“How we won the RORC Caribbean 600 with the Class40 IBSA.”

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There is a regatta that is we might call every sailor’s Caribbean dream. Fast and tactical, dense with maneuvers and rapid changes in the direction of winds and currents, the RORC Caribbean 600 runs along a 600-mile route which heads north from Antigua, skims Barbuda and circles Nevis, Saba and St. Barth, doubles the island of St. Martin and heads south to turn Guadeloupe, before pointing to the last buoy off Barbuda, and thus back to Antigua. A slalom around 15 islands that are considered a paradise on earth but along a complex path full of pitfalls. Open to all boats, not just one-offs, carbon multihulls or ocean-going boats, the RORC Caribbean 600 2023 also featured Beneteau First 40.7, Sun Fast 3200 and an “old” Nautor Swan 441.

This year’s Royal Ocean Racing Club regatta was full of excitement for Italian sailing. From one-two punch by Bona and Beccaria, the “Coppi and Bartali of sailing”, at second place, in a heartbeat, by Giovanni Soldini with his Multi 70 Maserati, mocked by 11 seconds by Erik Maris’ Zoulou, with the great Loïck Peyron aboard, not forgetting the success of Gabriele Olivo, aboard Teasing Machine, the “matador” of the long, who won in the most competitive IRC class, the RORC Caribbean 600.

Luca Bertacchi, team leader of IBSA’s Class40 project and sports director of Circolo Vela Bellano, won the regatta with Alberto Bona. From the lake to the Caribbean… Here is his exciting story: after reading it, you will feel like you have been on board.

RORC Caribbean 600 – A 600-mile glide.

I had the good fortune to be on board with Alberto Bona and Team in the legendary RORC Caribbean 600, a race that can be likened to “our” RORC Middle Sea Race. The first leg of the Class40 “World Championship.” I am happy to let the readers of the Sailing Journal relive my experience and transfer some of the spirit of this wonderful offshore class and these daredevil sailors.

Luca Bertacchi's account aboard IBSA at the RORC Caribbean 600
Luca Bertacchi is the author of this story from aboard IBSA at the RORC Caribbean 600.

What is a Class40

The Class40is the largest offshore class, with about 100 active hulls, more than 40 of the latest generation, over 20 under construction. The best designers of off-shore sailing (Bertrand, Guelfi, Lombard, Manuard, Raison, Verdier, VPLP) are creating increasingly high-performance solutions and models. Top sailors from the Mini and Figaro classes are coming to the class.

The start of the Class40s at the RORC Caribbean 600. From right IBSA, Curium and Influence © RORC/Tim Wright
The start of the Class40s at the RORC Caribbean 600. From right IBSA, Curium and Influence © RORC/Tim Wright

But what is all this success due to?

The project was born with the idea of having a boat for amateur owners, relatively simple, with strict class rules, traditional appendages, avoiding the complication of foils (wings) or canting keel, and without the use of carbon for the hulls. This makes the boats solid and accessible to a much larger number of professionals.

Like a great gliding wing

The latest generation of boats are all scows (with round bows), hulls that project the maximum beam toward the bow, creating significant volumes in front and allowing the hull itself to be transformed into a large planing wing. The sail center and center of drift shifted more and more aft with increasingly extreme rakes. The boat as feelings and reactions is very similar to a multihull. Managing weights, balances, and hull tilt is key and requires continuous adjustments.

The Class40's round bow, allows the maximum beam to be projected forward, transforming the hull itself into a large planing wing © RORC/Tim Wright
The Class40’s round bow, allows the maximum beam to be projected forward, transforming the hull itself into a large planing wing © RORC/Tim Wright

The sail plan consists of a square top mainsail, three rollable jibs bricked into the deck at three different points, code 0 (which is called gennaker in France) and the gennaker (which is called spinnaker in France). The largest bow sail exceeds 200sqm!

It was born to be operated by small crew. Maneuvering techniques and times clearly vary appreciably if you go from operating solo to having crew (maximum 4 people).

