By Louay Habib
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- Starting and finishing in Antigua, the RORC Caribbean 600 is an annual non-stop 600 mile yacht race around 11 Caribbean islands and some of the world's most impressive yachts will be racing. The fastest yachts will complete the race in about two days but some will take four days and nights to complete the challenge.
The sixth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 is less than a month away and already 54 yachts have entered, eclipsing last year's total. Many of the competing yachts have already arrived in Antigua and the talk along the docks, in English Harbour and Falmouth Marina, is all about 'The 600'.
Strong local entries
St John’s dentist Bernie Evan-Wong is the only skipper to have taken part in every edition of the RORC Caribbean 600. This year, Bernie is back with a new boat and a highly talented crew. There will be six Antiguans on board the racing yacht, Quokka, which Bernie has chartered especially for the race. Bernie Evan-Wong's crew include five other Antiguans: Wayne Francis, Dana Nicholson, Jolyon Ferron, Rob Elder and Philip George.
"Back in 2009, I really didn't know what to expect from this great race," admitted Bernie. "I had never sailed an ocean race before and certainly never raced at night, but I love a challenge. It is a tough race and in my own boat, High Tension, it gets really wet on board. This year I will be racing Quokka, a Grand Soleil 43, which won its class at Antigua Sailing Week. It is a very good sea-boat and also very competitive. We will be proudly flying the Antiguan flag and we know that if we sail well we have a real chance of winning our class. To win the race overall would be just amazing but how the weather treats us will be a big factor and we can't influence that."
Evan-Wong has competed in all five editions of the RORC Caribbean 600. He was first to sign up for the 2014 race and has chartered the Grand Soleil 43, Quokka for the 6th edition
Local classic yacht takes on the challenge
Carlo Falcone's Antiguan flagged classic, Mariella is one of the largest yachts competing and the classic wooden boat is being specially modified to comply with the rules of the race. Mariella is one of the most famous yachts in Antigua and will also have a number of Antiguan crew on board.
Carlo Falcone's 79ft William Fife, Mariella was launched in 1938 and has competed in classic yacht racing on both sides of the Atlantic over the last 75 years
Besides many yachts visiting Antigua from Europe, United States and even Australia, a number of yachts from Guadeloupe will be coming to race. At least six yachts are expected including four identical Figaro IIs.
On Saturday 25th January, Governor General of Antigua, Dame Louise Lake-Tack, officially opened the new National Sailing Academy in English Harbour accompanied by Mervyn Richards, Minister for Sports, and John Maginley, Minister of Tourism.
"This Academy is dedicated to teaching Antiguans how to sail," commented Maginley. "We hope that this will give them the opportunity to take part in events such as the RORC Caribbean 600. Antigua and Barbuda are blessed with fantastic sailing conditions and sailors from all over the Caribbean and across the seas will be made very welcome during their stay."
The RORC Caribbean 600 starts on Monday 24th February. The magnificent yachts will be in full view from Shirley Heights and Fort Charlotte with the first start at 1100.
All of the boats have satellite trackers and their progress can be viewed online at: www.caribbean600.rorc.org