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Saturday 28th January 2012

Weather conditions were absolutely ideal for the Superyacht Challenge Antigua 2012 when it got underway at noon on Friday, January 27.  Eleven yachts came out for the start of the first race, ranging in size from 80 to 184 feet in length.  North-easterly winds were in the 20-knot range, with some higher gusts, and waves off the south coast of Antigua were 8 to 10 feet.

On the previous Wednesday evening I had attended a champagne reception hosted by the National Sailing Academy at Antigua Yacht Club to which all of the owners and skippers of the yachts participating in the Superyacht Challenge had been invited.  The purpose of the reception was to not only welcome participants to Antigua Yacht Club but also to increase awareness of Antigua’s charitable National Sailing Academy and the fact that donations are welcome and very much needed.  I was fortunate to run into Charles at the reception who told me he would be driving Rebecca’s chase boat throughout the regatta.  I asked if I could tag along one day and he said sure.

On Thursday afternoon Charles called and suggested I join him to follow Friday’s race so I met him on the dinghy dock in Nelson’s Dockyard at 10:30 Friday morning and hopped on board the chase boat.  Rebecca’s start wasn’t scheduled until 12:40 so we were in no real hurry and just puttered around English Harbour while Rebecca cast off her lines and slowly made her way out of the harbour.  We dutifully followed along behind, with me taking photographs of the superyachts and my surroundings at every opportunity.

The first start of the day was scheduled for noon and while the first few boats in the line-up were mulling about the start line, we followed Rebecca into Falmouth Harbour where she hoisted her headsail in its protected waters and when satisfied it was hoisted as desired, it was furled away.  Nick, who had recently been doing some day work on Rebecca, was assisting Charles in the chase boat and he explained that Rebecca’s headsail had inflatable battens.  This statement led to my lesson of the day.

It appears that inflatable battens are the latest in state-of-the-art equipment for superyachts.  In order for them to function, there is an air line that runs parallel to the leech line that supplies air to the battens from a small valve on the clew.  When the sail is unfurled, it is attached to the valve and the air is supplied directly to each batten, taking only seconds for them to fill.  When the crew is ready to furl the headsail, the valve is opened and the air is forced out as the sail furls around the head stay.

By the time lesson number one had been completed, Rebecca’s main and mizzen sails had been hoisted and soon we followed her out into the rough seas heading for the start line.  I previously said that the weather conditions were ideal for the first day of racing and while this is true, what I meant was that they were ideal if you were on board a 100-foot plus sailing yacht.  Sitting in a very much smaller inflatable chase boat was a different matter.  Going upwind we rose to the top of each wave before crashing down in the valley on the other side.  Taking pictures – the main reason I was out on the water – was a constant challenge while dodging spray from all sides.  A very large Ziploc bag in hand helped to protect the camera but as for me, I was simply out of luck!  Charles was clearly a professional, though, and never once did I feel unsafe out there!
Rebecca had an excellent start and sailed off to the southeast towards the first mark.  Several boats had started ahead of Rebecca so it was going to be a game of catch-up for her.  She rounded the first mark and headed off south towards Guadeloupe, hoisting her mizzen staysail soon after rounding the mark.  The foredeck crew was ready on the spinnaker but the wind was abeam, making it initially too close for the hoist.  So Rebecca stayed high, soon allowing her to head down towards the next mark as the crew got into action and hoisted the spinnaker cleanly on the approach.  The gybe around the mark appeared to be successful but soon the sock was being dropped on the spinnaker as if something had gone wrong.  The crew ran about the deck pulling on sheets and lines and the sock was retracted and all seemed to be well.
As Rebecca headed west towards the next mark at the end of Cade’s Reef, we noticed a member of the crew being hoisted up and shimmying along the spinnaker sheet.  He appeared to untie a sheet, return to deck, and then shimmy back up again and reattach another sheet.  Perhaps on the gybe it was discovered that the sheets had been run incorrectly.  In any event, the acrobatics appeared to be successful and the crew member was returned safely to deck.
As we pounded along behind and alongside Rebecca, soaked from head to toe and with cameras locked away in dry bags most of the time, it was clear that Rebecca was quickly catching the competition, growing in size on the horizon as we approached the western mark.  Rebecca was zipping along at between 13 and 16 knots and even with 300 horse power of Yamaha engines on the back of the chase boat, we were working hard to keep up.

Then, off in the distance, we saw the spinnaker of the 184-foot Perini Navi, Fidelis, explode and completely shred, leaving only the head of the spinnaker at the top of the halyard and most of the rest of the enormous sail in the water.  All seemed to be well on Rebecca so we zoomed off ahead and came fairly close alongside Fidelis in the event there was anything we could do to assist.  The crew seemed to have everything well under control, slowly but systematically dragging the sea anchor back on board, almost as if they’d practised the manoeuver previously.  Needless to say, Rebecca quickly overtook Fidelis and ran towards the mark and the remaining competition.
Traffic was building close to the mark so Rebecca doused her spinnaker and mizzen staysail well early and had a clean mark rounding at a safe distance from the competition.  With only the long upwind leg remaining before a short reach to the finish line, Rebecca’s position was looking very promising.  However, the 100-foot Swan, Virago, was not far behind and we all knew she would provide tough competition on the upwind leg.  At one point she appeared to be catching but not long afterwards Rebecca was clearly opening the distance between the two boats and we were able to relax a little.
Rebecca had a brilliant upwind leg and picked off the yachts ahead of her one by one until as she approached the final mark before heading to the finish line, it looked as if no one would be able to catch her . . . and indeed no one did!  After an excellent performance throughout the first race of the series, Rebecca reached the finish line first and took the win in the first race of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua 2012.
Some distance behind came Virago in second place, the 115-foot Farr-designed Sojana in third place and following behind were Marie in fourth, This Is Us in fifth and Adela in sixth place.  While watching the finishes we were summoned by the crew on Rebecca and told that Marama had experienced steering failure so Charles was asked to find out if they needed assistance.  After a further discussion with the Race Committee, he was simply asked to stand by in case assistance was required.

Soon afterwards Charles flew at high speed into English Harbour where he pulled up alongside the dinghy dock.  I stepped out of Rebecca’s chase boat, slipping on the wet pontoon and embarrassing myself on the way, and stepped ashore dripping wet and looking like a very salty drowned rat!  All of that aside, though, it was a wonderful day out on the water and a real privilege to be able to chase Rebecca around the race course with a first-hand view of every aspect of her spectacular performance.

Congratulations to the owner, captain and crew of Rebecca, and to guest helmsman Stan Pearson, all of whom appeared to have a very satisfying day indeed.  And thanks to Charles for allowing me to tag along.

By Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
Photos by Kathy Lammers

Update:  Rebecca finished the first race of the second day in 1st place and the second race in 3rd place – so her success continues!

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