It was a great feeling rounding the mark just below the Temple of Poseidon to be part of the first edition of Aegean 600. We were promised a beautiful race, “by sailors for sailors”, in waters that figure in many greek myths. It’s hard to race here without a strong feeling of history.
Our expectations were high.
But I don’t think any of us really was prepared for what the Aegean sea had in store for us.
Photos: Nikos Alevromytis, George Alevromitis and the team.
Our team have a bucket list of races we want to do. It’s the usual ones, like Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race and Newport – Bermuda. Naturally the pandemic destroyed everyone’s plan for 2020, and when the team had to choose between the glamorous Rolex Giraglia Cup or the new Aegean 600, everyone opted for the tougher offshore challenge in Greece.
Someone might have regretted their choice when the storm jib came up.
What is the common thing between Aegean600,
Playboy, and National Geographic?
They show you all these niceOfficial WhatsApp group for Aegean 600
places you are not going to visit.
As most of the races we do are “a first” for all of us, we need to get preparations right. And this it was even more important, since there was no history or experience from earlier editions.
We analyzed 10 years of weather data, and the results were clear; more wind than expected and a lot of reaching. Not really ideal conditions for the J/111, but plenty of downwind and soft spots to decide a race.
As in earlier races, we worked with Aksel Magdahl to analyze the weather before the start. The big picture was pretty clear with light winds for the first few days before a long wrestle with the infamous Meltemi-breeze. We could also see some opportunities to make gains by being aggressive with tactics.
We also managed to stick to our “standard schedule” with a preparation team on site a week before the start, 2 days of focussed training in the water, and a free day before the start to clear our heads and get into race mode.
So we couldn’t have done more when we left the boat Saturday night before race day.
Start – Milos
The Race Committee decided to use two marks to get some inshore legs before heading south. A good chance for the chopper to get some good promo shots… We selected to start at the boat as it was closer to the first mark and almost on layline. Plus we got to sail the first leg in free wind. We’re the smaller boat in the top left corner.
After the first upwind leg, there was a short leg in towards Temple of Poseidon. That turned into a drag race with some of the bigger boats.
Already tangled up with some of the boats we should cross tacks with for the next 4 days; X4.6 Artemis (with the X-yacht owner/management team and Aksel Magdahl onboard), Xp44 Antelope, 46′ Essex Girl (known from Scandinavian waters), CS42 SetSail, Farr 45 Espresso Martini and a few others.
Finally, we were able to do our own thing. After a busy start, it’s comforting to be able to point the bow at the horizon, implement your own strategy and get into routines.
Racing at last.
A local low pressure over Peloponnese generated the soutwesterly breeze that was supposed to veer early evening. All models pointed to this even if there was some difference in timing, so we invested in this and stayed right of the fleet. Some of the open-style boats went all-in and went SW with their codes, but I think we played it rather safe going as fast as possible towards the new wind.
Local Farr 52 Optimum 3 opted for the same strategy while the other bigger boats stayed closer to rhumbline. We were in good company with both Antelope and Artemis.
Just when we started to get nervous, the shift came and we could tack and lay the next mark. Phew. I guess I get to keep my job as navigator for a few more days.
We thought there was a clear difference in pressure, so we did a couple of short tacks south to dig into moire wind. Antelope did the best job here by being further south, but I think we extended on all the boats to the north of us.
It was also clear that we’d gained on all the boats on the inside. Specifically X-41 Alexa X and Swan 65 Libelula.
Life could be worse.
Milos – Santorini
We rounded Milos at 02:00 and put up the code. Soon went to the A3 as the wind veered. We had a feeling that the boats behind got stuck and had to tack to get around the mark. Not really sure, but we managed to gain some distance here together with SetSail and Libelula.
Back to code in the early morning hours.
All the hard work paid off and we were 1st in IRC and 2nd in ORC just after sunrise on day 2!
We tried to stay just south of rhumbline anticipating the veering wind closer to Santorini. But it also got lighter during the day, so the approach became quite tricky.
Decent pressure coming into the gate with the A3.
And then upwind all the way through.
Looks pretty straight forward, but we spent exactly 3 hours covering 9.4′. Painfully slow, and many of the bigger boats seemed to have an easier times. Maybe because of rig height?
Different animals: Swan 65 Libelula (amazing boat with the Spanish Pella family) and Pogo 50 Eros (fast in a blow, but had a harder time in light air).
Santorini – Kassos/Karpathos
Onto the next leg…
Finally a real downwind leg. Another one where the wind was supposed to veer, so a boat speed race to the right corner.
Here, we sailed really well and managed to catch both SetSail, Antelope, Espresso Martini, and even Essex Girl by sailing lower with better VMG. Excellent work by the crew.
So after the setback at Santorini, we were back in business with a lead overall in ORC:
Another amazing night at sea. It gets very dark and there was no moon. But we’re used to sailing on the instruments and keep the boat going fast in most conditions.
Kassos/Karpathos – Rhodos
Battling it out with Xp 44 Anteloupe.
