Written by Stuart Austin
Last month, I was lucky enough to take part in the Aegean 600 Sailing Race, sailing on our boat, ‘Quick Decision’. Plans for us to enter the race began before the boat was purchased in March 2020 — just as the UK was sent into lockdown due to Covid-19. Two years later, after restrictions had eased and lockdowns had been lifted, we entered and competed in the race as a crew of four, far from prepared for what we had signed up for.
By the 2023 race, Quick Decision had a full crew of six, featuring three original team members plus Jack Karger of Vagabonde Adventures as Co-Skipper. Prior to the start of the race, we delivered the boat to the starting point, entered the practice race, and passed scrutineering. With the assistance of Simon Forbes of MOCRA, the team reduced its handicap to be in line with the race’s two other Outremer 4X entrants. The MOCRA fleet consisted of three 4Xs — Quick Decision, Lynx and Fortunae, and a Trimaran Corsair 970 called Saygi.
The race began at 2.30 pm on Sunday 9 July — with our fleet following IRC1 and Maxi, which included the race winner, Leopard 3. On the first tack, Quick Decision’s port genoa barber hauler snapped, followed by the starboard side on the second tack. We rigged alternatives, but lost a little time to Lynx. By 3.46 pm, we hit the first wind hole, holding us back alongside Lynx — which amazingly managed to escape! We were left to wallow until 4.56 pm, when we were able to rejoin the pursuit — seven nautical miles behind Lynx.
We hit the next wind hole at 9.30pm, North of Adamantas, trapping several racers. Following helpful advice from our friend Captain Nathan Mills of Oceata prior to the race, Quick Decision managed to sneak through until the next wind hole between 2.10 – 3.20 am. From south of Adamantas, we fast reached Thira and Santorini in great conditions.
We then sailed south, holding our A2 to 17 knotts (kn) before being overpowered. Other boats including Phaedra managed to hold full sail and pull away. At 25 kn, we had three reefs in our main and launched the A5, hitting a top speed of 20.7 kn towards Kasos — the windy corner above Crete. We should have launched the A5 earlier.
By Tuesday evening, we began our windward slog heading NE towards Karpasos and Rhodes. Here, we experienced 30 kn wind gusts but managed to get by with J3 and three reefs in main. On this tack, we were losing position to the monohulls and should have increased sail sooner. We rounded Rhodes too far off the land and hit another dead spot but were able to quickly head to Kandelioussa.
By chance, I had made a log entry to learn that we were in exactly the same position as we were in 2022 — but a massive 12 hours ahead of ourselves! We were very happy about this.
After rounding Kandelioussa we began heading towards Kos early on Wednesday morning. At 3.50 am we had another dead stop only to see La Pescadora escape ahead of us. By 8.50 am, we once again found ourselves in the exactly the same position we had been in 2022 — this time, 39 hours ahead in spite of sailing 30 nm further!
Most of Wednesday was spent tacking upwind to Agathonisi, the top corner of the course. It was frustrating being overtaken by several monohulls that were able to sail closer to the wind. At 9.00 pm, we were able to bear away towards Mykonos. At this point in last year’s race, as a crew of 4 we were exhausted and we had decided not to finish (DNF), so this was a really significant moment for us.
At 10.00 pm, south of Ikaria, we hit another wind hole, eventually heading towards Mykonos Gate in 15 – 20 kn winds and hitting 12 kn boat speed and managed to overhaul some of the monohulls. The Mykonos Gate was gentle enough to clear on one tack but as feared we reached the mother of all wind holes at 6.30 am on Thursday. We’d sailed 675 nm of a 605 nm race and after 24 hours of drifting we discussed whether it was time to call it a day. We were so close to the end and had received lots of support from family, friends and Oceata so decided it was important to keep going!
From Mykonos, we drifted until 2.00 am on Friday for 40 nm. Then, we gained a little speed and wind. It was demoralising seeing so many monos pass us during this last 30 hours and it became an endurance test just to finish.
At 6.00 am, Oscar caught a Tunny Tuna, which was prepared for later celebrations ashore. We spent 8.00 – 10.00 am in another wind hole, hoping to catch Artemis before the finish line, but reached another dead stop at 12.20 pm. We were lucky to experience some wind across the final 100 metres and crossed the finish line with main and C3 at 2.04.39 pm on Friday 14 July. The finish picture says it all – pure elation and so pleased we decided to stick with it.
I have often read that messages of support are what make all the difference to long distance athletes and I can confirm that’s true after completing this year’s race during which we received fabulous support and encouragement. The team and I are so grateful. We had a great crew, fantastic camaraderie, and we very much hope to be a part of this amazing race next year!
We would also like to thank the organisers lead by Konstantinos and his team and highly recommend www.agean600.com to all sailors.