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Maserati Multi 70 skippered by Giovanni Soldini (ITA) crossed the finish line of the RORC Caribbean 600 at 20:49:00 AST on Tuesday 19 February 2019 in an elapsed time of 1 day, 06 hours 49 minutes and 00 seconds, taking Multihull Line honours and setting a new Multihull Race Record in the 11th edition of the race; beating the previous record by just over one hour.

The extraordinary events surrounding the battle for Multihull Line Honours will be remembered for years to come. Just 48 hours before the start of the 2019 RORC Caribbean 600, Jason Carroll's MOD 70 Argo (USA) capsized at high speed in training. It seemed impossible that Argo would be racing, but after a monumental effort by the sailing community in Antigua, Argo's crew and shore team, Argo miraculously made the impossible a reality.

On the day of the race start, Giovanni Soldini agreed to a two hour delay at Argo's request. An epic match race was to follow over 600 miles around 11 Caribbean islands, racing day and night, both multihulls recording over 30 knots of boat speed. At Redonda, the final island of the course, Argo made a great tactical move to close the gap on Maserati and an intense match race provided the final twist to this fantastic story. Soldini's Maserati held off Argo to win by just over seven minutes, after 30 hours of explosive action. Both Maserati and Argo broke the race record and the former champion skipper, Lloyd Thornburg congratulated both skippers on their achievements as they arrived back on the dock in Antigua.

"It was amazing that this race even happened. It was the first time in history that a multihull so big came back from a capsize like that - incredible. I was very happy to agree to delay that start, to race against one of the best teams in the world," commented Soldini. "We had a wonderful race, very windy, very fast, with very good manoeuvres from both teams. We had some technical problems at Guadeloupe, we could not use our Solent for five hours and we had a small problem with one rudder, but it was a great fight. After Guadeloupe we could see Argo all the time and they were getting bigger and bigger with our problems, but we had a good lead and we kept calm and solved the problem. From Redonda to the finish we used classic match racing, trying to keep ourselves between Argo and the finish."

"It was a miracle that we managed to recover the boat without any major damage. We had so many people help us out in Antigua and also from Newport, Rhode Island, and my team worked 24-7 to get the boat back together," commented owner of Argo, Jason Carroll.

"We took it hour-by-hour to see if we could get to a situation that we could race responsibly, and when the sun came up on race day, we were ready to go. The race was awesome. We were a bit disappointed to let Maserati slip away at the beginning, but we came back into them at the end. We wanted to get as much leverage as we could after Redonda. Maserati tacked immediately which is typical for the course, and we headed towards Montserrat, which I think surprised them. We got a reasonable split but they tacked to cover us. After that we tried to separate from them to see if we could make some opportunities. We had been racing for 29 hours and at the end it was pretty close. We gave it 101% even after all those hours of little sleep. This is a great race and Antigua has a great community and the Race Committee and Giovanni were super accommodating for us to make the start. This is an excellent event and I hope to come to many more. Racing Maserati so close at 30 knots of boat speed scares you a bit, but it is very exciting," continued Carroll.

"The race was just perfect with a lot of transitions, good speed, good wind and wonderful islands to go around," commented Francois Gabart. "I only met the Argo crew a few days ago, they are a wonderful crew. This was the first time I have sailed after the Route du Rhum. I love to working with the Macif team, but this race was just perfect to get back to sailing on a fast boat and on a beautiful race course. This has been an adventure and something I will remember for all my life. I am really proud of what this team has done. It was a good experience and I think that a sailor needs to capsize once in his life - I have done it and I hope it is just done and I never do it again!"

"Offshore sailors have to deal with situations that are beyond their control and when we had the capsize, nobody's head went down, we simply worked hard at finding the solutions to get Argo back on the race track. The crew has really bonded through the experience," commented Argo's Brian Thompson

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The overnight leader, George Sakellaris’s Vrolik-designed Maxi 72 Proteus, is confirmed as winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 at noon today (Thursday) as time runs out for smaller craft still battling against wayward conditions further back along this cat’s cradle of a course writes W M Nixon

Of all the Irish sailors involved, it is RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of the RIYC who is currently showing best in fleet, for although the Grand Soleil 48 Belladonna which he is navigating for Andy McIrvine still has 43 miles to sail to the finish, barring accidents they could find themselves sitting on 11th overall with an excellent class place when they get to Antigua.

Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners may have got herself in the happy position of being 8th overall last night as she was making good speed at 14 knots, but by the time she finished after 3 days 11 hours and 52 minutes for the 617 miles course, they were back in 16th overall under the general position estimates.

However, in an event with multiple-choice rating systems, Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam is flying. She’s back in the lead in IRC Class 3, she continues to be second in CSA 2, and though she’s 20th overall in IRC, she’s looking good for silverware in class, even if the Howth crew still have 87 miles to sail.

Fourteen miles ahead of Bam, the other Howth crew with Kieran Jameson & Co on Southern Child had a reasonably good night of it, and though they may be 24th overall in IRC, they’re fourth in IRC 2 and 4th in CSA 2.

But among boats well known to Afloat.ie readers, the star of the show has to be Eric de Turkheim of France’s highly individual-looking Commodore’s Cup contender Teasing Machine. She’s one busy boat. He was well in the frame in the recent Sydney-Hobart, and being a 13 metre boat, it was easier to get her shipped quickly from Australia to America than was the case with the hundred foot Comanche, which only arrived at the start with only a day or two to spare. Teasing Machine meanwhile had everything nicely in hand, and now she’s sailed a blinder of an RORC Caribbean 600, sitting well finished in port and firmly placed third overall on the IRC leaderboard in a race which otherwise favoured larger craft.

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#rorc – After starting at Fort Charlotte, the fleet beats to the east and above Green Island in the 2014 edition of this week's RORC Caribbean 600 race. In this vid they crack off and reach to the first mark at Barbuda. Then they gybe towards Nevis and darkness.

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#sailing – With all the high-profile Irish entries in the RORC Caribbean 600 race falling by the wayside in this year's breezy staging of the sunshine classic, it has been left to two hard-working charter boats to do the business for Ireland, and they've done us proud.

Appropriately, both boats are owned by people who are involved with the wind energy business. The bigger of the two, the Farr-designed 100ft Cape Arrow which has placed 13th overall, is owned and managed by Tuskar Shipping, which is in turn owned by Fastnet Shipping, a Waterford company which is run by Sinead and Trevor O'Hanlon and specialises in servicing the offshore wind industry.

Cape Arrow is professionally skippered by Andrea Balzarini. But the other Irish front runner, the 76ft Lilla which has won Class 1 and placed 8th overall, has owner Simon de Pietro of Kinsale YC very much hands-on as skipper, while his wife Nancy is the navigator. They demonstrated their joint skills last year by winning overall in the cruiser division in the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, but this time round they'd their boat going so well they had the class win in the open division.

Both of them maintain close ties with Ireland. Her people are from Sligo, while his mother lives near Buttevant in County Cork and is co-director of the Buttevant-based family firm, DP Energy. The company is in the forefront of wind harnessing technology, and is also at the heart of the major project to install a huge tidal farm with multiple turbines in the ferocious streams which run off Islay in the southwest Scottish Hebrides, with the turbines being serviced from Northern Ireland.

That particular challenge would be enough for most people, but as well they manage Lilla as an active charter boat, fitting their occasional races around an active working programme when the boat is skippered in choice cruising locations by Ian Martin. It's a busy life, and there's extra interest in that Lilla is now something of a classic – she was built in Bordeaux in 1993 in aluminium to a Philipppe Briand design. Thus the win in Class 1 in the Caribbean 600 made for a nice 20th birthday present for a boat which is still as good as new, and very elegant with it.

The annual sprint around the islands with the Caribbean 600 provides an opportunity for some of the biggest sailing charter boats to show how they can go like the clappers if given the chance, and it provided some intriguing results even if the prime positions were largely as predicted. Thus the line honours winner as expected was Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard, though she was five hours outside the record time set by George David's Rambler 100 in 2011, which was a decidedly mixed year for that big boat, as by mid-August she was upside down off Barley Cove with her keel gone AWOL in the Fastnet Race.

On corrected time, again as expected it was a battle between Hap Fauth's Judel Vrolik 72 Bella Mente and Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer, with the latter having a well-deserved win by 22 minutes. So that's all right, then. But maybe the real story is when we delve into the other boat times, and note that the schooner Adela placed third overall on IRC, and finished just half an hour after the out-and-out racing machine Privateer.

Adela is a massively big - as in enormous - 180ft steel-built schooner, designed by Djikstra and built by Pendennis in Falmouth in 1995. To blast round the course in a machine like this in a way which enables her to sail up to her rating with such impressive style is just a fantastic achievement by skipper Greg Perkins.

