The Antigua Yacht Club is a hive of activity this week in the lead up to the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) Caribbean 600 – the 600-mile offshore race around 11 Caribbean islands, which kicks off from Antigua on Monday. Even though the event attracts some of fastest racing yachts, recent years have seen an impressive superyacht turnout, with Adela and Eleonora E joining the fleet this year.
In part this relates to the fact that the Caribbean 600s is one of the only offshore races in which superyachts are able to participate. “We also have a fantastic location where they all want to be anyway, so the opportunity for the larger yachts is perfect,” adds Nick Elliott, RORC’s racing manager.
While other areas of the sector are in decline, offshore racing is one of the few areas of the sailing that is seeing growth. This will be the ninth edition of the Caribbean 600s, which had only 24 entrants in at its advent. “Every year it has grown in participation,” says Elliott. “We have also just seen the Rolex Fastnet Race sell out in four and a half minutes, which is allowing superyachts in for the first time and will see Nikata come and race. We are very fortunate that our side of the sport is in growth.”
Elliott believes the main attraction of offshore racing comes down to the sense of challenge and adventure, and this presents a perfect opportunity for the superyacht industry. “You are essentially putting yourself against the elements but within the luxurious environment that a superyacht offers,” he explains. “Over the years we have seen a trend of existing superyacht owners come and try out the race on different boats through charter and generally they get hooked.”
As an example of this, this year the owners of Baltic 112 Path have chartered Leopard 3 for the race. The reason being that the owners didn’t feel that Path would be competitive enough but they didn’t want to miss a good offshore race. According to Elliott, this idea happens a lot. It’s an interesting way of getting people into racing that is not so common at the superyacht-focused regattas.
With the likes of Leopard 3, Bella Mente and Rambler 88 out on the course, another factor in the offshore racing circuit that doesn’t happen at the superyacht regattas is that the boats are competing against top offshore sailors on top offshore boats. Elliott recalls that last year Adix entered solely because the owner’s nephew was racing on a Class 40. “They weren’t even that different in speed,” he laughs.
So is there opportunity for the future growth of superyacht participation? Surely it takes a certain type of owner to have the desire to participate in offshore racing. “If you find an owner that comes from an offshore sailing background then of course it is going to appeal more to them,” he responds. “But I think that most owners would enjoy it, and it’s more about encouraging the captains that it will be fun and it’s not going to break the boat or carry untold expenses.”
For the Caribbean 600s, Elliott explains that the conditions are particularly challenging for the larger yachts. “There are so many corners with so many islands to navigate with close proximity to reefs and shallow water, considering the sail plans on boats like Adela and Eleanora E, they have to work really hard to keep the boats safe and going quickly around the course,” he says, adding that this doesn’t mean a lesser chance of victory. “If you look at Adela’s track record over the years, they can be incredibly competitive.”
Image of Nick Elliott: RORC/James Mitchell
Image of Adela: RORC/Tim Wright