Bella Mente Racing, led by owner/driver Hap Fauth, launched its 2017 campaign season with a major victory this week, winning IRC Overall, CSA Overall and CSA 1 at the RORC Caribbean 600 in Antigua; The team took home the coveted RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy for the IRC win as well as the Bella Mente Trophy, the team’s namesake award, for being the first IRC yacht to finish that is wholly manually powered.
The 600-mile offshore race hosted a record number of competitors for its 2017 edition, with over 80 yachts hitting the waters off Antigua, but it was the battle between Bella Mente and rival Maxi 72 Proteus that took the spotlight. The yachts dueled up until the very end, with the lead switching hands on several occasions. After over two days at sea, Bella Mente ultimately prevailed, crossing the finish line on Wednesday, February 22 at 4:51 p.m. (AST), ahead of Proteus.
“This is such an important event for our campaign each year so it was just the best to be able to come back swinging,” said Fauth adding that this year’s RORC Caribbean 600 win was exceptionally sweet for the team, which came to the event last year hoping to defend its 2015 IRC Overall win, but were forced to retire halfway into racing due to keel troubles. “We’re looking forward to the rest of our 2017 season and ultimately the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championships in Sardinia. That is what the whole season is focused on from here.
“It was a very hard fought win. Over the course of the race, the team performed 85 sail changes and all but one were executed perfectly. The crew gave a 120 percent and we got a victory out of it – a crew and afterguard-driven victory.”
The 600-mile race circumnavigates 11 Caribbean islands, starting its fleet off Fort Charlotte in Antigua and then taking it north up to Barbuda and around Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Barth and St. Martin before heading south for Guadeloupe. From there, the fleet returns to Barbuda and rounds Redonda before finishing back in Antigua.
“Our playbook was pretty extensive for this race with this being our fifth RORC Caribbean 600 racing Bella Mente, however it was based on the trade winds blowing as they normally do this time of year,” said the team’s offshore helmsman Mike Sanderson adding that though the RORC Caribbean 600 racecourse was the same as previous years, the fleet experienced a completely different wind direction, which changed the tactics and dynamic onboard. That, coupled with intense competition with Proteus, made for an extremely tough race. “This year the wind conditions did a 180 in comparison to previous years, which made for an entirely different race. For me, that was the best part of this year’s event. It’s always great to have a new challenge because it means we really have to do our homework to prepare for the race. When we got out there on the course, everything looked so different going around the track even though we were in familiar surroundings.”
Tactician Terry Hutchinson added, “It was an absolute battle all the way through. Proteus got the better of us in the pre-start and on the first leg up to Barbuda, but we did a good job of keeping it close, and one rain shower later we were bow-to-stern with the Maxi 72. For the next 450 miles we were tied to the hip. Proteus held the lead through to La Désirade (off Guadeloupe), but when we started on the 90-mile leg back to Barbuda, Bella Mente’s upwind speed shined and we were able to slip around Proteus and extend. From Barbuda to the finish we were constantly looking over our shoulder; our lead never felt big enough and we were preparing for one more parking lot with no breeze on the racecourse ahead. In true Bella Mente form, a couple of slick sail changes at the end of our 53 hours on the water got us across the finish line.”
When asked how he thought the team performed for their first event of the season, Hutchinson responded, “The team fared well, but we have a lot of work to do. The competition this season is very good, and so like in 2016 we need to apply a consistent process to our performance and development, and allow Bella Mente’s number one resource, our people, to perform.”
Bella Mente will compete in one more event in the Caribbean, Les Voiles de. St. Barth in April, before the yacht is shipped across the Atlantic to race in Mallorca, Spain for the Palma Vela in May. The team will then relocate to Corfu, Greece for the inaugural Corfu Challenge in July and return to Mallorca for the Copa del Rey MAPFRE later that month. The season culminates with its final and most significant event, the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship in Porto Cervo, Italy in September.
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by Kirsten Ferguson