University of Plymouth Sailing Club's VC Racing, George Kennedy, competed in the RORC Caribbean 600 onboard Sunrise winning their class and almost winning the overall event until a bit of misfortune with the weather slowed them hours before the finish. His account of the race is below:
Described as one of the toughest races in offshore sailing I knew that it was going to be a tough race with very limited sleeping. We developed a new watch system to ensure the correct people could always be up at the right time and we had our weight in the best place for when we needed it. Being outside of the watch system was tough for me as it meant managing my own sleep and being ready to go at any point with no schedule to keep.
It was my first time being the dedicated boat captain in the run-up to and during the race. I definitely felt the pressure of making sure the boat was perfect. The build-up to the event was good with 4 days to do training from when the boat arrived, allowing us to test reach sail configuration which turned out to be invaluable.
Unfortunately for me, our first sailing day ended badly with the trip line on our masthead halyard lock snapping leaving the sail stuck in the sky. This meant in the pitch black I had to climb up the mast and lower the sail back down to the deck which was less than ideal. The next day left me with 6 hours of work removing, fixing, and replacing the lock in the sweltering Caribbean sun. The rest of the week went well with the team being able to modify the boat to allow us to sheet the sails and ticking off the new sail tests.
The last day of training revealed our bowman was a little rusty, so on the morning of the race, I was moved to bow. The start of the race went exactly to plan, tacking off the shoreline and building a nice lead over our sister boat. As we turned the corner around the top of Antigua to head to Barbuda, we changed sails only for disaster to strike. The Jib halyard lock broke the same as the previous leaving the jib stuck in the sky. I then had to go up the mast as the team were sending it on a reach and put in a spare halyard and drop the jib to the deck. With the team not wanting to slow down and allow our rivals to catch an extreme ride was had at the top of the mast.
A couple of hours later once we turned on to the downwind and I reascended the mast to complete the repair. Our rivals closed on us on this downwind to Saint Kitts and had overtaken us on the way into the island but with some superb navigation and tactics around the island, we took the lead back, which was the last time we would see them again until the finish.
Sleeping on board was difficult with temperatures well over 30 degrees downstairs all the time and very little airflow, luckily extreme tiredness helps you sleep. Sail changes were constant to keep the boat going as fast as possible and the currents meant there was a large amount of seaweed in the water, meaning we were constantly checking the rudders and clearing the seaweed off. Around St Barts, I was lowered to the water line to check the keel and the prop was also clear.
The wind around Guadeloupe is famously light and indecision onboard meant we ended up stopping for longer than we would have liked. We thought that our 5-mile lead was over as we saw our competitors try and sail around us but luckily this was not possible. In the space of 2 hours, we changed sails nearly 15 times to try and keep the boat going.
An incredible day by the team meant that as we passed Antigua again, we were 2nd overall on the tracker with a chance to win. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be as the wind died over the final day, taking away our chances at winning the overall event. We had a 12 mile lead over our sister ship as we rounded the 2nd to last mark, meaning we thought we had a pretty safe chance at our class win.
After an incredibly difficult last day at times moving less than 2 knots, we made it to the last mark and our sister ship had closed to within 1 mile. The next 5 hours to the finish was one of the toughest match races I had ever done. Moving back to my normal trim role I trimmed the jib, ensuring we were going as fast as possible at all times and checking for seaweed every 10 minutes.
An incredible job by the whole team led to us pulling out a 20 minute on the water lead. Taking the Class win in IRC 1 and CSA 2
An amazing experience with an epic team. Lead to great success by the team on Sunrise and I am very proud and lucky to be a part of such an incredible team
"Sunrise has proven to be a dominate team within the RORC Circuit this year, with our VC Racing on board and the boat having been based in Plymouth we are immensely proud of the team!"
- Alaric Bates, Commodore
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