Racing Reports

Caribbean 600 2020 the race of the desperate corner

The forecast was ominous, normally when I use these words it means a gale or worse but for the Caribbean 600 it meant significant periods with very little wind. When you have a Farr 65 built to sail the Southern Ocean light winds are bad news.
The team was well prepared and we had more strength in depth than most years, all but 4 had sailed with me before and we had 4 days of reasonable practice though with significant engine issues. Surely you don’t use the engine in a race? You do to charge the batteries plus it can be useful if you have a Man Overboard.
With a reasonable start we headed up Antigua on the first leg and then put the wind behind the beam as we headed for the mark off Antigua, considering the light winds we were going quite well and were close to overtaking a Volvo 70, sounds good but they don’t like light winds either. At times we had no wind but we made it round the Mark off Barbuda and set off on a spinnaker plod down to the island of Saba. Lighter yachts were struggling and so were we, there is one thing more difficult than trying to sail 25 Tons into 5 knots of wind and that is trying to sail downwind.
We persisted and after being becalmed a few times crept round Saba and headed north towards St Barts and St Maartens in a bit more of a breeze. Rounding St Maartens into the channel south of Anguilla we hit some serious wind on the nose and had to reef for the first time. I was down below when I heard the summons and Juno turned neatly round to return to a flashing light in the water, we came slowly alongside it but it wasn’t a MOB, just a light doing a good impression. But the engine wouldn’t start and had it been a MOB it could have been useful.
We set off on the long leg south to Guadeloupe and Shelf, Fabian plus Yiannis battled with the engine, filters were changed, batteries were linked but for hours we couldn’t get it to start. FM went into consultancy mode but it still wouldn’t start and our efforts were draining all 3 batteries. Our calculations suggested we might not have enough left to maintain basic instruments and the Tricolour so I changed course towards Antigua plus spoke to ABSAR (Antigua and Barbuda Search and Rescue) about a tow in.
After several hours and being quite a way from the Rhumb line I said if it doesn’t start this time we have to retire. The Glow plugs were used for 15 long seconds and then the key went to start, a distraught cry from a straining starter motor as it fought to turn the engine and then the roar of a Yanmar returning from the dead. The team cheered we turned to starboard, stood down ABSAR and headed towards the notorious wind shadow off the East coast of Guadeloupe.
Our tactics were to stick close in and hope for katabatic winds, this worked well for several hours, but down near the southern cape we struggled as did others around us. Eventually we made it round the Ilses de Saintes and headed Northeast up the Atlantic side of Guadeloupe towards the island of Desperade fighting over a knot of current in very light winds. After several hours we were close to the eastern corner of Desperade which has a rock off it with just 1.2 m of depth.
A few more hours passed as we tacked and tacked in light winds, several lighter yachts passed us and struggled round, but try as we might, we just couldn’t lay the mark. In my new belief that ultimatums work and with hitting the starter motor with hammer resulting in freeing a solenoid as irrefutable proof, it seemed a good idea to issue a further one. ‘If we are not round that corner by 1800 we are giving up’. Four hours to do less than 2 miles, Anne-Lise took the helm and we crept slowly forward with just short periods of slipping back. Eventually after a couple of hours we reached the corner and the current dropped but we were very close to the 1.2 m rock with the Atlantic Swell breaking over it.
Anne-Lise gently took us past it, I think we were at least 20 metres off, then 30, then 50 and off we went in at least 7 knots of breeze, hoisting the code Zero and passing the 2 smaller yachts who had made it round before us. The wind filled in and we went back to full main plus No3 Genoa as we neared the mark off Barbuda then headed south towards Redonda often topping 10 knots on fairly flat seas.
Rounding Redonda (Rat Island) has been tricky in previous years, with dramatic wind shears, but we only slowed down a couple of times before heading home to Antigua on a making tack. We were in fact heading for the narrow channel between Cade reef and the South of Antigua and I was sorely tempted to use it despite its narrow width as it has very little adverse current.
As we neared the entrance to the channel a squall appeared at the other end, after 590 miles I decided our objective of safely completing the race was more important than saving an hour and we tacked slowly on in decreasing winds before eventually crossing the line at 1532 and then parking in Nelsons Harbour in ahuge cloud of smoke.
Not a glorious result but we did beat a very well turned out Volvo 70 on IRC, plus a Volvo 65 as well on CSA and quite a few boats on the water. Judith, my wife, had organised a table overlooking the prize giving and our efforts at partying would definitely have earned us a place on the podium.

Thank you to all the team for a most memorable race and the pleasure of sailing with you all,
Paul Jackson, skipper Spirit of Juno

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