Admittedly when you see Adela out of the water, it's to realize she's not so much a wolf in sheep's clothing as a cheetah in haute couture. Above the waterline, she's all sweeping counter and elegant clipper bow, but below it she's a workmanlike fin and skeg profile which really does give her performance a lot of oomph.

Even so, the loads which a boat this size imposes on her sails, rig and equipment is something which can only be partially measured electronically. There's a huge element of experienced judgment in driving her to the limit without seriously breaking something, and to do it round a course like this which involves frequent directional changes shows skill of a very high order. So let's hear it for the big steel lady.

And spare a thought for those who dropped out. The 100ft Liara skippered by Peter Metcalf from Northern Ireland hadn't got very far from the breezy start when her mast came down, while damage to both the 78ft Whisper (Mark Dicker) and the First 40 Lancelot II (Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham) likewise saw them under the DNF category. As for the storm-battered Irish-owned Swan 48 Wolfhound which was registered DNS, she may still be out there somewhere around 70 miles north of Bermuda. Her crew were taken off in a severe storm by a ship which heard their EPIRB, but when last seen in atrocious sea conditions, Wolfhound was still afloat.

BERMUDA RIG IS FOR WIMPS

Those crusty old Dublin Bay salts who have been dumping big time on this blog for our enthusiasm for the Dublin Bay 21s in their original gaff-rigged form, bashing us with their negative memories of near-sinkings and actual sinkings and hellships that generated lee helm when the mainsheet was let fly in strong winds, they may well think we've retired hurt from the fray. Not a bit of it. We've only been re-arming. Now we'll let them have it with both barrels.

What on earth do they think the original owners had in mind when they ordered the boats in the first place? Were they looking for comfortable little cruisers to doddle around the bay? Not a bit of it. They were looking for boats suitable for wild sportsmen, not for boats approved of by conservative seaman.

Of course the Dublin Bay 21s were demanding and difficult and sometimes dangerous to sail. That was what it was all about. There's no sport in safety. And of course they were hard work, and an ergonomic disaster area in terms of ease of handling. That's the way life was in 1902, and the ways of the sea were supposed to be harder than the cosseted life ashore. So let's take a look at another photo of a Dublin Bay 21 under her original gaff rig with jackyard tops'l, and see why they represented such an awful but irresistible challenge.

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In steady conditions, the Dublin Bay 21 under full sail was manageable, but she provided a real challenge when sailed hard in a blow.

The photo must have been taken in the late 50s, with the boat setting what was to become her last suit of gaff sails. Though they're bearing up reasonably well, a certain bagginess would exacerbate any helming faults. The tiller is well across, suggesting marked weather helm, but don't forget the rudder was well raked, which exaggerated the appearance of the amount of helm necessary, and as the boats aged there was increasing flexibility – to put it mildly - in the connection between rudderhead and tiller.

Thus basically the boat is quite reasonably well balanced. But imagine what happens if a sudden squall strikes. As our old salts have pointed out, the narrow side deck means that the Dublin Bay 21s start to fill with Dublin Bay through the non-self-draining cockpit quite quickly. The mainsheet must be eased as quickly as possible. The ergonomics are terrible, with the mainsheet controlled from cleats outside the cockpit coaming, so a lot of the time in a sudden wind increase the mainsheet – with its tails in a jumble below – is simply let fly, thereby immediately and completely altering the balance of the boat. It would defy all the laws of centre of effort and centre of lateral resistance if she didn't suddenly develop marked lee helm.

So the skill lay in controlling the easing of the mainsheet, one helluva challenge when you're up to your armpits in the cold ocean in ancient oilskins, and everyone is falling over everyone else. And as for suggesting the side-decks should be made wider, that would only make the cramped cockpit even more crowded. But with a skilled helmsman and an even more skilled mainsheet man, preferably of superhuman strength, it could be kept under control, for basically as our second picture shows, it wasn't an inherent fault in the shape of the boat which caused wild fluctuations in balance, but rather a severe temporary imbalance of the sails.

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Under shortened rig of full main and jib, but with no tops'l or staysail set, this Dublin Bay 21 in a strong wind is showing marked but controllable weather helm, while the shape of her hull when heeled shows that it is inherently quite well balanced, without excessive fullness of the waterlines aft to distort steering characteristics.

