It was the 36th anniversary of St Lucian independence and to celebrate the St Lucian yacht club was holding it’s annual Round Island Race. We had not entered the previous year due to work commitments and by all accounts this was a good thing as there was a high drop out rate due to rough conditions and broken equipment.
We motored out into Rodney Bay for the 9am start looking out for the other nine boats that had entered the race. There were a few around, hoisting their sails and a few we recognised from having raced them before.
On board were 7 crew, myself and Ben (the owners and skippers of the boat), plus 5 sailors of varying degrees of competency. Most had been on the yacht before, having competed in the Mango Bowl Regatta in December so we gave them a quick refresher in tacking and using our running back stays, a unique addition to most race yachts.
The countdown begun and so did the confusion. As the final horn sounded most of us were confused as to whether we still had a minute to go. We somehow passed the start line first but we were sailing a deep broad reach which is not our strongest point of sail due to our small jib.
As we passed Pigeon Island the swell started to pick up as we left the protection of St Lucia and headed out to meet the Atlantic. The wind had been blowing consistently over the past few weeks, which is nothing unusual, and the waves had grown in height, so that as we were rounding the very North of the island we were getting 10 foot seas. Some of our crew were looking a little nervous whilst others had begun to turn a nice shade of green.
As we tacked to head down the East of the island we noticed that quite a few of the boats that had set sail with us had not tacked. It was then that we realised that they were on their way to Martinique and were in fact never in the race. This left us just 4 boats, a disappointing turn out. It was a beautiful sail down the East of the island, the side we very rarely see. It is mostly uninhabited with dramatic scenery; large mountains, sheer rock faces and breaking waves hitting deserted beaches.
Two of the competitors were way off ahead of us, whilst the only catamaran was slowly making time on us. The crew were feeling the worst of the waves, taking in turns to sit on the stern quarter to relieve their seasickness! One member didn’t quite make it and as he sat on the windward side of the boat we quickly shouted to stop, but it was too late. Being thrown up on wasn’t in the script! In the end the only two people to helm were Ben and I as all other were pretty much incapacitated.
Rounding the Southern tip of the island we were hit by a big squall which washed us all down and I think refreshed everyone somewhat. We headed into Laborie, a small fishing village of the South West of the island, coming in third place.
Anchoring was slightly daunting as the bay is surrounded by reef but some of the fishermen came and guided us in. They also took us into town that night for a spot of dinner, some well deserved beers, and entertainment put on by the local youth culture club.
Start time on day two was 9am before which some sail restoration had to take place as we had ripped it at the slugs running up the mast. This time with no confusion we passed the start line first. With the sea state being a lot calmer we were able to have other helms people and we managed to remain ahead of our closest rival, Breeze Away, who had decided to take the same route as us and stay close to land. The other yacht, Blue Fin, a Beneteau 50 went offshore and the catamaran followed behind, trying to stay close but continuously being pushed out to sea. As we rounded a headline we were neck and neck with Breeze Away and our helms woman, Colette, seemed intent on pushing them onto the rocks. She didn’t succeed and they sailed on past.
As we got to the Pitons, the wind and the currents started to act in a peculiar fashion, with swirling water and some strong gusts followed by complete stillness. We were stuck in the doldrums, with Blue Fin heading out further to sea and getting all the breeze. As it had done before we got hit by some heavy rain, followed by calm, and it was roughly an hour later that we finally got some breeze again. Both yachts had shaken out their reefs and as the wind picked up we began to catch up with Breeze Away as we were able to sail closer to the wind.
As a squall came through we caught up with Breeze Away and were able to see the “white of their eyes!” We sailed along with nothing between us but as the squall abated they again pulled ahead, but began to be pushed more and more out to see. The crew were having a much better day and were able to get involved in the helming and the trimming of the sails. We decided to leave the reefs shaken out even when we could see there was some serious weather up ahead. As the wind picked up and the rain began to lash down on us, we all held on as Ben shouted for the main to be eased again and again. We torrential rain and the wind hitting 46 knots we powered along, rails in the water, holding on for dear life. Invigorating and slightly scary. Ben’s quick fix of the sail proved to be holding up extremely well.
It all came down to tactics at the end. With Blue Fin choosing to go out to sea they won the race and the catamaran had to pull out due to being pushed so far out to sea that it was impossible to make up the time. We were upwind of Breeze Away and maybe tacked a little too soon, so they crossed the finishing line just two and a half minutes in front. With handicaps taken into consideration we came in second, winning a food voucher, an old style map and bottle of rum.