IBSA: Alberto Bona’s Class40

Our boat, IBSA Class40, is the second hull of the new Mach 5 model, designed by Frenchman Sam Manuard and built by the JPS shipyard, which has more than 40 Class40s to its credit.

IBSA is a state-of-the-art Class40 © Copyright RORC/Tim Wright
IBSA is a state-of-the-art Class40 © Copyright RORC/Tim Wright

The boat weighs a little over 4 tons concentrated in the keel and has the option of using 3 ballasts per side (water tanks) that allow the boat to add about 750 liters, create stability and vary trim in different gaits.

The legendary Class40 regattas

Our first goal in 2023 is the overall championship which consists of 5 trials all crewed or for 2. The RORC Caribbean 600 just crewed; the Défi Atlantique also crewed, a true “against the current” challenge of 3,500 miles back to Europe with a stop in the Azores and final landing in La Rochelle. The CIC Normandy Channel (for 2), a beautiful 1,000-mile regatta that starts in Normandy, rounds the Isle of Wight, doubles the two southern capes of Ireland, and after the Fastnet Rock returns to Normandy. Le Sable – Horta 3000-mile double regatta in late June that starts in France, circles the Azores and returns to Les Sables d’Olonne. The championship will conclude on Oct. 29 with the Transat Jaques Vabre, a 4,250-mile long race also in doubles starting from Le Havre in France and arriving overseas in Martinique after circling the Cape Verde Islands. In addition to the championship we will do the Fastnet a classic regatta not to be missed. These 700 miles will also be crewed.

Aboard IBSA at RORC Caribbean 600

Spaniard Pablo Santurde de l’Arco will accompany Alberto this season as co-Skipper. Pablo is an extraordinary sailor, is 35 years old, started his career in Santander in the Spanish national team as a 470 helmsman, and has an extraordinary palmares in Class40: won the last Jacques Vabre, a Normandy Channel, a Les Sables Horta, as many as 5 R0RC Caribbean 600s and made podiums in all races held in Class40. We are truly honored to have Pablo on board with us this season.

Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde de l'Arco, IBSA co-skippers.
Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde de l’Arco, IBSA co-skippers.

The RORC Caribbean 600 was a fabulous experience, with a fabulous team and planned down to the last detail. The level this year was especially high with 13 fierce competitors. Crew for this first of the year was critical, the boat is still to be optimized and it was most important to get the most out of the race, so as the third professional on board for the race we were fortunate to have Luke Berry.

IBSA's crew. From left, Luca Bertacchi, Pablo Santurde de l'Arco, Alberto Bona and Luke Berry.
IBSA’s crew. From left, Luca Bertacchi, Pablo Santurde de l’Arco, Alberto Bona and Luke Berry.

Luke is English by birth but French by adoption. A Naval Engineering graduate from Southampton, he was owner of the first Mach5, IBSA’s sister boat, with which he took 7th place at the last Route du Rhum. The design of the Mach5 owes much to the contribution of Luke, who having had the Mach3 previously developed with Designer Manuard solutions to make it more effective, safer, and less wet especially in formed wave and slack wind conditions.

Alberto Bona and Luca Bertacchi aboard IBSA
Alberto Bona and Luca Bertacchi aboard IBSA

That “more” of the offshore sailor

Seeing these three sailors at work in the boat was a real joy. I have been lucky enough to sail with some fantastic professionals between the buoys of the race courses, but the offshore sailor has something different. He is driven by an ongoing quest for the challenge, he knows his boat as if it were a part of himself; he has often even designed and built it. He must be an all-around sailor to know how to make a “peeling” (spinnaker change) at the bow, adjust the sails as best as possible, fly below deck when, as happened to us, you smell something burning and realize that part of the electrical system is blown….and then run to the helm and re-fly over the waves his companion, who had left only a few minutes to the autopilot, good yes but not as good as him.