Another topic which came up with the COS brigade (Crusty Old Salts) was the usefulness or otherwise of the topsails. A topsail is only as useful as the quality of its set, and if it isn't perfectly set up to become one with the main, then it can sometimes be worse then useless.

But as our final photo clearly shows, the luff of the Dublin Bay 21s tops'l was actually longer than the luff of the gaff mainsail. And it's the luff length that does the work in going to windward - it's worth remembering that in the great days of gaff rig racing with the big class, the top skippers were so certain of the need for luff length in windward ability that in heavy weather when they reefed the gaff mainsails, they then set up a jib-headed tops'l above the reefed sail in order to maximise luff length within the smaller sail area.

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The luff of the jackyard tops'l in a Dublin Bay 21 was slightly longer than the luff length of the mainsail itself, so in sailing to windward, when luff length is at its most important, a well-setting tops'l made a significant difference.

But the problem with a topsail is that if it doesn't click perfectly into place at the first attempt, sometimes it takes for ever to get it right. So with the pace of life becoming more hurried as Ireland entered the 1960s, the time no longer seemed to be available to set up the complete Dublin Bay 21 gaff rig just to go out for an evening race, and the Howth 17s today don't permit topsails for evening club racing.

Back in 1963, when the Dublin Bay 21 crowd were arguing the merits of changing over to Bermuda rig, one of the points in favour of the change was the time it would save. That great sailor and Dublin Bay 21 enthusiast Cass Smullen said this was stuff and nonsense, and claimed he could set up the complete gaff rig of the Dublin Bay 21 in 25 minutes single-handed. So one of the boats was moored just in front of the National YC, and a crowd gathered, drinks in hand, to watch Cass take on the challenge. He did the job in 21 minutes. But they still changed to Bermuda rig.

BIBLICAL EPIC TO IONA

My apologies to Ivan Nelson (see comment at the end of last week's blog – Ed) for the ham-fisted use of English in discussing last week how a Kerry currach – a naomhog from the Dingle Peninsula – came to be sailing to Iona with the first bible in Irish for delivery to the sacred archives there. The bible was of course translated into Irish in 1602 (Old Testament) and again in 1680 (New Testament). We all remember it well. But somehow neither of these translations had ever found its way to Iona, so it was a first in that sense.

Anyway, it's thanks to the crew of Harry Whelehan's 32ft Sea Dancer out of Howth that we got to know of this Kerry voyage, which was done very low key, and in easy stages. Easy stages, that is, if you think it's easy taking a currach all the way up the west coast of Ireland and then past Malin Head and on to Iona.

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The Kerry currach delivering the Irish bible to Iona last summer completed the voyage in true Christian spirit, with no designated skipper. Photo: Mark Tierney

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It wasn't all swanning along under sail. In order to get from Ventry to Iona, they often had to pull with a will. Photo: Mark Tierney

The crew of Breanndan Begley, Anne Bourke, Danny Sheehy and Liam Holden did the voyage in three stages over three summers, and in such a spirit of Christian goodwill that the crew of Sea Dancer were unable to tell who if any was the skipper. But the Kerry folk did what they set out to do, then rowed around a few more Scottish islands before heading south, eventually getting to Wicklow. We look forward to hearing about their completion of the circuit of Ireland this summer.

NAOMH BAIRBRE HOME

Thursday nights won't be quite the same now. The six part series on TG4 by Donncha mac Coniomaire and his two shipmates (one of them his father Tomas) about their voyage along the Celtic seaways to Orkney southabout round Ireland from Connemara in the 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre has come to a successful conclusion. But it certainly shortened the winter watching this demanding ship and her engaging crew making their way to diverse ports which acquired added interest when viewed through the Irish Gaelgoir lens.

Mostly it drew pleasantly to a close as all good cruises do. But there were a few sad moments n the final epiode when they sailed up to Derry to pay their respects to the Galway Hooker An Lady Mor. Donncha had worked in a successful cross-community restoration project on this historic boat back in 2006, and the restoration team then sailed her from the Foyle to Connemara and back when the job was done. But now she lies abandoned and purposeless, ashore in Derry docks, deteriorating rapidly. She could be restored if somebody took action now – I can remember a successful restoration on the same vessel in the mid 1980s by Mick Hunt in Howth. Can't something be done now for An Lady Mor in Derry's year as City of Culture?

