RORC Caribbean 600 Race Blog 2023
Updated: Mar 6
Squalls, sleep deprivation, damaged sails and clumps of weed are a few of the challenges we faced on Pata Negra in IRC at the Caribbean 600 but we will get to that later.
My journey from Manchester to Antigua was somewhat dramatic and I decided in the end to get the bus to Gatwick.... due to issues with the train. It was as fabulous as you can imagine but came to a total cost of £9.99 and is now a distant memory. I arrived at Gatwick and met the sail maker Jon from Ullman sails we each took a sail over to Antigua as sports equipment in preparation for the race.We also met Lucy the boat captains wife who was on the same flight we each had a sail to take in our sports lugagge.
The flight was pretty uneventful apart from a delightful lady who accidentally spilled her coffee on me, nevertheless we would soon be in Antigua in the sunshine and meeting the rest of the crew. First things first, we head out for a training sail and do a bit of boat maintenance. Turquoise blue water and over 20 knots we had a breezy training sail.
In terms of maintenance the halyard clutches needed re labelling, boat food provisions, sails to be organised and the dock bag packed with anything weighty or unnecessary. I helped remove battens and replace rockets and tension them with Jon from Ullman - unfortunately we had a few squalls come through during these jobs so got a bit of a Caribbean power shower but we finished the jobs in the end.
We then had a rest day after a few training days just to relax before the race and get into a good mindset, it was also needed as we had a few drinks the previous night at the usual English harbour haunts..Skulduggery for espresso martini's and Rum punch at Cloggy's. I decided to take a walk up the goat trail to pigeon beach from Nelson's dockyard to get some steps in and take in the views. It's an interesting and historic walk the picture below is a view from one of the old forts that remain. I cooled off and had a swim in the sea before heading back having dinner with the crew and an early night ahead of the race.
Race day was finally upon us, the crew were on the boat by 8am. Final jobs included giving her a wipe down and rigging all the sheets for the race. It looked like it was going to be a very wet start to the race from Fort Charlotte in English Harbour with frequent squalls and over 20 knots of breeze. I am glad I packed by salopettes and jacket! We had a great start to the race and pulled infront of Yagiza and started the long 5 hour beat upwind my face felt very gritty and salt crystals were growing on my eyelashes I have to say, it was a very wet leg of the race. I think the whole crew were happy when we cracked off the wind with the code zero flying.
During this next leg we faced a few challenges with the wind speed picking up to over 26 knots and a halyard blew which meant we had to pull a sail back on board out of the water losing us precious time.
Once we had rounded the first mark we were doing 16-17 knots with the kite up. I let out a shriek and scared Matt the navigator when I saw a huge whale flicking its tail out the water close by. We were due to have lasagne for dinner which smelled lovely but was dripping out the bottom of the oven and filling the cabins with smoke which was far from ideal. It was now our first watch off so we attempted to get some sleep which didn't bode well with the second batch of lasagne smoking us out down below. It eventually subsided and I managed to get an hour or so sleep. On our watch we tried to sleep in the same cabins to keep the weight distribution even but before we knew it, It was then back on deck for the night watch. We quickly realised we were having to do 'backups' to avoid huge collections of weed on the rudders and sail drive which were impossible to see at night. We also had damage to the mainsail meaning we would now have to sail the rest of the race reefed! Varied wind conditions also called for various sail changes during the night so no one had much sleep we were all grumbling to ourselves on the rail.. Dan, Nick and I stayed up through the next watch but it was very hard for us to sleep on the rail. It's racing though and everyone was trying their utmost to get the best result. We had some great sailing round St Baths, Kitts and then down past Montserrat the volcanic island. However, our good fortune would subside when we ran into some light conditions on the West side of Guadeloupe.
The conditions became extremely light with us looking at the clouds and Matt the navigator advising us to go offshore to avoid the wind shadow inshore where the other boats were and follow the pressure coming from the island. We did have puffs of breeze and in the end the tactic paid off, but all the boats ultimately had a similar predicament with lighter breeze.
We also got Nick to have a look at the sail drive which was covered in weed! Only one thing for it a morning swim.
When it got to the 23rd we were set to finish the race that day so spirits were high! 13:30 in the afternoon we had the kite up and were in a really good position. As we rounded the island to start the beat back to Antigua the wind picked up which worked well with our reef in but then gradually got lighter and Yagiza and Hound were making progress on us. Everyone on board was exhausted having slept on the rail or continued into the next watch and it was a horrible sinking feeling when Yagiza were finally much too far ahead of us. It was so close but ultimately the last day lost us the race.
The good news is we came third in IRC one which was still a good result and there is no better feeling than having an ice cold beer on finishing the race everyone worked hard and it won't be the last. This year is also a Fastnet year which is very exciting!