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Pro racer and team boss Chad Corning checked in after the ubiquitous Gunboat 62 Elvis made her Caribbean 600 debut this week.  Check the video following the story for the Race Wrap reel from a brutal C600 that knocked out more than half of the entrants, and props to Mojo Nixon for the song that kept Elvis famous long after he stopped deserving it.
We’d heard good things about it: A fast race with lots of reaching, great scenery, and solid winds in a warm climate. Sounds perfect, right? Team Elvis was excited to finally take a crack at the RORC’s Caribbean 600 this year.
Alarm bells started ringing about a week before.  Long term forecasts showing colors from the angry red side of the palette with a sea state to match.  If anything, the forecasts were low and the race became a heavy-air war of attrition.
We had a few good days of training where we worked on perfecting reef-in,reef-out, tried different heavy-air sail combos and broke all sorts of bits.  When race day dawned, we felt reasonably well-prepared, and after some final comparisons of routing times with our neighbors (a favorite activity leading up to the race) and some gallows humor-style jokes, we pushed off for the start.
Conditions were as they would be for much of the race, 22-30 knots TWS, 3+ meter waves, with a nice squall mid-sequence to get everyone in the mood.  Leg 1 is a short 8 mile beat up to the eastern end of Antigua, with spectacular visuals sailing through the fleet here, with the feisty sea state and the hills of Antigua creating a dramatic backdrop.  Once around the east end, the first of many power reaching sections began, with a 35 mile slide down to the Barbuda mark.  Elvis may have loved it but it was quite hard on the guys, especially those trimming in the forward cockpit.  Firehose spray and frequent filling of “the bath” to mid-shin made the forward trimming a character-building experience.  Since we put tillers on the boat the helmsman took it on the chin quite a bit as well.  I’d always thought those helmets with visors the Volvo guys wore looked like maybe a bit much, but all of a sudden, I got it.   My preferred position?  Mainsheet and traveler under the roof, cozy and dry(ish!).
Once around the Barbuda mark, we put the A6 on and began the 50 mile VMG run down to Nevis.  We were in company with Warrior and Proteus while Rambler 88 and the [ORMA with fridges -ed] Paradox were busy sailing over the horizon.  Proteus seemed to be exploding spinnakers as fast as she could put them up, and Warrior was on a hard luffed sail so we were able to slide by both by sailing lower with our soft-luffed A6.  As we congratulated ourselves on a great leg we found the A6 lock had failed causing us to run off and to get it down thus losing all our gains!
Once sorted out, it was back to more power reaching for 50 miles to the next mark at Saba.  We slid into the lee of the island and had a chance for a short breather after a very wet leg.  The respite would not last long as Saba brewed up some huge katabatic gusts and rolled them downhill at us like a giant in a Sinbad film.  A couple of lifting gusts pegged the dial over 40 knots so we were on high alert, especially after facing very similar conditions resulting in a near-capsize at Les Voiles a couple of years back.  Armed with the PTSD from that brown-trousers moment, we were most definitely on our toes.  It was with relief that we got through to more stable winds on the other side as we began the 30NM-beat to St. Barths.
As we were pounding away upwind, navigator Artie Means noticed a PLB light up by Saba.  We thought it may have been Proteus who looked to have abandoned the race just then but tragically it turned out to be our good friends on Fujin, who had probably been caught by one of the big katabatic gusts in the lee of Saba and had capsized.  Brad Baker’s excellent account of the incident is here, and we give our kudos to the very professional crew on the all-black Ker 56 Varuna and the team on the Gunboat 60 Flow who both stood by until the team was safe and the boat was headed to harbor.
All the way to Saba we had been looking at Fujin on AIS and pushing the boat at near 100% of polars to try and stay ahead.  It was a very sobering moment to realize just how wrong things can go and we were happy to lift off the gas pedal a bit and keep things in one piece for the rest of the race.  We’ve really enjoyed the rivalry with Greg and the Fujin team over the years, and wish them well in getting the boat back online.

Once around St. Barth’s, there are a couple of zig zags around St. Maarten and Tintamarre before the long, 150-mile blast reach down to Guadeloupe.  This is the leg we were licking our chops for but fatigue had begun to set in and the firehose reaching had become less then fun, especially for those helming and up front.  Though a tad unpleasant it went by quickly and we found our way to the next big hurdle of the course, getting through the massive lee of Guadeloupe.  There were as many opinions as people on the dock on how to get through here but we seemed to get off easy – coasting through the light patch about a mile offshore with just enough time to make a pot of coffee and heat up the lasagna (finally).  The beat up to Desirade was less than pleasant with a large left shift making port tack head right into the big seas, which our boat (heavy with a lot of rocker) did not particularly enjoy.  More power reaching past Antigua (unusual amount of “let’s take a left here” jokes) to the Barbuda mark was next, followed by a couple hours of VMG running before the final 33-mile beat into the finish.

Elvis crossed the line behind Paradox (line honors), Rambler 88 (mono line honors) and the turbo Volvo 70 Warrior (ex-Camper) finishing after dawn on Wednesday, with an elapsed time of around 43 hours.  Jason has had the vision to turn Elvis into a magnificent machine and she took all that we threw at her in the race with ease.  Just the halyard lock and one winch button as far as gear failure goes, otherwise the boat was flawless in a race that destroyed containers-full of equipment among the fleet.  It was a rough race and hats most definitely go off to the boys on the Seacart 30 Morticia who got it around the course as well as all the smaller boats who couldn’t have had an easy time of it.  It was a race that was rewarding to finish and, with the short memory that most offshore racers are blessed with, most will be back for another go around one of the world’s best racetracks.

March 1st, 2018 by admin

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