughest part of the course and rounding La Desirade to the East of Guadeloupe can be extremely rough as the yachts feel the full force of the Atlantic.
The reward for escaping the clutches of Guadeloupe is to set a spinnaker for Barbuda, typically belting along on a fast reach. Boat speed should be pretty close to red lining and the downwind fun should last all the way to Redonda. But this small island limestone stack rises to nearly 1000ft and is yet another potential windless trap.
It is 40 miles upwind to the finish from Redonda and probably the hardest part of the race as the yachts beat to the finish off Falmouth Bay, Antigua. Tired but elated, the crews will enjoy a warm welcome from Antigua Yacht Club, who greets every yacht dockside with a slab of cold beer and three cheers for finishing the RORC Caribbean 600.
America’s Cup and round the world helmsman, Gavin Brady was very impressed with the racecourse: 'This race has something for everyone, certainly a race course where you have to concentrate all the time. I sailed in shorts and T-shirt the whole race, even though the wind strength got up to 20 knots. That’s something you don’t say very often after a 600 mile classic.' COURSE RECORDS:
Multihull – 40hr 11min 22sec – ORMA 60, Region Guadeloupe
Monohull – 44hr 5min 14sec – Farr Maxi, ICAP Leopard
Full details of the race, including entries can be found on the race website. Yachts are fitted with tracking devices so follow the race via: http://caribbean600.rorc.org/