A chat over a few drinks at a Lloyd’s Yacht Club social in late 2022 inspired Ed House and Lee Harrison to put together an entry into the C600, a 600nm race around the Eastern Caribbean in February 2023. Much work then followed to generate interest amongst LLYC members, charter a yacht, find a Skipper and source branded kit. Peter Hopps was signed up as Skipper and nine enthusiastic members agreed to join the crew and booked their flights to Antigua.
We flew over on Thursday 16th February though much hard work was undertaken to prepare in advance, especially from Ed & Lee but also by Kyla Moore who took responsibility for provisions.
We were thrown straight into action on Friday 17th by entering the Antigua 360, a 50nm race around the island. This was an opportunity for the crew to sail together for the first time as well as getting to know the yacht, a First 40.7 called Spirit of Venus.
After a safety briefing from Peter Hopps, we proceeded to the start line in strong winds and big seas, with a reef in the main. We completed the race in 7 hours 22 minutes and it was a great test for the crew in challenging conditions. We enjoyed the party that night and Ed House collected the award for third place in our class.
Saturday involved some more training in advance of the main C600 race, as well as provisioning the yacht, but Sunday was a rest day when most of the crew headed to nearby Pigeon beach.
The C600 race started Monday morning and we headed out to the 11am start in similar conditions to Friday’s race with strong winds, big seas and regular rain squalls. The first leg was a beat to Barbuda in a busy start with 70 yachts. We had the benefit of Peter’s local knowledge, hugging the land to benefit from less current, which entailed regular tacks. After the mark at Barbuda we bore away towards St Kitts & Nevis.
We sailed past St Kitts & Nevis on Monday night in similar tough conditions which lead to our first gear failure, the shackle at the top of the jib halyard failed and had to be replaced. After rounding Nevis we then headed North West towards Saba, which is a tiny island but has a peak a similar height to Scafell Pike, the highest point in England!
We rounded Saba at dawn on Tuesday in lighter winds, with Peter using his local knowledge again to sail close inshore. It was at this point we noticed the spreader had made a small hole in the main, which needed to be brought down and repaired with sail patches.
We then headed North East beating towards Saint Bart’s in a freshening breeze and had another failure of the shackle at the top of the jib. This time Robert Nichols had to go up the mast and tie a bowline at the top of the jib because there were no more spare shackles.
We rounded St Bart’s on Tuesday afternoon before bearing away towards Sint Maarten which we reached at dusk. We then had to beat up to Anguilla on Tuesday night until we passed the little island of Tintamarre at midnight, at which point we could bear away for the long sail south, past Montserrat to Guadaloupe. At dawn on Wednesday we passed St Kitts again and then reached Montserrat around lunchtime. You can still see steam rising from the volcano.
By Wednesday late afternoon we reached Guadaloupe, which has an area notorious for light winds around the south of the island. We had no wind and it took 7 hours to round Les Saintes, a group of small islands to the south of Guadaloupe, in the dark. We then had a long beat North East, past Grande-Terre, the eastern part of Guadaloupe, to the small island of La Desirade.
Conditions were fabulous on Thursday with sunshine and strong winds for the close reach back past Antigua to the mark near Barbuda, which took all day.
We passed the Barbuda mark in the dark and bore away to the little island of Redonda which we reached just after dawn on Friday morning.
Friday was another sunny breezy day for the close reach and beat back to Antigua, which was made more exciting by a race to the line with Montana. We didn’t quite pass her but it was a fine effort against a Swan 44!
We crossed the line on Friday 24th February at 15.48. The yacht had been entered in IRC2 so we came 11th out of 13 in the class but it still felt an achievement as the Skipper had driven the boat hard.
Although the sailing was fantastic, it wasn’t much fun below. A 40’ yacht is tight for 10 people with the focsle full of sails, the Caribbean heat made it uncomfortably hot in the cabin and the constant big waves and frequent tacking didn’t allow for much sleep! It was in these challenging conditions that Kyla made us porridge for breakfast which was beyond the call of duty!! It was a great crew with everyone pulling their weight to ensure a successful race. We also saw beautiful dawns, stunning sunsets, turtles and lots of flying fish.
Friday night was a big party with prizes awarded and too much rum consumed.
Saturday we met for a civilised lunch at Catherine’s Café before the crew departed back to the UK over the next few days.
A fantastic experience with a great group of people and memories to last a lifetime.
Skipper – Peter Hopps
Crew – Edward House, Lee Harrison, Kyla Moore, Robert Nichols, David Liddell, Mark Johnson, Jackie Peck, Fraser Peck & Jeremy Cross.
Article by Jeremy Cross