RORC 600 #2 – Cheeseburgers and Making Lemonade

28 Feb

When I left off in the last post, the team and I on Isbjorn were preparing for the start of the RORC 600 offshore race in the Eastern Caribbean.

On the Saturday before the start of the race, the crew arrived and we went out for the first of two days of practicing. In Antigua, and really all the Eastern Caribbean Islands, the ocean is only a 10-minute boat ride away, unlike my native Chesapeake Bay where it’s 100 miles or more to find the open ocean. This was the first time I had been in the ocean since our trip on Satori concluded and I had to find myself again. Combine this with 20-25 knts and the first day out practicing was spirited, to say the least.

While Isbjorn is not that much heavier or longer than Satori (a Tayana 37), the forces the boat generates are on a whole different level. Combine that with the conditions and operating the boat goes far beyond being able to manhandle something should it get out of hand. This was a new experience for me as I’ve always had boats that I could go up on deck and with enough sweating and swearing, get back under control.

Sunday I stayed in port and went on a provisioning run with Mia, who usually does my job on these trips (and the jobs of at least 9 others we joked!) After buying most of the store we decided we had enough to sustain the crew for 4 days at sea.

Finally, the morning of the race came. With the 11 am start we were up at 6 am ferrying the last fresh supplies and all of the crew from shore to the boat. After final safety and accommodation briefings, we slipped the morning and headed out of Falmouth Harbour.

A 6-foot swell was running as we cleared the reef and other boats were all around raising sail. It was already quite hectic and we weren’t even racing!

I’ve only ever entered one race in my life, the Staniel Cay Newyears day regatta. We came in second to last (we were towing the dingy). I’m not a racing sailor, so the next hour of my life did not make a ton of sense to me. From what I can tell the idea is to time your tack back from the line to a certain point, then mix that with a bunch of right of way rules, and then sprinkle on top some “how close do you want to push it”. If you bake that at 450 for about 5 minutes you could have a pretty good start.

And that’s exactly how it happened folks. As the timer called the 10-minute mark the intensity ratcheted up. Time itself seemed to speed up. 40,000-pound sailing machines were going all directions. Paul Exner was calling the tactics “POWER UP!” “Ease off” “Take his stern!” “POWER UP! POWER UP” the countdown clock beat like a drum, 3 – 2  – 1. Just like that, we were suddenly at the line. I looked up to see a helicopter not 150ft off the surface in a tight turn around the starting boats. We were racing!

We began the first beat up the windward side of Antigua and as the Volvo 65s and class 40s started, they came screaming by, all of them completely in their elements and only boat lengths from my perch on Isbjorn. I think this was one of the most unique parts about being in the race, to see these world-class boats as only a professional racing sailor would see them is probably a once in a lifetime, and truly rare experience.

We cleared the first mark at Barbuda and set the spin for the long downwind run to Nevis. Sailing along in the fading light was almost hypnotic as the boat hit 10 then 11 then 11.3 knots in a surf. Suddenly BANG, the spin sheet parted and all hell broke loose, after wrestling the sail and changing out the sheet we rehoisted and continued on.

All was quiet for a few more hours. Then as I lay in my bunk the boat healed hard to starboard, then another bang. This time the spinnaker pole had folded like a drinking straw. Our downwind abilities were now severely limited without the ability to fly the chute. Never the less, we pressed on towards Saba.

In the morning we began the beat towards St. Barts and I remembered why I don’t sail to windward. The boat was taking a beating, as was the crew. We were nearly to St. Martin as I again went down for my off watch.

I woke to Dennis asking me if I wanted a cheeseburger. After deciding that A. I did want a cheeseburger and B. I was not dreaming, I asked him what gives. The boat was headed into St Barts, we had retired from the race.

While I was sleeping the crew had discovered that the bolts in the genny track had started to shear and the track started to bend up and off the deck. About this time thoughts were turned to the stemhead fitting on the boat (the last two items on the refit list) after imagining the sequence of events should that fitting fail, the decision was made to depower the boat and head to St. Barts to regroup. The race for Isbjorn was over.

We spent the afternoon in St. Barts harbour, rigged the staysail and sailed overnight back to Antigua. We arrived early the next morning and started to clean up the boat. It was a truncated but intense experience. One that ranks high among my sailing memories and is something I will never forget.  And I finally did get that cheeseburger!


Thanks to Andy and Mia at 59-north

Photos by: Tim Wright // Photoaction

This article was syndicated from Cruising – Beautiful Crazy Happiness


  1. Benton Howie

    I miss being curled up in the forepeak at night snugged down between sail bags feeling the rise and fall of the bow and listening to the hiss of the hull carving through the ocean. I do miss it so.

    Benton Howie

  2. Mia

    Really good writing Lee, thanks for taking care of the crew and the boat when I was gone :) !

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