Over 50 yachts will be competing for the 5th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600. 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. During the race, there will be daily news stories, images and video updates from the fleet. All of the yachts will be fitted with the latest trackers from Yellowbrick and competitors are encouraged to send blogs and images from the yachts which will also appear on the website.