Monster Project makes her mark at RORC Caribbean 600

Volvo 70 charter boat Monster Project has backed up her record-breaking Mount Gay Round Barbados Race victory with a very respectable fourth place in her first RORC Caribbean 600, finishing in 2 days 5 hours 29:35 behind professional race boats JV 72 Bella Mente, Reichel Pugh 90 Rambler and Reichel Pugh 72 Shockwave.

Monster Project‘s team of 15 – eight charter guests and seven full-time crew – had only four days of pre-race training prior to the race – not a lot of time for the eight amateur sailors to familiarise themselves with the boat’s many systems including halyard and reefing locks, barber-hauler style jib cars, huge winches, six-speed grinding pedestals and canting keel. But familiarise themselves they did and the combined crew of 15 neatly executed multiple tacks up to and across the start line outside Falmouth Harbour on Monday morning. Monster Project crossed close in front of Swan 82 Alpina before passing other competitors including Volvo 60 Spirit of Adventure, Reichel Pugh 78 Idea of London and Botin 65 Caro.

Skipper and former British Olympic Sailing Team member Andy Budgen and Watch Leader John McAulay ably led the boat through the 17 legs of the 600 mile course, assisted by guest Navigator Guy Middleton.

Bowmen Tom Robinson and Jon Norris deftly executed no less than 12 sail changes as Monster Project beat, reached and ran her way around the 11 islands of the course.

“With so many different legs and the predicted windshifts around the islands, it was important to pre-empt the manoeuvres so that we could peel smoothly between the spinnakers, Code 3 and headsails,” said Robinson.

Monster Project‘s crew of 15 had a relatively high proportion of women, with three female full-time crew and three female guests forming an integral part of the team. Pit/primaries supervisor Alison Merridew had three trips up the rig during the race, including to scan for breeze as Monster Project neared the infamously patchy wind zones of Guadeloupe.

“The view from the top of the rig was breathtaking, looking down on a full masthead kite then across the dark blue water sparkling with sunlight all the way to the horizon, interrupted only by the sight of the spinnakers of other boats dotted a long way behind us,” said Merridew.

Helm/trimmer and former Olympian Petronella de Jong (Athens 2004) trimmed and tweaked the headsails and spinnakers for the maximum possible speed.

“It’s a great experience to be a member of the Monster team, using the big winches and helming on the long offshore legs where 20 knots feels slow! It’s quite different from sailing an Olympic class Yngling up and down a short course where you get to sleep in a normal bed every night. But on both boats the sail trim is similar and I’m glad to be able to play my part to make Monster Project sail fast,” commented de Jong.

Cook/deckhand Pippa Kirchmann had her work cut out for her, with 15 hungry sailors to feed from the boat’s spartan galley facilities, as well as taking her place on deck for tacks, gybes, reefing and sail changes throughout the race.

“It’s quite a novel experience to be boiling water and trying to mix up freeze-dried meals while the galley, which is a long way forward in the boat, is literally getting airborne over the waves!” said Kirchmann, who comes from a superyacht background and for whom the RORC Caribbean 600 was her first offshore race. “I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie and teamwork, keeping each other going when we were called out of bed for the third time during our off-watch and the silly things you laugh about on board.”

The female guests also well and truly pulled their weight, with Dr Alene Krimholtz and Mrs Jane Saqui spending many watches on the grinders and Ms Sarah Westbarn assisting on the bow in between grinding and mainsheet trim. As another guest, Mr Jacek Siwek, said of the women’s efforts after the race, “The men just tried to keep up with them!”

Siwek shared the mainsheet trim with Westbarn and another guest, Richard Evans. Guests Niels Groothuizen and Mike Saqui did well to learn the various pit procedures and coordinate with the bow crew over the 2 days.

Monster Project fared well over the many downwind and reaching legs, sailing at or above the windspeed in the very conditions she was designed for. On the helm, Robinson achieved a boatspeed of 24.2 knots in just 17 knots of breeze and Skipper Andy Budgen took the boat to its top speed for the race of 27.5 knots while flying the fractional (A6) spinnaker.

Making good time around Guadeloupe, where many other boats in the fleet stalled in light airs, then tracking comfortably around St Barth’s and her home base of Sint Maarten, Monster Project and her crew rounded the spectularly rugged islet, Rodonda, early on Wednesday morning. The cool misty conditions led several on board to ask the Navigator whether he had accidentally taken the boat to Scotland! There was no doubt about the location later in the day, however, when Monster Project‘s race ended with a sparkling sunlit beat up to the finish line on Wednesday afternoon, just in time for ice-cold Corona sundowners hand-delivered by the indefatigable RORC welcoming committee volunteers.

“Hats off to Bella Mente, Rambler and Shockwave, who all finished within 15 minutes of each other. Their crews include professional racers from the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup campaigns and our team were really proud to finish only a few hours behind them,” said Budgen.

As the sun sets on this year’s RORC Caribbean 600, Budgen is already looking forward to next year’s event. “The 600 is a very tactical race and very weather-dependent. We learned a few things this year and will be back to challenge again in 2015”.

Next on the program for Monster Project and her crew is this week’s Heineken Sint Maarten Regatta. Monster Project will be racing around the island on Friday, seeking to continue her Caribbean successes. Look out for her dark blue hull and bright yellow decks as she sails past!