steak it is
Gavin Brady gives you an onboard report from the Farr 80′ Beau Geste from the RORC Caribbean 600 in which they won first overall under IRC, line honors trophy (for monohulls) and class trophy for IRC Super Zero.
The 22nd of February was the start of the Caribbean 600 run by the RORC off the island of Antigua. The race course has twelve legs taking the fleet as far north to St Maarten and as far south as Guadeloupe before finishing back at Antigua.
In this part of the world the trade winds are very reliable. Yachts for hundreds of years sailed this area of the world for the same reason as the RORC organized and marketed this new event. But in true fashion as soon as we got to the start in Antigua the locals were saying it is never like this as we looked out at no wind. A very large cold front was working its way south east and this was shutting off the trade winds. So much for our new re-cut sails and max crew weight on the rail as we set ourselves up with a windy race.
The race started in a moderate 14 knots from 110 which was not too far away from the normal winds so we made good use of these conditions, sailing a few downwind and reaching legs to Barbuda, Nevis Island, Saba Island, St Barths and finally the bottom of the course around St Maarten. We got to the bottom of St Maarten in record time and the wind was still holding close to the trade wind direction at 120.
The longest leg of 160 miles is from St Maarten to Guadeloupe and in a true trade wind direction is a reach. But at 110 wind direction and the wind moving right to 160 it was now a true upwind leg. So it was time to have the full crew on the rail for 18 hours which made Karl and myself very unpopular. The feeling on the rail got better when one of Karl’s mates said if we win he will buy the team a steak dinner but if we get second it would be a hamburger. We wanted steak!
Over the past year we have found that weight on the rail does not make a big difference to performance of Beau Geste when we are reaching. This is due to the deep keel and twin rudders. We can let the boat heel over to 30 degrees and the boat just keeps going faster. However upwind or target heel angle is 22 degrees, Beau Geste like many new racing boats with a very flat bottom gets out of balance if we heel over the target number going unwind. So upwind we have to have all the crew hiking on the rail and this means on the rail – not in the windward bunk.
Right in our path was Montserrat an active volcano that is 870 meters high. The wind shadow of this volcano is very large. As a rule of thumb we use factor of seven when working out how far to stay away from the wind shadow of an island. With the volcano being 870 meters high we need to be 3.5 miles to leeward or sail extra distance and get to windward of it. The wind was forecasted to go as far right as 215 turning the last half of the upwind leg a reach.
The timing of this shift was not on our side. The wind did shift right but only to 170 making it upwind all the way to Les Saints off the coast of Guadeloupe.
By the time we got to Les Saints just after dark we had built up a 40 mile lead over the second boat. This was shorted lived as the wind dropped out and a small land breeze of 5 knots and a large left over sea state slowed Beau Geste to 1 knot of boat speed. We had to work very hard to keep moving and try get away from Les Saints and get back into the gradient winds further down the course. It was a very painful three hours but we finally got back into the old wind. Now the new rudders were paying for themselves as we reached at 20 knots of boat speed in 18 knots of wind with the code zero up.
The fleet had made back a lot of time as we sat in the no wind zone but their turn was coming. This area of no wind off Les Saints was not going anywhere. The second boat had sailed back within 8 miles of us but as we set a spinnaker at Desirade Island at breakfast the second place boat had no wind and sat over 60 miles astern.
The wind was still clocking right and getting lighter as we sailed down to Barbuda. At 3pm the gap between Beau Geste and the second place boat was now 100 miles. This confirmed the wind to the south was shutting down and If we did not finish the remaining 90 miles of the race before 2am we would also be is these very light winds.
After Barbuda we had a 50 mile upwind leg to Redonda Island before the last 40 mile to the finish. As we rounded Redonda it was clear we had a big problem on our hands. Montserrat, the active volcano, was back in the game as it was only eight miles from Redonda and with the wind at 270 we had to sail under Montserrat wind shadow get to the finish.
Twenty miles from the finish we had the spinnaker up on starboard gybe when all of a sudden we started to smell the ash from Montserrat. Within two minutes we had 5 knots of wind and it was getting worse. We had to gybe and get out of the wind shadow and get back into the old wind. The next problem was reef sticking out from Antigua and this would force us back onto starboard and into the wind shadow and ash.
Five miles from the reef we decided to give it another shot and gybe back to starboard and try to sail across the wind shadow but there was no way through it as the wind died to 2 knots again. We had to gybe back to port and get back into the old wind and just keep Beau Geste moving.
Our only option was to sail to the reef and drop the spinnaker. Then put up the code zero and reach into the finish sailing a longer distance in more wind. This would also mean we would have to sail along the edge of a large reef just under the surface in the dark.
The gamble paid off as we sailed along the edge of the reef with the code zero up in 3 knots of wind. We were able to build our own apparent wind and Beau Geste was sailing at 8 knots of boat speed.
Karl drove Beau Geste across the finish line to victory winning line honors and handicap. I do not think anyone was ready for how much work this race was going to be. It was nice to race offshore with no wet weather gear but we did more sail changes than our last 3000 mile race across the Atlantic. Our next race will be the Newport to Bermuda Race in June which should be a reach. We are getting our upwind sails ready to go for the first comments the locals will say to us when we arrive: "It is not normally like this."