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With winter still clinging like a hyper-cold limpet in northern latitudes, the prospect of balmy breezes and warm seas in the tenth annual RORC Caribbean 600 in late February seemed like the perfect prospect for escape and sport writes W M Nixon. After all, Irish sailors look on it with a certain proprietorial pride, with Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners (Royal St George YC) winning the inaugural race overall in 2009.
Sea, sun, scenery and sailing – you have all that guaranteed for starters, even if only to enjoy it vicariously in following the event on many information streams. But then, as the start time approached at 11am local time Antigua on Monday 19th February, the growing entry list indicated an increasingly high quality lineup, with many powerful big boats and a swathe of professional crew.
Yet even if names of legendary fame and achievement were going to be competing, these was still a place for club entries with the necessary amateur experience to send forth crews, either on members’ own boats, or on judiciously-selected charter boats.
The “judicious selection” came in finding boats suitable for a rather specialised cat’s cradle of a course which can include a lot of power reaching, and takes in 11 island in order to have topped the 600-mile mark when the fleet finally returns to the finish line off the southern headlands of Antigua.
With every sign that this year’s staging of the race would experience the northeast tradewinds in stonking form, we were encouraged a week ago to predict that George David’s mighty Rambler 88 might repeat her dramatic
A 'wet and wild ride' around 11 islands in the West Indies is how Irish Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty from Howth Yacht Club recalls yesterday's Class three win in the RORC Caribbean 600 when chattting with Afloat.ie's Louay Habib in Antigua.
Fogerty, sailing his Jeanneau Sunfast BAM 3600 fully crewed, says the welcome dockside in Antigua in the early hours was 'fantastic' after his finish late last night produced his second class three win in as many years, aboard the second smallest boat of the fleet.
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When the wind is warm you maybe don’t notice too much when it spikes up to between 30 and 40 knots, but light offwind sails certainly do writes W M Nixon. In this boisterous RORC Caribbbean 600 2018, with its 34 retirals out of a fleet of 74 mono-hulls, there have been many blown-out spinnakers. But aboard the IRC 46 Pata Negra chartered by Michael Wright of Howth YC, they’ve been in the spinnaker blitzing business wholesale. The word is that they now haven’t a single one left at all - not one of any shape, weight or size.
Yet despite that, with most of the running being in the early stages when they still had some spinnakers left, and then so much of the rest of the race being flat-out reaching or beating, they’ve managed to hang in there. They’ve hung in to such good effect, that all being well with the rest of the rig and remaining sails, they’ll be finished early tonight (late afternoon local time) to correct into second in Class 1.
There’s quite a significant gap between them and the Class 1 winner, the potent new NMD 43 Albator from France. And who knows how much narrower that gap might have been if they’d kept some of the lighter cloth intact on Pata Negra. But nevertheless it’s an excellent performance when you think that, ten days ago, most of the Irish crew had never even clapped eyes on the boat before. Yet within the limits of sail shortages, they’ve put in a masterful showing, and have managed to stay sufficiently far ahead of the lower-rated J/44 Spice, aboard which Will
With the third dawn of the RORC Caribbean 600 arriving on this Thursday morning, the annual warm water classic is settling into its final stages writes W M Nixon. While the successful heavy metal may be long since back into port and celebratory mode in Antigua, with George David’s Rambler 888 the undisputed treble success star, many boats and crews are licking their wounds after an unprecedented retiral rate in a race which has been living up to its advance billing as the toughest yet staged in the RORC Caribbbean 600’s ten year history.
For those still at sea but with the tricky sailing waters around mountainous Gudeloupe at the southern end of the course now well astern, it’s a case of consolidating positions and maintaining maximum speed while the breeze holds up, while at the same time managing to avoid any crippling gear damage. This has been the unfortunate experience of the combined National YC/Malahide YC crew of Bernard McGranahan and Dermot Cronin with the J/122 Noisy Oyster, who had rounded most of Guadeloupe, but then had to retire, and are limping back to Antigua.
The little superstar, Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam from Howth, continues to amaze with her ability to sail above her size, a gallant little boat sailed by a determined skipper and crewed by his amateur shipmates and friends. Currently she’s due east of the southern tip of Antigua, entering the final triangle of the course with 120 miles still to race, and pacing confidently with larger boats while continuing to lead IRC Class 3 by a now substantial margin.
The other Howth boat, the Michael Wright-chartered Lombard IRC 46 Pata Negra, has had a good night of it, and though she was not going to be able to
George David’s mighty Rambler 88 has repeated her Volvo Round Ireland 2016 treble in the current RORC Caribbean 600, taking line honours, the new course record, and overall victory in IRC, all in the one fell swoop writes W M Nixon.
By this afternoon, only Ron O’Hanley’s renowned Cookson 50 Privateer could have challenged the big silver bullet. But the final leg to the finish off the south coast of Antigua is a beat long enough to upset VMG predictions, which had earlier shown Privateer to be a genuine threat. However, it was not to be, and Rambler 88 is now clearly ensconced on the ultimate treble podium of a classic offshore race.
For the varied Irish contingent dotted throughout the fleet, it’s a matter of who takes second in Class 1, and can we hang onto the Class 3 IRC lead against a lower-rated second-placed boat which clearly has no intention of easing off the pressure?
In Class 1, barring gear failure the winner is going to be the new NMD 43 Albator from France, campaigned by Benoit Briand. He has forty miles in hand on the next boat in the class, and though he rates higher than his closest contenders, currently he has time to spare.
There’s more of a battle for second and third in Class 1, as there’d been a ding-dong for those places today between the American J.44 Spice with the National’s stars Will Byrne and Chris Raymond in the crew, and Howth YC’s Michael Wright with the IRC 46 Pata Negra. But the flukey conditions round the south end of Guadeloupe have been shaking up the places like nobody’s business, and as we post this Pata Negra is lying third in Class 1 but Spice has slipped back to seventh.
Further on down the line among the little folk, Conor Fogerty with the smallest boat in the race, the Sunfast 3600 Bam, continues to sail above his size – so much so that, among