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Can she be restored in the City of Culture? An Lady Mor, seen here being launched in Howth in 1985 after restoration by Mick Hunt, is urgently in need of restoration again, this time on the banks of the Foyle. Photo: W M Nixon

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#caribbean600 – Peter Aschenbrenner's 63ft trimaran Paradox from California was first to finish in the RORC Caribbean 600 this morning at 03.22.53 local time, but missed the course record of 40:11:52 set by the ORMA 60 Region Guadeloupe in the 2009 race by just 11 minutes and 47 seconds writes WM Nixon.

Among the mono-hulls, Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard is the front runner on the water, but on IRC - as predicted here on Saturday - the competition is developing between Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer and Hap Fauth's JV 72 Bella Mente.

The fresh conditions which saw Paradox streaking away like a rocket from the start line off Antigua has made mayhem with Irish hopes. The Peter Metcalf-skippered 100ft Liara was dismasted shortly after starting, and while the 78ft Whisper skippered by Mark Dicker made a fine start, she is now recorded as having retired, as too is the First 40 Lancelot II chartered by Dun Laoghaire's Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham.

Irish hopes now rest on the 76ft Lilla which won the cruiser division in last year's Bermuda Race, and the 100ft Cape Arrow, both of which are available for charter, but sail under IRL numbers.

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Just before dawn, Peter Aschenbrenner's American 63ft Trimaran, Paradox powered through the finish line to complete the 600-mile course in less than two days. Conditions have been fresh to frightening right from the start and there has been no let up for over 500 sailors battling through exciting yet tough conditions. Next to finish will be Mike Slade's British maxi, ICAP Leopard to claim Monohull Line Honours, however ICAP Leopard experienced a slow passage to the south of Guadeloupe, preventing the team from getting near the course record.

Any notion that the RORC Caribbean 600 is a jolly around the Caribbean has been totally dispelled. Warm conditions and spectacular surroundings apart, racing 600 miles in big conditions is taking its toll. Eight yachts have now retired from the race leaving 44 yachts still racing. The majority will not finish for at least another 24 hours if not more.

This year, Guadeloupe Grand Large has entered three Figaro IIs for the race. At 33ft in length and crewed by just four sailors, the Figaro Class can be considered the 'coal face' of short handed sailing for the RORC Caribbean 600.

Skippered by young sailors from Guadeloupe, the teams are taking their first steps towards high aspirations. Two of the Figaros are having a tremendous battle out on the water. At 0700, Arthur Prat and Baptiste Maillot had been virtually sailing side by side for 350 miles and were approaching Guadeloupe. No doubt their local knowledge will give them good speed around their homeland.

The long leg from St Marten down to Guadeloupe has provided joy for some and pain for others as the yachts negotiate through the leeward side of the high mountains on the west side of the island. Hap Fauth's American JV72, Bella Mente approached Guadeloupe yesterday afternoon and compared to their rapid transit down from St.Barths, the race favourites virtually came to a grinding halt.

As Bella Mente struggled for speed, as Filip Balcaen's magnificent Belgian Baltic 112, Nilaya came barrelling down the track closing fast. Nilaya made up an astonishing 40 miles in just a few hours to challenge Bella Mente for the overall lead. Nilaya's cunning move has meant the Belgian yacht is now winning the Superyacht class.

Ron O'Hanley's American Cookson 50, Privateer also caught up and at one stage, Privateer was back on top of the overall leaderboard. However at 0700, Bella Mente had regained the overall lead, with Nilaya and Privateer needing to make up about three hours to prevent Bella Mente taking the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy.

In IRC One Simon de Pietro's Irish Briand 76, Lilla continues to impress and has now opened up an 8-mile gap on the water to lead the class and has a three hour handicap cushion, but there is still nearly 400 miles to the finish.

Andy Middleton's British Beneteau 47.7, EHO1 have found another gear, showing great pace on the tight reach to Guadeloupe to move up to second in class. Colin Buffin's British Swan 62, Uxorious IV has dropped to third in class, but their extra water-line length should see the British Swan move back up the leaderboard on the reach to the North Sails mark at Barbuda.

In IRC Two at 0700, the entire class were enjoying the tight reach south to Guadeloupe and waterline length has played a big factor on this leg. The Oyster 48 Scarlet Logic, co-skippered by Ross Applebey and Tim Thubron still have the lead in class and on the water and Scarlet Logic is two hours ahead on corrected time. Christian Reynolds' British Swan 53, Northern Child and Joseph Mele's American Swan 44, Triple Lindy both had a great night sail and move up to second and third respectively on corrected time. However, with lighter winds expected around the south side of Guadeloupe, Philippe Falle's, British Grand Soleil 43, Quokka LLYC will be looking to catch their heavy displacement rivals.

