Stunning New Race
"There's a brand new RORC Race" said Peter Hopps in the club bar. "600 miles round the Caribbean. Nisida's entering." "Hmmm" I thought. "Warm weather sailing... regatta day racing is fun and exciting, but this is the chance to keep on sailing for a few days through the Caribbean skies and seas..." I was sold.
Peter had also sold me on the Middle Sea Race two years earlier. "Interesting race in the Med" he had said. "There isn't always much breeze, but it is the most beautiful and scenic RORC race of all."
Well Peter was lying through his teeth. Not only did we have plenty of breeze for the Middle Sea Race (winds of 50+ knots, enlivened further by lightning and huge hailstones), but scenic though that race admittedly is, with its volcanoes and views - for stunning beauty and spectacle it is not a patch on the new Caribbean 600.
At the pre-race party at Antigua Yacht Club, everyone's spirits were high. We were all in it together, right at the beginning of a brand new venture. The free rum punches flowed and already the whole thing was clearly a very good idea.
The race started from Antigua. We came out of English Harbour and turned left, everyone with a sense of excitement as the race got underway. With a steady 20 knot breeze the yachts heeled in the sunshine, heading north to a mark off Barbuda, then Nevis, Saba, St Barts, circling St Maarten and heading down to Guadaloupe (the most southerly point of the race), before back up to Barbuda, and then returning to Antigua and the finish line.
Caribbean island after Caribbean island grew steadily from small smudges on the horizon into towering cliffs, beaches and palm trees rising out of deep turquoise seas.
There were breathtaking sunsets, orange light trailing a gleaming path across the rolling waves as Nisida surfed down wind.
At night the moon was a thin slither, but the great expanse of sky arching above us was crammed with stars of all sizes, strange and exhilarating.
We slid around Guadaloupe in the wind shadow, watching steep wooded hills and bays and fascinating distant interiors pass by, and I knew that one day I would come back for a closer look.
Barbuda in utter darkness took on something other-worldly and almost sinister, looming silent and black, ringed with even blacker seas.
The creatures of the Caribbean also took an interest in the race. Kanthi reported a whale rolling up out of the water for a closer look at us and Peter saw another whale spouting. A very turtley-looking turtle, the size of a small dinghy, stretched up its oval head on a long neck to get a better view of the boat as we sailed past. Malcolm had a close encounter with the local wildlife when a fish came aboard in a wave and swam up his oilskin sleeve. An interesting experience, when you are not expecting it.
At last we reached the Redonda, a spectacular hunk of uninhabited volcanic rock rising almost vertically up from the waves. We had a fantastic view as we sailed closely beneath the high cliffs and crept around the island, and were ready on the rail for when the wind hit us.
Then a refreshing 30 mile beat home to Antigua with smiles all round on the rail, minor irritations like wet backsides and soggy jam sandwiches counting for nothing. We were pleased to notice that we were beating a French entry (again), but as the tacks passed, saw there was a solitary crew member sitting out on the rail. There seemed something rather valiant about him and we waved, but he probably wasn't looking.
We made the line and heard the finishing gun as dusk fell over Antigua. A priority then was washing off four days' accumulated residues and the hosepipe provided a splendid and effective group shower on the pontoon, enabling us to move swiftly on to the rum punches.
A few days of Caribbean sun, lunch in Nelson's Dockyard, swimming off Pigeon Beach and a fantastic barbecue on the pontoon organised by the Aussie crew member Scott culminated in the prize giving party with an excellent band. The new race was a success. Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard had broken yet more records, we had finished a respectable 10th out of 20 entries and had an amazing experience. At the Prize Giving, as I gazed up at the crescent new moon with Venus shining beneath, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind. The RORC Caribbean 600 is definitely the most stunning race of all.