The passage of Kassos and Karpathos was clearly the trickiest part for us. There clearly were an inside track close to the islands, but the exit was very uncertain. We looked closely at the track of the bigger boats, and the Scuderia 65 Hagar V had spent hours trying to get free from Karpathos (purple track above). We though the offshore route was safer but struggled initially.
In the end, we lost out to Eros, who was the only boat that “magically” escaped the transition. We lost a little to Artemis and Libelula, but at least we didn’t park.
So this is new? Reaching in 16-24 knots of wind trying to stay upright. At least we’re halfway…
Not very dramatic? Still, hard work changing sails and managing reefs. Now it also became clear that the 46′ boats would start trucking along. Essex Girlö passed us like we stood still.
Rhodos – Kandelousa
Hard work trimming the main in puffy conditions.
Another amazing sunset. This time at the northern tip of Rhodes.
Another tricky transition. Our models were clear on a steady N-NNW, but we started out in a puffy westerly as it got dark. A few of the other boats found it first but were unlucky (look at Artemis track), and somehow we managed to catch it and hang on to it. Later in the night we fell into a hole but managed to get back in the northerly breeze before we lost too much.
Kandelousa – Kos
Going NE after Kandelousa. Hard on the wind and pretty good numbers. As soon as we could go upwind we felt we were competitive, but we had a hard time fighting off the bigger boat when everyone but their bow down and went for speed.
Pretty straightforward. Somewhat nervous pushing the boat hard with Pergousa and Gyali close to leeward.
Eastern tip of Kos. Wouldn’t mind getting ashore for a drink and a shower.
Some proper upwind. We did well until we started to race boat against boat with Artemis and SetSail and lost the big picture. And yes, they passed us. Finally.
Agathonissi – Mykonos
A familiar view. And the last sunset of the race. Just the grueling last stretch back.
The J/111 isn’t a big boat. Just 36′ and pretty narrow. Sporty. So the crew needs to be organized to manage sail handling, cooking, sleeping, navigation, personal hygiene, … And 35 degrees Celsius and salty seas showering everyone on a regular basis don’t really help.
The last night became pretty eventful. It felt we had three different conditions, that were repeated again and again and again:
- 15 knots with full main and J2. Fully powered up.
- 20-24 knots with 1 reef and J3.5. Managing ok, but hard work
- 30+ knots with 2 reefs and J3.5 (and even storm jib once). Just nursing the boat.
The problem was the short burst, where we could be in one mode for 30 minutes before changing to another. I think we reefed/un-reefed more times in one night than we did in the previous 10 years.
At 02:00, at the darkest hour of the night, we got 38 knots of wind at the same time as a reef line decided to escape from the boom. Lowering the main for a reef we also ripped the extra cover on the main halyard. We opted to put the bow down for 30 minutes to get sorted… ripping along at 15 knots while avoiding commercial traffic got a bit exciting.
What I remember most is the dry comment from the watch captain going off watch: “you seem to have everything under control, so good night. See you in two hours”. Business as usual :-)
But a focused crew fixed everything and soon we were back in 100% race mode.
Mykonos – Kea
When I got on deck at 06:00 I was quite surprised to see the storm jib up. Just minutes earlier we had almost 40 knots TWS. The smaller boats further back later had >55 knots. So again, the bigger boats had an advantage.
The final stretch and more of the same: eat, sleep, reef, repeat.
Kea – Finish
After Kea, we finally got to put the A5 up. Great, as this was the only sail we hadn’t used before…
But the fun didn’t last long as we pealed to A2 and then to J2 for another beam reach to the finish.
And there it is. Temple of Poseidon and the finish.
My initial routing had indicated a fast race of under 96 hours, and we finally did it in 95 hours 24 minutes, and 39 seconds.
A happy crew. And a well-deserved cold beer after a tough race.
So how do you summarize a race like this?
The racecourse was just as beautiful, dramatic, and challenging as advertised. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will become a classic 600 nm race that every serious offshore racer has to do at least once.
The organizers were very professional, but at the same time managed to show fantastic hospitality. We felt very welcome and got all the help we needed both before and after the race. As a race organizer myself, I know how important it is to deliver the full experience from day one, and the team from HORC really delivered. And if there’s one person to mention it’s Konstantinos Tsigkaras 🙏
I’m super happy with our performance. We did what we set out to do, kept the boat going at 100%, and made some really good tactical calls. It was a big boat race, and we punched well above our weight. We were 10% faster on corrected time than any other boat <40′.
- 1st in ORC 2 (full results)
- 2nd in ORC overall after Farr 52 Opimum 3
- 2nd in IRC 2 after X4.6 Artemis (full results)
First, thanks to an amazing crew. From left to right: Pelle Pedersen, Andreas Håkansson, Mattias Bodlund, jens Allroth, Peter Gustafsson, Simon Kindt, Mats Björk, Michael Wahlroos & Erik Svensson.
Then to our partners that support us in our ventures: B&G, Cyclops Marine, Happy Yachting, Expedition Marine, Henri Lloyd, Liros, North Sails, and Spinlock. And many others.
And naturally – all of you following us on our adventures, cheering us on. You are more important than you might think!