In IRC Three, Jonty Layfield's, British J39, Sleeper still lead the class, but Valerio Bardi's Italian Swan 46, Milanto has closed the gap significantly. Adrian Lower's British Swan 44, Selene made the bold move of leaving Montserrat to Port, to take up an offshore approach to Guadeloupe. For now Selene has dropped like a stone on the leaderboard but the move may well pay off later for the British team.

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#caribbean600 – "This is going to be a fast and fairly tough race," commented RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen, prior to the start of the Caribbean 600 race today. "All the teams are aware of the forecast and they know it is going to be breezy and how they handle those conditions will have a big impact on their performance. They will be excited but also apprehensive about the conditions. However, watching the start I have to say it was stunning, sunshine, beautiful warm water, they are all going to have a fantastic race."

A flash of smoke, high above the 'Pillars of Hercules' announced the start of the fifth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600. Before the start 25 knots of trade winds, gusting close to 30, provided feisty conditions. 53 yachts blasted into action, crashing to windward through the surf in the starting area. The international fleet, with crews from 31 nations, set off for the 600-mile race threading through 11 stunning Caribbean islands and the forecast strong winds promises a wild and memorable ride.

First to go were the multihulls. Peter Aschenbrenner's ballistic trimaran, Paradox,chose to start on port and had to dip Austin Hearst's Gunboat 66, Slim. Meanwhile Lloyd Thornburg's Gunboat 66, Phaedo, looked to have a mainsail issue with the crew battling to gain control in 25 knots of brisk trade winds. Phaedo fell behind but quickly rectified the problem and took chase.

The second start had 22 yachts barrelling towards the start line. Joseph Mele's American Swan 44, Triple Lindy, got a cracking start but the bigger yachts soon passed them, notably Christian Reynolds' Swan 53, Northern Child, who went inshore to benefit from a great lift back out to lead on the beat.

Next to go were the Class40s and CSA. Peter Harding's British Class40, 40 Degrees, was over eager and was OCS and had to return to the start line. Christof Petter's Austrian Class40, Vaquita, got away to a flyer at the pin end but Marc Lepesqueux's Sensation headed inshore and tacked back to cross in front of Vaquita. The Class40s are very close in speed and have a great battle in store.

The penultimate start for the Class Zero and Canting Keel was delayed due to the race committee elected to relay the line, which was carried out with great precision.

Mike Slade's Maxi, ICAP Leopard and Hap Fauth's, Mini-maxi Bella Mente got away well, but Leopard's prowess upwind was a telling factor as they rolled Bella Mente to leeward. Heading perilously close to the rocky cliffs, Bella Mente tacked first, releasing Leopard, who tacked right on their line. Dramatic to say the least but more drama was to come. Close behind the 100ft Maxi Liara was dismasted. The crew, all safe and well, motored Liara back to the dock.

Last to go were the Superyachts; Filip Balcaen's 112 ft Baltic, Nilaya was dwarfed by two mighty schooners, Athos and Adela. Nilaya had the line to herself, as Athos and Adela powered to windward on opposite tacks. They made a dramatic backdrop crashing through the waves as they made their way upwind to the turning point at Green Island off the Eastern end of Antigua with Adela crossing ahead of Athos to lead the private battle.

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#rorc – Over 50 yachts will be competing for the 5th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 and Irish boats are in with a shout too. The Royal Ocean Racing Club's latest ocean race has proved an irresistible temptation to an international set of yacht owners and crew representing nations from an incredible 28 different countries: Antigua, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, French Southern Territories, Germany, Great Britain, Guadeloupe, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.

Warm trade winds, Caribbean swell and a challenging course are a fabulous combination and well over 500 sailors are rubbing their hands with relish at the prospect of blasting around 11 Caribbean islands in heavenly sailing conditions.

In the Canting Keel Class Mike Slade's British 100ft Maxi, ICAP Leopard, is back after a substantial refit and is a hot favourite for line honours. If the conditions are right and Leopard's stellar crew perform well, the Maxi could realistically eclipse the course record of 40 Hours, 20 minutes, 2 seconds set by George David's Rambler 100 back in 2011.

