Mon 24 Feb 14. Race Day 1. Final race brief to crew before departing English Harbour at 1000 hours. Cleared identity gate boat and then selected start sails and strategy in vicinity of race start line. IRC 2 start, combined with IRC 3, was the day’s second start, at 1110 hours, Local. “Southern Child” achieved a good start, towards the favoured end of the line, with relatively clear air, and was well towards the front of the fleet for the first beat towards the Eastern side of Antigua. Once clear of Antigua the course took the fleet North on a reach to a turning mark laid to the West of Barbuda. Hoisting the A1 early in this leg resulted in it being blown out. Without a spinnaker up “Southern Child” lost ground on the competition until a man was put up the mast in order to re-rig a spinnaker halyard in a fractional configuration. This allowed a fractional spinnaker to be carried upto the North Sails gybe mark off Barbuda. Once the yacht had been gybed round the North Sails mark the fractional spinnaker was doused and the masthead spinnaker was deployed, along with the spinnaker staysail. As the sun set the course took us West, on a deep run, towards the southern edge of Nevis, which we reached a little before midnight. By this stage we were right back up with the lead boats of IRC 2, within a mile of “Lancelot II” and “Northern Child”. Once clear of Nevis we were able to gybe and head North West towards Saba.
Tue 25 Feb 14. Race Day 2. Through the remainder of the dark hours “Southern Child” headed North West along the western coasts of Nevis, St Kitts and Eustatius. Saba was reached shortly after dawn, by which stage we had overtaken “Northern Child”. The spinnaker was doused and the No1 headsail hoisted to allow the yacht to come hard on the wind and beat towards the eastern edge of St Barths. The yacht pointed well and we gained slightly on “Northern Child” and overtook “Sunset Child”, although on rounding St Barths we were still about an hour behind “Lancelot II”, “EH01” and “Quokka 8”. Once round St Barths we were able to bear away, hoist the S2 and spinnaker staysail, and run deep to the West between St Barths and St Maartin. The downwind nature of this leg necessitated several gybes in order to maintain best speed and wind angle and we were able to pull away from “Sunset Child” but “Northern Child” remained close behind us. We cleared the western corner of St Maartin, close to the airport, in the early afternoon, dropping the spinnaker and coming back hard on the wind to beat East up the Anguilla Channel. Late in the afternoon we cleared Tintamarre, to the East of St Maartin, maintaining our position just ahead of “Northern Child” and “Sunset Child”, but unable to gain back on the class leaders ahead of us. We now headed South on the longest leg of the course, a 196 mile to the Isles des Saintes, located South of Guadeloupe. The North East trades had very little North in them this year and as a result we were unable to carry a spinnaker on this leg, remaining under main and the No1 jib throughout on a close fetch. Darkness fell as we cleared St Barths and by midnight we were passing between Antigua and the volcanic island of Montserat in close company with “Northern Child”. At times boats were less than a couple of boat lengths apart as we fought to prevent them passing us but eventually their length began to tell and they managed to squeeze past.
Wed 26 Feb 14. Race Day 3. During the early morning we managed to get back ahead of “Northern Child”, however, “Sunset Child” managed to get ahead of both of us. As dawn broke “Southern Child” was approaching Guadeloupe. The decision was made to keep within a couple of miles of the shore in order to break through the wind shadow as quickly as possible. The shadow was reached mid morning and as the wind fell the Code 0 headsail was deployed in order to keep the boat moving in the calm patches. The following few hours were frustrating as we chased wind zephyrs, but, having entered the wind shadow between “Sunset Child” and “Northern Child”, we had maintained this position when we emerged. We then picked up a strengthening breeze to tack round Isles des Saintes in the mid afternoon. Several tacks were required to clear Isles des Saintes but thereafter the wind allowed us to lay La Desirade on a close fetch and as dusk fell we squeezed back ahead of “Sunset Child”. We cleared La Desirade a little after 2100 hours and hoisted the fractional spinnaker to reach North towards the North Sails mark off Barbuda. Unfortunately the spinnaker guy came off its winch (slightly injuring a crewman, Tpr Batho, in the process). While the spinnaker was being recovered “Southern Child” became entangled in a string of fishing pots, which had to be cut free. While these problems were being dealt with, both “Sunset Child” and “Northern Child” managed to sail past. Once the yacht was free we hoisted the mast head spinnaker, but this promptly blew out. This cost further time to recover, and once the boat was moving again, as a safety measure, the decision was taken to sail under white sails only for a couple of hours in order to allow the crew some rest and recovery time.
Thur 27 Feb 14. Race Day 4. With key crew members slightly better rested, the S4 spinnaker was hoisted once again in order to power the boat up. This was a tight spinnaker reach in a strongish wind, but the using the spinnaker enabled us to stay in contention with the boats ahead, and we achieved some of best speeds of the race in this period. Surfing one wave brought boat speed in excess of 15 knots. Dawn rose as “Southern Child” passed East of Antigua still heading North towards the North Sails mark off Barbuda. We were still behind the lead boats in our class, but no longer losing further ground to them. The turn around the North Sails mark on this, our second visit to it, was a massive reach to reach gybe. However, the penultimate leg of the course, South West down to the island of Redonda was too shy to carry a spinnaker. We therefore dropped the S4 as we went into the gybe and hoisted our jib top reacher. This leg was a straight line drag race with few gains or loses, however, the strong winds kept boat speed high even if it made helming hard work. At around 1500 hours we came bursting through the wind shadow of Redonda, swapped the jib top for the No1 genoa and came hard on the wind for the final 35 mile beat back to Antigua. Good sailing and “Southern Child’s” efficiency to windward enabled us to re-establish contact with “Northern Child” and “Sunset Child”. As darkness fell we were closing on the Antigua coast and we had some interesting encounters dodging other yachts (not in our class) on one side of the boat and unlit reefs on the other. Keeping close in to the coast to get the best wind angle we managed to overtake “Northern Child” in the final hour of the race; although she went on to beat us on corrected time. We finished, back where we had started at the Pillars of Hercules, at 2100 hours, 4 minutes behind “Sunset Child” and 2 minutes ahead of “Northern Child”, after 82 hours and nearly 700 miles of racing. All 3 yachts were then moored back at Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, where we were greeted by the Antigua Yacht Club volunteers with cold beers, while they collected our Race Declaration and Yellow Brick Tracker.
Fri 28 Feb 14. Handback Day. “Southern Child” was cleaned by the crew and returned to the charter company. Damaged sails were removed to the sailmaker for assessment. The crew attended the race prize giving at the Antigua Yacht Club.
Sat 1 Mar 14. R&R/Recovery. The majority of the crew had some leisure time in Antigua before returning to UK on the overnight flight. All other crew members returned to UK, Tue 4 Mar and Wed 5 Mar.