Choosing the right sails for the RORC Caribbean 600

Returning to our regatta, another crucial aspect was to have the right set of sails at the start. By regulation you can only have, in addition to the mainsail and 3 jibs, 4 non-inferred sails (gennaker and spinnaker). For the occasion we brought to the Caribbean 2 sails that we had not used in the Rhum Route that later proved crucial in the Caribbean archipelago. The first, a smaller “fractional” gennaker (the Frac), which makes it possible to reach tight angles in the wind even at intensities over 20 knots, when the masthead cannot be used. The second, a “multipurpose” spinnaker that while large in size allowed us a few more “freedoms” than the A2, the boat’s largest and lightest sail, which clearly as the wind increases becomes increasingly delicate to handle.

At RORC Caribbean by regulation you can have, in addition to the mainsail and 3 jibs, only 4 non-inferred sails
At RORC Caribbean by regulation you can have, in addition to the mainsail and 3 jibs, only 4 non-inferred sails

Offshore sailing speaks French

In the days before the regatta, we went out to train, test sails and establish communication protocols. It was decided to use French as the shipboard language. They all grew up in the French offshore sailing environment and were most familiar with the technical dictionary. In the hoists Pablo and Luke were responsible for the bow while with Alberto we followed them from the cockpit. Being four of us, we limited the use of the autopilot during the day to optimize speed and angles. During the night the good pilot on board was essential. I brushed up on my French and tried to memorize all the sailing terms….I should mention that during the race we joked about our “multicultural approach,” worthy of the best jokes.

 

Here we go! Slalom between the islands with the Frac

On the 20th, departure day, we received the last weather briefing with detailed directions to make the final routings on the navigation system and define the race strategy. The weather forecast showed us average prevailing winds between 15 and 25 knots with a fairly constant east-northeast direction so we decided not to bring any medium spi but only light sails with the sole exception of the fractional gennaker, “the Frac, which later proved to be one of the winning moves.

RORC Caribbean 600 route
The RORC Caribbean 600 route is a slalom between the islands, from Antigua to Guadeloupe and back.

The course is extremely technical and intense for these boats: 600 miles divided into 14 legs (see map with course layout). A slalom between the islands that alternates between areas of formed sea with areas of sheltering. The orography is distinctive: volcanic islands that reach up to the 1,500 meters of Guadeloupe. Mountains alternate with plains with valleys, and Alberto studied them in detail with his virtual airplane, defining the effects of wind in each situation. We planned in advance distances, strategy of maneuvers and sail changes.

Aerial image of Antigua. Falmouth Harbour in the foreground and English Harbour in the background © RORC/Arthur Daniel
Aerial image of Antigua. Falmouth Harbour in the foreground and English Harbour in the background © RORC/Arthur Daniel

The right choice

Departing 11:10 am under theEnglish Harbour reef with about twenty knots and ballast unloaded to have agility to maneuver, we hit traffic and take a penalty from the French of Curium: we turn around and go again. We are seventh but the boat is doing well upwind. We choose the left side of the field to take the “good guys” and the protection from the waves that the coast to the left offers. We manage to get to the end of the upwind in sixth position, leaving the Man of War leader to the right for the traverse, and here we bring out our first weapon, the Frac. The wind is between 20 and 25 knots but the true wind angle is too narrow to carry the big gennaker, the fractional is the only right sail and only we and Brian Thompson on Tquila, have it on board. It allows us to go fast and on course while the others have to decide whether to go upwind with the genoa and downwind with the masthead or do the opposite maneuver, still a long way to go.

The Alberto in Frac allows us to arrive in Barbuda first and start the third leg on the favorable side. The wind is still fresh we will arrive in Petit Nevis with the night, we will have to maneuver make the change between spi and gennaker, and we decide to put the heaviest spi we have on board, anyway a 195sqm. Ancora proves to be the right choice, the boat goes well the sail is very stable. After a series of gybes we turn Nevis still first with Ambrogio Beccaria’s AllaGrande Pirelli behind, who makes a very good stern recovering some positions and starts chasing us.

Shot Nevis AllaGrande Pirelli's Ambrogio Beccaria begins to press on Alberto Bona's IBSA © RORC/Tim Wright
Shot Nevis AllaGrande Pirelli’s Ambrogio Beccaria begins to press on Alberto Bona’s IBSA © RORC/Tim Wright

Rest if possible

We have already taken a few naps alternating. I carve out a hole between the two gunwales next to the mast where I insert the cushion we have on board. We also have a yoga mat that is placed in the windward space just below the tambour. If you don’t maneuver, you try to rest, even though it’s like a drum inside, both because of the noise and the dry beating.

