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Rum Run

View from Swan 82 ‘Alpina’

This week I went from cold and humid Brittany to the hot and humid Caribbean to race in the sixth edition of the Caribbean 600.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) was founded to encourage long distance yacht racing across a broad spectrum. In 2009 they presented the first ever Caribbean 600 fitting nicely into the racing calendar and filling a much-needed gap for a Caribbean event. Attracting high profile teams from the outset, since then entry numbers have increased each year and there will be a record 61 boats with flags from 11 different countries on the start line on Monday. And what’s not to like? It’s the perfect winter break in a superb setting and a fun way to kick off the ocean racing calendar.

The organizers have a full calendar of social events and with a team of 50 volunteers they guarantee a reception 24 hours a day for every finishing yacht, including a case of beer on the dock and a special Club Sushi menu at the Antigua Yacht Club.

The 605 mile course has been set to take full advantage of the steady trade-winds and the geography of the islands to present a racetrack incorporating sailing at basically all wind angles. Unlike other distance races that are primarily downwind (think West Coast USA) or upwind (Syd-Hob), there’s no optimizing the boat for certain conditions in this race. By sending us around several islands our tacticians and navigators will be busy all the time we’ll have ample opportunity to perfect our sail changing skills.

The 2014 entry list has a huge range of boats from superyachts to some of the fastest yachts in the world to smaller chartered yachts for those wanting to experience offshore racing for the first time.

Its no surprise to see favorites for line honors including Rambler, Bella Mente and Shockwave. Other boats to watch out for are the Botin 65, Caro and the TP52 Pace all spattered with ‘rockstar’ sailors from the AC and VOR. French Vendee Globe skipper Bertrand de Broc had his IMOCA Open 60 ‘VNAM’ delivered from Brazil after finishing the TJV last year. It will be interesting to see how this super light boat, optimized for short-handed sailing does against the fully crewed yachts.

In addition to all these big boats, you can add serious smaller racers, chartered boats with pro-am teams, classic boats, multihulls and cruising boats.

The RORC has made sure this is an event open to everyone and the formula obviously works. Aside from the usual IRC Overall and line honors Trophies there are six other trophies up for grabs in various categories.

My ride is the Swan 82 ‘Alpina’. I’ve sailed on this boat with her previous owner since 2002 so being back onboard is like hanging out with an old friend. She’s a great boat, easy to sail, and quite fast given her luxury interior. Over the years I’m pleased to say I’ve moved aft from the bow to watch captain and crew boss, which is a change towards dryness – I hope.

We’re sailing in the big boat racing class, so we have some pretty heavy competition, especially from the newer boars that plane downwind. I see our main competition as Bristolian (a Frers 94 with RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine onboard) and I’m hoping we can beat them over the line. They are bigger than us but we’re lighter for our size, so more nimble. Did I just call a Swan 82 ‘nimble’?

Our international crew is made up primarily of a Russian team who’ve been racing together for a number of years. Add to the mix a sprinkling of American, French, Dutch and Belgian. Thankfully everyone speaks English, which will make story-telling on the rail much easier.

The past two days have been dedicated to preparation, practice and a little bit of socializing. A large part of our prep was to remove as much of the interior as possible to lose weight, we’re counting on this to help with the nice downwind surfing legs. We’ve had two good days of practice and we’re all ready to go.

It’s been cool for me to go back to working with a big team after so much time with short-handed crews. I enjoy the interesting dynamics of intense racing with new faces and getting to know them at the same time.

As for the socializing, a large part of the sailors here lost a friend, Cappa in a road accident last year. In his memory they had a regatta on Saturday followed by a huge party. It was a cool way to celebrate his memory, about 300 people attended and they ran out of beer twice – Cappa would have approved.

Here’s to a great race tomorrow. Please weather gods be kind: I’m looking for BREEZE ON to get this girl round the course.

And if you’re on the island, watch the start from Shirley’s Heights (have a rum drink for me).

Ryan out.

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