A Sailors Diary – from Lake to Bluewater Yachting!
The Caribbean 600 2019 – A Crew’s Review
Having caught the racing bug at Concord Yacht Club and searching for ways to gain Bluewater experience, I researched ways to crew offshore races. I settled on the Caribbean 600- a newer race in its 11thyear, offering warmer weather conditions and good wind. Having said that, the course would be very challenging- last year only 37 of the 84 boats were able to complete the course. This year, a total of 76 boats competed, with 11 not finishing.
The Caribbean 600 is an intense “bucket list” offshore sailing race which starts in Antigua and goes around 11 Caribbean islands, over approximately 4 days. I joined as crew on Jua Kali, a 43 foot Grand Soleil owned by Performance Yacht Racing. This company is highly professional, and it was amazing to see them pull off a cohesive race team in our 2 days of pre-race sailing training. The first day we sailed 4 hours and about 20 miles, and the second day over 6 hours and 37 miles. In winds of 15-25 knots, going around Antigua and learning the nuances of a strange boat and new sailors was pretty intense. We were a crew of 9- from Australia, UK, Spain, Canada, and USA.
After our two training days, the race started on a glorious sunny day with 20 knot winds and 2 meter seas. My biggest memory is at the start line – we were furiously going back and forth behind the start, jostling for position before the gun. I prayed we didn’t come down on top of another boat. To add to the fun, there was a large media presence at this international racing event- drones and helicopters flew around us taking photos and video. This added to the confusion and high energy level. Our class was first to start which helped us manage a clean break from the crowd. Soon, however, the faster boats sped by- most memorably, the Maserati Multihull which had actually capsized during training the day prior.
We were set up to do 4 hour watches on the boat- and that night was my very first experience in night sailing. It was very beautiful, serene and complemented by a full moon. I worried we would bump into something but was reassured we would be fine. Our boat heeled over nicely with the winds on a reach, and we settled into three days of slanted sailing and living on the rails, as the rails kissed the water and saltwater spray came over the bow. It reminded me of popping a “wheelie” on my bike as a kid- then sustaining it for 4 days!
The second day also held beautiful weather as we rounded the northern marks on the map past Antigua, St Martin, St Barth’s, and settled a southern path down to Guadeloupe. We managed to rip the beautiful red spinnaker and two jibs along the way. I obtained experience in quick changes of sails, as well as how to control a spinnaker in high downwinds. I also learned how to patch a sail “on the fly”. Our meals consisted of boil-in-the-bag chicken curry and rice, chili, cereal and oatmeal. The best part of all was during our watches we drank a lot of hot Red Rose tea (special to me as this is the tea I grew up with in Canada) and English biscuits brought by my UK companions. Nothing better than sitting up on the rail with a mug of hot tea watching the sunset.
As we rounded Guadeloupe we got into some very strong weather and went from “lumpy” to frankly “bumpy” seas. We managed to break our steering cable in the early hours and I awoke from being off watch to find our emergency tiller in full use in 25 knot winds as the crew created a cable from strong rope within an hour so we could finish the course.
On the final day, as we “took a beat” back up on the final hours towards the finish, we met with our first wildlife of the trip. A group of dolphins playfully swam beside us for a few miles. We chose a path around Antigua which took us through a reef at night, and this time there was no moon to guide us. We held our breath that luck would hold and we wouldn’t bump into anything. We did meet up with another boat in our class and ended up with a fight to the finish which made for an exciting last few hours as we beat him on corrected time. Again we had drones taking photos at the finish. We were met with beer, cheers and the crew of the other two PYR sailboats and, exhausted, went off for our first shower in the week. It was an amazing, exhilarating, tough experience. I came back with more bruises than a victim on a TV crime show, was dehydrated, exhausted and sunburned, but very happy with our 5thplace finish in our class, and our 47 place finish overall. At time of writing, 11 boats had retired from the race, and one had been demasted in training. The one female-only crewed boat came in under sail after they contaminated their Diesel engine and lost all power and navigation. A sailor on another boat broke a finger. Though we had definite challenges on our boat, we did finish in one piece.
I would highly recommend this race to anyone with interest in trying their hand at a truly international Bluewater race experience. I also feel the particular company I went with was very experienced and professional, and paid attention to detail and to our safety at all times. I look towards trying my hand at another blue water race in the future- after I sufficiently recover from this one!
Sigrid – Jua Kali crew 2019
Register for RORC Caribbean 600 2020 here!