We set off again for leg number five, fifty miles behind St. Kitts on our way to Saba. Here we put on the big gennaker and maintain the gaps but the approach under the high Saba first is risky. We stay too far below the island and lose the wind longer than others who stay wider. We gathered again for a long night windward leg to beautiful St. Barths. The edge is obligatory and edging in cover on the second allows us to get to the buoy still first and open the light spi.

IBSA by Alberto Bona © RORC/Tim Wright
IBSA by Alberto Bona © RORC/Tim Wright

In the nighttime maneuvers of spi, illuminated only by the front lights, you can see the ability of these fantastic sailors, there is very little talk, everyone knows what to do in each role they switch if necessary. Often in regattas I’ve seen the bowman argue with the cockpit; it never happens here. Those in the back know what it is like to be in the front, where they often are, and they anticipate the difficulty telepathically. I move on precise instructions with the pressure not to fail. Fantastic maneuvers, I am ecstatic.

With Ambrose Beccaria always on the breath

At first light of the second day we arrive at the beaches of Saint Martin, around 8 o’clock we pass through the sandy shallows on the north side of the island and set off upwind, there is little current and the flat island favors the right side. The boat is going very well, Pirelli, which is always tailing us, cannot find good alternatives and we stretch. My three musketeers give me this whole upwind, I stand at the helm with wonderful joy. The boat has different reactions from boats I have helmed before, it is easy to go more leaning than you should especially on waves, you have to try to maintain an optimal heel (tilt) and well-defined speed targets, it is a precision machine to be handled with care.

Before each maneuver we do matossage. All weights within the boat are moved according to the optimal balance to be achieved. The boat is a hollow shell with only holes created by the structures, floor mats and backstays, and some tarps to contain. We fill them with sails, water canisters, bags of clothes and food. In my training days, I studied the hysterical movements of the boat as it glides beating its wide bow. After a few days, you get used to it but attention must remain high.

 

The 150-mile ride

After Saint Martin we set off again on the traverse with the gennaker and stretch the boat goes very well for leg 9, a long traverse to Guadeloupe, a 150-mile ride having to leave Monserrat to starboard and then get to the Guadeloupe approach, which we know is critical. Before the regatta we discussed this approach in detail, Pablo did it seven times, Luke twice and always quite unluckily. Alberto, who is also a master in coastal navigation, has studied it so much for the arrival of the Rum Route. We know that we will be arriving around midnight, that we will have to look for the breezes inshore especially in the shadow cone of the big mountain. But without overdoing it otherwise you can get inexorably painted into the background of the French island.

We are leaving Monserrat to starboard always in first position, it has been a challenging day, the first part of the descent from Saint Martin turned out to be more complex than expected with many grooves and situations that did not always benefit us. I eat yet another ham and cheese sandwich, which only after we left did we discover was mustard: we made 40! A little nauseated I go to rest knowing that it will be a long and difficult night.

The French are scary

I wake up after a good 3 hours, the pacing has promoted a deep sleep, I go back up on deck, a little numb from my hole, we are below Guadeloupe it is late night, little air, we sail with gennaker. Alberto fills me in:AllaGrande Pirelli took advantage of some storms and managed to catch up, he is just ahead of us but what we are most concerned about is Axel Trehin’s Project Rescue Ocean, the French champion who was able to take advantage of the breezes downwind and is parading upwind.