However Leopard could face stiff competition just for class honours. Ron O'Hanley's American Cookson 50, Privateer, is back for a third attempt to win the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy. Privateer came third overall in 2010 and had a fantastic race last year before a 10% penalty put them out of the running for the overall title and O'Hanley's crew will consider this year's race as unfinished business.

With 16 confirmed entries from six different countries, the largest class racing in the RORC Caribbean 600 is IRC Zero and among them American Mini Maxi, Bella Mente, can be considered a favourite for the overall trophy. "This will be my first 600 and I have to say I have been looking forward to it for a while," commented Bella Mente's owner, Hap Fauth. "It will be a good test of the crew in offshore conditions, something that we have not done a lot of since the boat was launched last year. We'll have an opportunity to test some new sails and crew coordination but since we have never sailed this race things are a bit unknown but I am optimistic of a podium result."

Also racing in Class Zero the French Maxi, Med Spirit, is a fine example of the international flavour of the RORC Caribbean 600. Racing under the burgee of the Société Nautique de Marseille and owned by Didier Lacombe, the 92-foot racing yacht has been chartered by The Russian Yachting Federation and the crew will include 15 of its members, skippered by Russian round the world sailor, Vladimir Kulinichenko. The CEO of the Russian Sailing Federation, Oscar Konyukhov, will be part of the crew, as well as a host of world-class French sailors from the Vendee Globe and the Figaro Class.

This year's race has nine yachts over 90ft in length and two magnificent schooners will battle it out for the first time offshore. With an overall length of 181 feet the Dykstra designed schooner, Adela, is an impressive sight. However Adela's arch-rival Athos is 203 feet which is the largest yacht competing this year. Adela won the Spirit of Tradition Class in 2012 by some margin but Athos poses a serious threat. No doubt it will be fascinating to watch these two glorious yachts sparring around the 600-mile course.

Whilst the RORC Caribbean 600 has attracted a significant number of high profile yachts, the majority of the competitors attracted to the glorious conditions are Corinthian amateurs, racing in performance cruisers.

Eight yachts from Nautor's Swan will be competing in various classes and also for the Swan Caribbean Challenge Trophy. Colin Buffin's Swan 62, Uxorious IV, returns having had a superb yet agonising race last year. In 2012 Uxorious IV came second in class by an amazing 21 seconds to Amanda Hartley's Swan 56, Clem. This year the largest Swan competing will be Anders Nordquist's beautiful Swan 90, Nefertiti. One of the smaller Swans entered is Patriot, crewed by the British Royal Armoured Corps and skippered by Captain Richard Luckyn-Malone.

In IRC One one of the more unusual entries is Jolt 2, owned by Peter Harrison. The custom 45 foot yacht has been especially designed for short-handed sailing and a crew of just four people will be on board for the 600-mile race.

"Jolt has over 7000nm under her keel since September, and most of those miles, including a transatlantic, have been double-handed, we are racing the 600 with a couple more than that, under duress!" joked Jolt's captain, James Heald. "Peter loves to helm and talk tactics and we are all looking forward to the challenges of sailing fast in big trade wind seas, threading the islands, gazing at stars, all just wearing a pair of shorts."

Liz Lotz, Commodore of Lloyd's Yacht Club, will be taking part in her fourth Caribbean 600 racing on Grand Soleil 43, Trustmarque Quokka. Skippered by Philippe Falle, the majority of the crew are members of the LLYC. "Leaving cold grey England in February to race in the Caribbean is just fantastic," commented Liz. "When you come over the brow of that hill over looking Falmouth Harbour and see all of the magnificent yachts, it just takes your breath away. The course is just amazing but the social scene is also a great reason to take part; last year's Prizegiving was the best I have ever attended. It didn't matter if you were a world class pro or a Corinthian sailor, everybody shared the buzz of a wonderful race and an unforgettable occasion."

The RORC Caribbean 600 starts 18th February from Antigua.

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Now in its third year, the RORC Caribbean 600 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!"

The First Corner
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."

Blast off to Barbuda
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.

Dogleg to Saba
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."

Upwind to the Chicane
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. Theracing 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.

Hit the Turbo
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."

Avoiding the Pit Stop
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.

Full Throttle Once More
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.

Coming in Hot
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." ENDS/....

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 and latest news can be found on the race website. Yachts are fitted with tracking devices so follow the race via: http://caribbean600.rorc.org/

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