My love affair in Antigua

Sisi is Austrian-Italian. Dark-skinned. Slender and tall. Her body shape is dazzling. People get excited just looking at her features. She always attracts attention wherever she goes.

Named after the legendary young Austrian empress, she lives up to a reputation of passion and adventure. And love.

And we were with 17 to share our love with her, for a week, in Antigua, February this year.

Sisi is a VO65 - a 65 foot full-bred Volvo Ocean sailing racer. She races under the brand "The Austrian Ocean Race Project Powered by Team Genova", thus showing her Austrian-Italian pedigree. As far as non-foiling monohull open ocean sailing boats go, she is amongst the fastest boats in the world. Less than a dozen of VO65's were ever built.

For those rather unfamiliar with "open ocean" sail racing, "the Ocean Race" is probably the most prestigious and challenging around-the-globe sailing team races. It is held every three or four years since 1973. Originally named "the Whitbread Round the World Race", in 2001 it became the "Volvo Ocean Race" and in 2019 it was renamed "The Ocean Race".

Pre-2014, the fastest open ocean racers were VO70's - 70 ft boats, which were found to be structurally rather unsafe. So, after many issues with VO70's, as of 2014, the around-the-globe race was held with new single-design 65 foot boats, the VO65's. "Single design" meant that all boats participating in the "Volvo Ocean Race" had, up to the slightest details, the exact same features, systems, hardware, and sails which levels the sailing competition to the skills of the sailors, rather than the features of the boat. People told me that even the slightest details, like the bags holding cups above the stove, were uniform and standardized.

In the past, Sisi did the two around-the-globe Volvo Ocean races - last was the 2017-2018 campaign, when she sailed under the brand "Vestas - 11th Hour Racing", with the infamous Charlie Enright as skipper and Simon Fisher as navigator. After each campaign, the boats are stripped to the bone and totally rebuilt.

Sisi was fully refurbished/rebuilt in Genova 2 years ago, to make her ready for the 2022-2023 Ocean race, and she was re-launched about 18 months ago. Sisi was the Austrian/Italian entry in the 2022-2023 Ocean Race participating in the European legs.

She is a full carbon boat featuring a carbon hull, boom, mast and rigging. She is 65ft, with a mast of 30 meters, weighing only 12.5 tons (empty). She has a 4.8m keel, which kants up to 40° sideways. She has a 1000 litre ballast tank (pumped between forward and aft tanks) and 2x800 litre side ballast tanks.

The VO65 record stands at 38 knots boat speed, with their 24 hour record in open ocean standing at 601 nautical miles, averaging 25 knots. So they are at par with the 100ft Supermaxi's (like "Comanche") - which has the current world record for non-foiling monohulls at 618 nm in 24 hours, making VO65's on par with the much larger Supermaxi's, as the fastest non-foiling open ocean monohulls in the world.

So how did I get to know Sisi? Well, via an internet site. And no - not the kind of sites one links up with Russian or Thai girls. The other kind of websites... :-)
I was looking to charter a performance cruiser for this summer, and someone pointed me to a website of a company which could help me in this endeavour. Exploring their website, I saw they also marketed crew positions on high performance boats, like Sisi, for different regattas.

And that is how I got to know Sisi, back in January this year: Sisi had crew spots available for the RORC Caribbean600 (C600) regatta, starting and ending in Antigua, in February. I did a background check, and found the C600, to be one of the world's top regattas, in the same class as e.g. the UK Fastnet race and the Sydney-Hobart race. As in the 600 (nautical) miles of the race, the C600 regatta rounds many different islands, the race is reputed to be a very challenging regatta, with loads of maneuvering, and often challenging winds and open ocean wave activity...

Sisi would sail in the C600 with 11 amateur crew - like me, and 6 professional crew of which three - including the skipper - are part of Sisi's permanent crew. All professional crew, were... well... professional sailors: a young and fit bunch who sail these kinds of boats and do off-shore regattas for a living.

I did not hesitate a moment to apply as crew on Sisi for the C600, which was about 6 weeks before the event. My application was accepted in 24 hours, and we were a go.

Little did I know what Sisi had in mind for me... And how she would test me to my limits...

More in the following posts.


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