Below Guadeloupe, Axel Trehin's Project Rescue Ocean has been able to take advantage of the breezes inshore and is parading upwind of IBSA © RORC/Tim Wright
Below Guadeloupe, Axel Trehin’s Project Rescue Ocean has been able to take advantage of the breezes inshore and is parading upwind of IBSA © RORC/Tim Wright

The spirit that animates champions

Axel has a nice boat, good bolinier, designed by David Raison, the inventor of modern scows. After the race I had a chance to have a beer with him and congratulate him on a beautiful race and how he had managed to mock us under Guadeloupe. He smiles and replies that he gives his best when he is in trouble. We talked for an hour and he told me how during the recent Route of the Rhum he left St. Malo with a broken knee that often locked up. During the tremendous initial fronts at times he could not move, but it is precisely in those difficulties that he feels alive. Axel closed the Rhum route tenth after breaking the mast, stopping in the Azores to replace it, and receiving the mast from another participant unable to continue. Before the 600, Team Bona cleaned Axel’s keel that was having problems-this is the spirit that drives these wonderful champions.

All to do again!

We decide to take ourselves upwind to Pirelli and close the gap to Axel, whose little green light continues ominously to run fast to our left. We are lucky, catching a nice refola that pushes us right up behind the Frenchman who, however, manages to stretch. In the meantime, Pirelli also catches good wind and moves ahead of us. We manage not to stop but arrive at l’Îles de Saint terti. All to be redone.

We are third. Need to catch up!

We set off on leg 11 for another 40-mile upwind leg to Desirade. We know that recovering Axel and Ambrose upwind will not be easy but morale is high and there are still many miles to go. We stay outside, the current is not strong and the winds favorable, it is not convenient to attack leaving the island of Marie Galande to starboard. We stay outermost of all and manage to recover we arrive at the island of Desirade, on the northern tip of Guadeloupe seconds. Another good maneuver and we hoist the gennaker at the masthead. In this gait IBSA goes well and we know we have a few more horses than the Frenchman, we use them all and gliding over the waves we manage to retake the lead of the Race at Antigua.

Aboard IBSA from left Pablo Santurde de l'Arco, Luke Berry and Alberto Bona
Aboard IBSA from left Pablo Santurde de l’Arco, Luke Berry and Alberto Bona

Once again it is good to watch Albert and Luke at the helm, different techniques but both extremely effective. Luke was born a surfer, he likes to load the boat and glide as if he were on a platform, Albi unloads the ballast and keeps the boat more prone but with extraordinary efficiency of angle and speed.

Sargassum, a sea of seaweed

This edge and the next were incredibly challenging due to the presence of sargassum, a phenomenon that has been plaguing the Caribbean Sea in recent years. Intensive fertilizer use is creating the proliferation of these floating algae that are generated on the coasts of Brazil and Africa and are pushed to the Caribbean by currents. They are often real islands that are difficult to avoid. The rudders fill up and need continuous maneuvering with the use of a special rod to be able to clean them and continue sailing. Once again freeing ourselves from the Sargassi becomes another onerous task that the crew tackles with constant diligence.

More algae…

We approach the Barbuda buoy a bit low losing some of the cumulative lead but once again we make the flawless maneuver by hoisting the light spi. Despite the wind being in the 25 knots and above target for this sail, it proves to be an apt choice being fairly rested and with little wave. The boat is flying, and Pirelli’s friends are flying with us with the same choice that the closest competitors are not making by opting for smaller sails and losing ground.

Still a stretch full of sargassum. To free the rudder, one must lean slow down 18 to 9 knots and use the rod. To free the keel, which we see with the camera connected to the onboard instruments, we strake and tilt the boat. These operations are repeated at constant intervals, the second with no small amount of apprehension for me as I stand at the sheet of the light spi ready to prevent the straining from turning into a break.

Pirelli explodes spi

We are two gybes away from turning the upper Redonda Island, we have the second one a mile away and we must not miss. Just before the second one we turn around and see Pirelli without spi, burst during the first maneuver. The idea that it could happen to us raises tension and concentration, we gybe and approach the leeward side of the island to set off for the final tack: another long 40-mile windward leg.

Last miles: narrow marking

We are at sunset, and behind us rises the crescent moon, curiously looking upward like a smile. I smile too and think of the many sayings that are not applicable in these latitudes. We decide to implement tight cover on the second, the wind becomes unstable below Antigua and we don’t want to risk it. We tack so that we always stay between the finish line and our opponent, and finally, shortly after midnight, after more than two and a half days we cross the finish line happy with what we have done and deserved.

Luca Bertacchi

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