By Ed Gifford
The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Caribbean 600 got underway on February 24 off the West Indies island nation of Antigua. On board the catamaran Allegra, as part of a crew of 12 from eight different nations, were the boat’s captain, Wainscott resident Adrian Keller, and Fred Stelle, an architect from North Haven.
Allegra is a fast, 84-foot cruising and racing catamaran designed by Nigel Irens and owned by Keller, who, along with Stelle, are regulars on the Sag Harbor sailing scene, racing onboard their yacht, Ace.
After numerous attempts, Allegra staged a stunning upset in the MOCRA Multihull class, beating three of the world’s fastest ocean racing trimarans. In doing so, they won their class with an elapsed time of 2 days, 15 hours, 9 minutes and 15 seconds over the 600-mile course, averaging almost 10 knots for the entire distance in a predominantly light air race.
With 74 boats from 20 countries and over 700 sailors of 29 different nationalities competing, the race started and finished off Antigua, circling 11 Caribbean island nations, ranging as far north as Anguilla and as far south as Guadeloupe. The fleet sailed through dark blue seas and past gleaming white beaches dotted with palm trees, making the “600” one of the world’s most picturesque ocean races.
It was an appropriate race for Allegra, which can sail at twice the speed of the wind and race across oceans in days instead of weeks. With two hulls, Allegra is exceptionally stable and smooth because she skims over the waves rather than punching through them, thus eliminating the pounding common on traditional monohulls.
Keller and Stelle were scheduled to compete in the 2014 race aboard Ace, but they failed to start because of an injury to a key member of their crew. Allegra also dropped out of the 2016 Trans Atlantic Race and was forced to abandon another big race in the Mediterranean in 2017. Then, this past December, just 70 miles from being the first to finish in the Lanzarote to Grenada transatlantic race, bad luck struck again as Allegra was forced to drop out and divert to the nearest island, Martinique, with a crew member who had broken a leg during a sail change.
“It was a discouraging, bitter pill,” Stelle said about the letdowns.
This year, the crew felt that just finishing the 600 would be an accomplishment, with any notion of winning being rather far-fetched. But as the start of the race approached and the weather forecasts called for unusually light winds, fortune’s wheel finally turned in Allegra’s favor. Stelle gave credit to longtime shipmates, Helena Darvelid and Australian race captain Paul Larsen, who holds the record for the fastest speed ever recorded under sail — 75.32 mph — making him an excellent fit for Allegra.
“It is a wonderful feeling to get all of your ducks in a row — great boat, crew, strategy, navigation, sail handling, helmsmanship, great coaching from Paul and Helena — and see it pay off,” Stelle said. “Winning isn’t everything, but it is way ahead of whatever is in second place. The glow of satisfaction lasts.”
Allegra will participate in the 935-mile Antigua to Bermuda Race, which gets underway May 6, and then the biannual 635-mile Newport to Bermuda Race, America’s oldest and greatest ocean race, which starts on June 19. The boat will then cross the Atlantic and spend the summer racing in Europe.