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Friday 25th January 2013

True North flying downwind.

Antigua received a very special visit last week from a very special boat.  Volvo 70 True North arrived in Antigua on Monday, January 14 and remained for ten days, leaving yesterday, Thursday, January 24.

True North is the re-branded name given to the Volvo Open 70, Green Dragon, which competed and finished in 5th place in the 2008-2009 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.  She has now been chartered by Dubai World Expo 2020 to carry out a tour of the Caribbean and perhaps further afield to promote Dubai as a candidate city to host the World Expo in 2020.

The countries in the plans to be visited, including Antigua and Barbuda, are member countries of the Bureau International des Expositions.  Each member country has an opportunity to cast its vote in November 2013 to help determine which city will host the 2020 Expo. Every five years, World Expos attract millions of visitors who explore and discover pavilions, exhibitions and cultural events staged by hundreds of participants including nations, international organisations and businesses.  Shanghai 2010 World Expo, which had 73 million visitors, featured a Caribbean Community Pavilion.

The True North crew is headed up by Skipper Alistair Moore and his lovely wife Sarah-Jane Blake, daughter of the late Sir Peter Blake.  Dubai World Expo 2020 could not have found better ambassadors to promote their bid than Alistair, Sarah-Jane and their crew.  From the moment I met them on the dock at Antigua Yacht Club Marina, I felt like I had known them for years.

Although scheduled to arrive in Antigua on January 16, True North arrived a couple of days ahead of schedule on the evening of Monday, January 14.  Having had no time in a marina since their trans-Atlantic crossing a short time before, there was plenty of work to be done including sail repairs and general boat maintenance.  The crew was hoping for a day or two off, but I have my doubts that came to pass while in Antigua.  Whenever I saw them or spoke with them, they were working against time to prepare the boat for its onward journey.

A welcome reception for the True North crew was held at Antigua Yacht Club on Wednesday, January 16 and it provided an excellent opportunity for members and friends of the Yacht Club to get to know the crew and welcome them to Antigua.  Guidance and suggestions in terms of boat repairs were offered up and stories were exchanged about previous sailing adventures and True North’s activities in the southern Caribbean islands.

When Antigua was first contacted about True North’s planned visit to the island, we were advised that one of its main objectives was to get as many people as possible out on the water to experience the thrill of sailing on a Volvo 70.  When Antigua Yacht Club’s Round the Island Race scheduled for Saturday, January 19 was mentioned to the crew, they were hooked and immediately signed on for the race.

Alistair and crew knew there was an opportunity to break the Round the Island Race record so we were asked to put together a group of 10 to 12 experienced sailors and media to join the regular crew for the race.  We found a few good sailors and fortunately Alistair found a few more to complete the 22-person crew that enjoyed a very quick trip around the island last Saturday.

The True North crew performing a spinnaker peel!

I was very privileged to be a part of that crew and was treated to the sailing experience of my life!  After preparing the boat and crew for well over an hour in advance of the race start, we hit the start line only one second late and we set off like a rocket in about 18 knots of wind.  My contribution was very small, manning the traveller winch on the port side of the boat for most of the race, but I was pleased to have been able to contribute even a little bit.  True North flew effortlessly around the island, racing from headland to headland at speeds of up to 19 knots and more!  The average boat speed calculated at the end of the race was well over 12 knots!  The crew quickly gelled and tacks and other manoeuvres came easily.

Soon after we cracked off the wind a little north of Green Island, the crew was well prepared to hoist the A3 which went up without a hitch.  Shortly afterwards, Alistair called for the A4 and in order to keep up boat speed it was decided that a headsail peel was in order.  That’s a manoeuvre I’ve been a part of on much smaller boats but the effortless manner in which the crew completed the sail change on such a big and powerful boat was a revelation.  Special mention must go to Louis Mulloy, True North’s Irish ‘Monkey’ bow man.  There’s no doubt that ‘Monkey’ is the more appropriate name for him.  He was up and down the mast and forestay, hanging from the clew of the A4 and hopping about the foredeck faster than anything I’ve ever seen.  No problem of any sort was a problem for Louis.  Gybe after gybe around the reefs on the east and north of Antigua were executed flawlessly and before we knew it we were surfing downwind towards the west coast of Antigua.

True North's bow man, Louis Mulloy, otherwise known as 'Monkey' preparing for a spinnaker hoist.

True North’s navigator did an excellent job keeping the boat on the shortest course possible to the finish line and kept the crew informed on a regular basis as to how far ahead of the Round the Island Race record we currently were.  For quite some time True North was even on track to beat the multihull record but that changed as we headed up wind again at the west end of Cades Reef.

It was such a thrill to sit on the rail as we cruised effortlessly past the outside of Cades Reef, looking down into the azure blue waters through which we could see the beautiful coral heads well below the surface while True North’s white canting keel reached out towards the reef, almost in an effort to skim the reef’s edge.

By the time we headed back into Falmouth Harbour where the finish line was waiting for us, we knew we were well ahead of the previous monohull Round the Island Race record held by the 100-foot Swan Virago (4 hours, 53 minutes and 44 seconds).  A loud cheer was heard from the crew as we passed the line and Alistair called for cold drinks in celebration of what we knew was a remarkable achievement.  Then the call came on the radio from the Race Committee – True North had not broken the Round the Island elapsed time record, she had SMASHED it!  I can’t convey the thrill of circumnavigating Antigua in 4 hours, 19 minutes and 51 seconds!  Most boats in the fleet took close to twice that amount of time and more to go around the island!

For me it was also a very humbling experience.  I’ve done a lot of racing in my time, mainly on smaller boats, but the crew and crew work on True North were flawless, making the size and power of the boat seem insignificant.  I was left with a feeling that my past experiences were child’s play in comparison.

True North's record-setting crew.

The prize-giving ceremony afterwards at Antigua Yacht Club provided a great opportunity to celebrate and Alistair and True North were presented with the Sizzling Bacon Trophy for setting the new monohull Round the Island elapsed time record.  A night of great celebration followed for all of us.

The following day it was back to work for Alistair and crew.  There were two trips scheduled for the general public, including a special trip dedicated to Antigua’s National Sailing Academy.  Great numbers of people piled on board for their chance to experience the excitement of sailing a Volvo 70 and many – adults and children alike – had an opportunity to take the helm and take charge of the boat.

Unfortunately, Alistair, Sarah-Jane and crew had to leave Antigua yesterday for the next leg of their journey.  They had been scheduled to leave on Tuesday but endless jobs had to be completed first, including repairs to the canting keel and sails.  True North’s onward journey is expected to take them to Cuba and then towards the Panama Canal, but those of us in Antigua are hopeful that they will have a change of heart and stay in the Caribbean for the season and perhaps even return to Antigua for one or two of our many regattas.

Wherever True North ends up, we thank Dubai World Expo 2020 and the entire crew of True North for making their visit to Antigua an exciting experience for all of us.  Many new friendships have been established which will carry on until we next meet – whether in the Caribbean, New Zealand, Dubai or elsewhere in the world.  Many thanks to Alistair, Sarah-Jane and crew and very best wishes for the future . . . until we meet again!

We wish Dubai the very best of luck in its bid to host the World Expo 2020.  And thanks for the wonderful experience.

By Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
Photos © Dubai Expo 2020 Corporation

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