Strong start to the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge
The RORC Caribbean 600, the opening event of the International Maxi Association's Caribbean Maxi Challenge, was coming to a light air conclusion this afternoon with three of the 18 maxi yacht starters (from a total fleet of 74) still to finish.
The first event of the IMA's new Caribbean series, which includes the RORC race followed by three race weeks – St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille and Antigua Sailing Week – was roundly won by the 100ft VPLP-Verdier design Comanche, followed by two former Volvo Ocean Race yachts, both by coincidence of Polish origin – the VO65 Groovederci Racing - Sailing Poland and the VO70 I Love Poland, which arrived on Wednesday.
Second place in the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge's first event going to Groovederci Racing - Sailing Poland was especially surprising given that she was chartered for this event. However the charterer was well known Californian three time Farr 30 World Champion and ISAF Sailor of the Year nominee, Deneen Demourkas. Sailing with her were several A-listers including South African navigator Marc Lagesse, former Volvo Ocean Race sailor George Peet plus Match Racing and M32 World Champion and America's Cup skipper-in-waiting Taylor Canfield.
For Demourkas, racing the RORC Caribbean 600 on a VO65 was a bucket list item. "I tried for years to get sponsorship for the Volvo Ocean Race, but it is tough and it never happened. So this was my Volvo Ocean Race!"
Unfortunately on the first day she slipped, injured her ribs and was in pain for the remainder of the race to the extent that all she could do was steer. "But it was fine. I was enjoying it and enjoying the routine. We got into our watch system and it was great."
Taylor Canfield is not known for his offshore racing, but very much enjoyed being back in waters close to his native St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. "Any chance I get to come racing in the Caribbean I definitely take," said Canfield who spent the race steering, trimming main and discussing tactics with Lagesse. "I am always into trying new things and trying to master every aspect of the sport. This was on the bucket list. It was an awesome race, super challenging with a lot of transition zones and sail changes. It was really hard work on the crew."
Her newbie crew did a fine job fending off the more powerful VO70 I Love Poland, campaigned by the Polish National Foundation, which lies third overall in the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge after one event. After the heavily turboed VO70 L4 Trifork retired with a broken spreader, I Love Poland took the lead among the former Volvo boats. The Polish youth team led by Grzegorz Baranowski did a great job keeping up with the Farr 100 Leopard until the bigger boat finally managed to shake them off on the leg to St Barth.
I Love Poland, followed by Groovederci, extended away from the chasing pack on the long leg from St Maarten down to Guadeloupe, with the California team only managing to wriggle ahead in the lee of Guadeloupe. The Poles were then held behind their rivals until the finish where they arrived 21 minutes astern.
The Dutch owner of Leopard enjoyed his first RORC Caribbean 600. Even though the sleek Farr 100 was outpaced by the faster maxis, she had kept in contact with them under IRC corrected time until Redonda, when the wind gods had stopped smiling on them. Nonetheless she holds fourth place after the Caribbean Maxi Challenge's first event, with more points to come when she moves on to the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. "It was an interesting race because we started with the expectation of not having a lot of wind, but there was more wind than we thought and we got into some big squalls around the islands here so it was a race with a lot of changes. In the beginning we thought we were doing okay, but then the other boats behind us at Guadeloupe caught us up very quickly. We expected they would punch through very much quicker, but they didn't."
The smaller maxis arriving today found themselves sailing in decreasing wind and as a result were lower down the leaderboard. Jean-Pierre Dreau's Lady First III reached Antigua this morning after a frustrating finish when their good-looking Italian-built Mylius 60 had taken an hour to cover the last four miles, eventually finishing at 06:58:04. As a result they lie 11th in the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge after one event.
This was also Dreau's first ever RORC Caribbean 600, which he raced with a mix of friends and a few significant pros, including Mini/Figaro sailor Xavier Macaire and IMOCA sailor Christopher Pratt. He very much enjoyed it: "Every moment was good, day and night. The arrival was interesting because it was exactly the same as when you arrive at the end the Rolex Giraglia with no wind at all. Here, I thought we would have some wind."
Of this first event of the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge, Secretary General Andrew McIrvine commented: "This was an epic edition of the RORC Caribbean 600, a now classic offshore race. The maxi involvement increases year on year and we are grateful to the RORC to allow us to include their race in our new series. This further enhances our close relationship with the club which includes our joint Transatlantic Race."