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2024 RORC Caribbean 600 - Weather Chatter

by Louay Habib 16 Feb 14:13 PST 19 February 2024
RORC Caribbean 600 - Weather Chatter © YB Races

With less than three days to the start of the 15th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600, the dock talk at Antigua Yacht Club is all about the weather. For many weeks the tradewinds have not been established, however, a window of opportunity is developing for the faster monohulls in the RORC Caribbean 600, and the possibility of record pace for the Multihull Class.

Jason Carroll's MOD70 Argo (USA) set the Multihull Race Record in 2022 of 01 day 05 hrs 48 mins 45 secs. This year, three MOD70s are favourites for Multihull Line Honours; Argo, Erik Maris' Zoulou and Alexia Barrier's Limosa. Argo's Brian Thompson thinks we could have record breaking conditions for the race.

"It has been very calm of late and the sea state is quite low, but the wind is going to start to kick-in late Saturday or Sunday and maybe we could see 18-20 knots for the start, but without the big seas," commented Thompson. "The wind speed should start dropping maybe Wednesday afternoon (21st February), but Argo will have finished by then, maybe by Tuesday morning (20th February). So, Argo's routing takes us right on record pace. One advantage over 2022 is that this year we have more moonlight which makes it easier on the driving at night."

"A few days ago we were not looking at record pace but that has changed; it's possible but really tight," added Argo's Chad Corning. "When we set the record in 2022 we had almost perfect conditions, but this year the forecast is not as good. However since then we have developed our foils, so the boat is quicker. The key leg for a record is going to be the long leg to Guadeloupe. We need to have the right wind angle to maintain our speed. Having said all that, to set a record you have to be the first in, and that is a big challenge on its own."

The biggest monohulls in the race are all 100ft or more. The largest boat in the race is the 107ft Wally Spirit of Malouen X (FRA), second largest is the Southern Wind 102ft Egiwave (ITA). The third largest is the Farr 100 Leopard 3 (MON) skippered by Joost Schuijff. The IRC rating of Leopard 3 and Spirit of Malouen X is identical, promising a superb match race for the two boats.

Chris Sherlock on Leopard 3 commented: "We are here for Line Honours but we want the overall win under IRC; we want the whole lot and looking at the weather right now, it's on. To win anything Leopard has to beat the other 100-footers. In the amount of breeze we are expecting they are both quick boats. If you look at our IRC ratings there is nothing in it with Spirit of Malouen, and Egiwave is also very well sailed. Theoretically we should be the strongest boat in reaching conditions, so Leopard would love plenty of that. In 15-18 knots the others might be quicker. More wind speed and reaching would suit Leopard, especially for the long leg down to Guadeloupe."

Leopard 3 navigator Will Best was slightly more conservative: "It is still three days before the start, and the timing of the change in the weather is difficult to predict. Right now, I am expecting 14 to 15 knots of breeze at the start and more easterly than of late. Leopard should have that wind direction and decent wind speed until we get as far around the course as Guadeloupe. Then we could see a change in conditions to our advantage over the slower boats behind; the wind should start to decrease and maybe go more to the south."

The 107ft Wally Spirit of Malouen X (FRA) crewed by the Paprec Sailing Team and skippered by Stephane Neve, has Laurent Pages as tactician, taking part in his ninth race: "The timing of the change in the weather is going to have a big effect on the outcome of the race," commented Pages. "It is a little early to predict at the moment but VMG angles, especially 12 knots or less, will be very good for us. Over 15 knots and reaching angles will favour Leopard. Let us wait and see what the weather has to hold."

Steve Hayles is the navigator on Niklas Zennstrom's Carkeek 52 Rán (SWE). "I think we could see maybe as much as 20 knots at the start, but I agree with Will (Best - Leopard 3), it's looking like a big boat race," said Hayles. "The tradewinds should establish the day before the start. By Wednesday night the low pressure near Cuba will start to disturb the tradewinds for the boats still racing, so for me it's definitely good for the big boats. In terms of winning our class, the more reaching and stability sailing we get will be good for Rán. Wizard is the second highest IRC rated boat and we give them a bit of time. If its upwind and downwind legs, they are about the same speed as us."

In the Class40 Division it is unlikely that any team will finish before Wednesday 21st February when the breeze is expected to go lighter. This could create a slow finish but a very strategic situation. Picking the right angle of attack and finding the breeze lanes will be the key to success. A close slow-mo finish for the Class40 crown is on the cards. What is more, the scow-bow modern designs might not be as effective in light airs as the older generation boats.

Alexis Loison is racing on Cédric Chateau's Manuard Mach 5 Class40 LHOROne (FRA), which has a scow-bow and one of the latest designs in the race. "We hope to get a good start, because it is likely that the boats behind may be able to catch up as the wind goes lighter, later in the week," commented Loison. "It is too early to say at the moment, but our average prediction is that the change to light winds may come as we are approaching Guadeloupe, so that will make that part of the course even more interesting than usual. Whether you are a scow bow or traditional, it will not matter then; the teams that find the wind will get the advantage."

The XP-50 DNR is the highest rated boat in IRC One, skippered by Nikki Henderson. Marcus Cholerton-Brown is one of the professionals on board who has competed in the RORC Caribbean 600 numerous times: "We have a crew that is new to the boat and the race, so we are putting in plenty of practise before the start, including night sailing," commented Cholerton-Brown. "Getting into tradewind sailing will be great for the early part of the race and when it starts to go light, keeping the boat moving is going to be very important, so we are practising those drills as much as possible."

For the lower IRC rated boats, the weather forecast is looking like creating a race of 'two halves.' Solid pressure early on should give the teams great speed. By day three, the wind is expected to soften considerably which could create a slower pace, especially approaching Guadeloupe.

The weather predictions are suggesting that it is a big boat race for the overall win under IRC. However, winning IRC class is the first goal. A variety of wind angles and wind speeds suggest that a good all-round boat that gets the strategy spot on and perfects boat handling, should be in the chocolates for a class win. The good news for the tail-enders is that the wind is expected to pick up on Friday 23rd February, which will be a god-send to make the superb RORC Caribbean 600 prize-giving at the Antigua Yacht Club.

All of the boats in the RORC Caribbean 600 can be tracked during the race. The YB Races tracker player is live now on: caribbean600.rorc.org/tracking.

For more information, go to the race website: caribbean600.rorc.org.

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