Practice Day

It has been breezy all day today and tomorrow will be the same.  The wind is forecast to be 20 kts and the seas will be lumpy – judging by today’s practice it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Today was my first sail on board Taz, Bernie Evan Wong’s Reichel Pugh 37, and the first time our crew has sailed together.

Taz is the kind of boat that makes you grin from ear to ear sailing downwind; she is light (with a carbon hull), has a big sail area and is responsive.  Half of the crew on board for the Caribbean 600 have sailed together on Taz and half have not so one afternoon of practice felt a little pressured to pull the crew together ready for the race.

It is amazing really how a group of people that do not all know each other can combine in a common activity, find a working relationship and get stuff done.

We tacked our way upwind, winding through the waves keeping the boat powered up and practicing tacking and our upwind positions. The first kite hoist went remarkably well and in a blink we had shot off what seemed a disproportionate amount downwind.

The boat was tweaked and cajoled and slowly we managed to find our feet as a crew arriving back at the dock a good deal wiser than when we left and not a cross word uttered.

The thing I love about offshore racing is that over time everyone will be able to come into their own; today was about watching and learning for me and I feel a little more prepared this morning for the race ahead.  Over time I look forward to working with the rest of our crew and offering something new into the mix.

The wind outside my hotel room has whipped up to a frenzy and the rain is lashing down as an aggressive little cloud passes over the top of Falmouth harbour.  It is 21.15 at night and there is music outside but no raging party like the night before; instead people are quietly finishing drinks and meals and heading back home for an early night before we hit a windy Caribbean tomorrow.

Offshore in the Caribbean – The Course

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The Caribbean 600 yacht race will start on Monday at 11am local time under a beating Caribbean sun for 600 miles of intense and full on racing passing 11 Caribbean Islands. I will be reporting from the rail of one of the smallest boats in the fleet.

This race was started in 2009 and is now well established and attracting some big hitters from the sailing world to try their luck against the naturally challenging course which will include beautiful robust trade winds, outlying reefs and rocks, wind shadows caused by volcanos and dodging boats coming in the other direction on the tighter corners of the course.

A record 68 boats will cross the start line tomorrow.

The race will start from Antigua and head North towards the bottom corner of Barbuda and round a turning mark then across to leave Nevis, St Kitts and Saba to Starboard.

Round the top of Saba the course turns to the North East and boats will sail zig zag over to St Barth’s which must be left to Port ( including all of its many off lying islands and rocks which will produce tricky navigation in the dark) then switching direction to round Saint Martin to Starboard.

Once St Martin is clear the fleet will have a chance to ramp up a gear and enjoy a solid reaching trade wind over a 170 mile leg cutting between the Islands close to Monserrat and finally arriving the West of Guadeloupe.

Here the fleet will enter stealth mode on the trackers.  The west side of Guadeloupe is where previous races have been won or lost as the enormous wind shadow cast by the island can have boats parked up for hours while others find a fickle lucky breeze and carry on through.

The idea of allowing the fleet to hide during this section brings an extra element of tension to the race; you choose your own track and won’t know if it pays or not until popping out on the other side.

After continuing South to round Isles des Saintes and then La Désirade the fleet will then head back up the Eastern side of Guadeloupe, to the turning mark off Barbuda and then a final circuit out to the tiny island of Redonda to the West before finishing in Antigua.

Sounds exhausting? It will be – this course offers every challenge and condition a sailor could imagine except icebergs and snow.