Rousing Regatta Envy
Every year around this time, the serene waters from St Thomas, through the Sir Francis Drake Channel clear to Anegada, become replete with beautiful sailboats, their sheets full with warm and constant Virgin Islands trade winds.
From a distance, one could get lost in the sight of the busied waters; on the deck of the boat, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the sea. For the avid racer, the wind and water conditions combine for ideal racing. It comes with little surprise that year after year hundreds of boats and thousands of spectators travel from near and far to participate in the St Thomas Yacht Club Rolex Regatta and the BVI Spring Regatta.
TP52 World Champion, Team QUANTUM Sailing races to windward. Photo courtesy of St Thomas Yacht Club.
The two famed regattas fall on successive weeks, allowing many to enjoy an extended vacation on both St Thomas and Tortola—and each territory equally benefits from the economic boost. Both regattas cater to the competitive, but both also offer a friendly and inviting mix of aquatic enthusiasts eager to have a good time in the name of sailing.
This year, regatta organizers said they’re optimistic about having a large turnout with participants ranging in age and gender from seafront and land locked locations around the world. The Rolex Regatta expects to see some 80 high-performance IRC, CSA and one-design boats registered to compete in aggressive sailing on the dramatic coastlines of St Thomas and nearby St John. Organizers of the BVI Spring Regatta are also expecting a full slate, with about 120 entries signed up to compete in fleet and match racing events.
Team LIME from the BVI competed in both 2011 regattas. Photo courtesy of St Thomas Yacht Club.
Everyone wants to win a Rolex. Every year, racers largely from the United States come down in numbers with magnificent racing machines to compete for their chance to walk home with the one-of-a-kind luxury watch. And in it’s 39th year, Rolex Regatta Director Bill Canfield said the allure of the race continues to draw people in.
“We’re very pleased with the way the regatta has evolved,” he said.. “We’re looking at our best fleet ever, with four IRCs coming and three or four Farr four hundreds.”
The impressive fleet will try their luck—and test their skill—against some of the best in the business. This year’s high performance rule (HPR) brings a whole new level of competition to the regatta. HPR Decision’s Program Manager William Gammell describes the rule as a “purely race-driven rating platform” that promotes building the fastest boats possible for owners who want an all-out racer. He further explained that the HPR, as a pure measurement rule, allows owners and designers to determine their ratings as they design the boats, without the variability of subjective “black box” components or other rules.
“We are very excited about this new rating concept and the idea of a small, fast, seaworthy boat that can compete at the highest echelons of the sport and is relatively easy to transport to premier events around the world,” said Gammell, adding that his team will be sailing in the RORC Caribbean 600 and St Maarten Heineken Regatta before arriving in St Thomas for the International Rolex Regatta. From there, and like many other high performance racers, Gammell and crew will be skipping over the BVI Spring Regatta heading straight to the Les Voiles de Saint Barth.
This year’s optimistic prospects will bring many first-timers eager to put their high-performance racers to the test. But the regatta will undoubtedly bring back seasoned vets who continue to make the Rolex Regatta a must-attend event year after year. Puerto Rico’s Fraito Lugo will be competing in his 22nd Rolex this year on his IC24. The opportunity, he said, affords him a chance to promote the class he believes draws the most competitive of racers.
“Day by day we continue to see more draw to the class,” said Lugo, who has collected eight Rolex watches in his more than two decades of racing in the event. “Rolex is always a very challenging Regatta; everybody loves a Rolex, it’s always very challenging, and it’s always a good competition.”
The annual St Thomas International Rolex Regatta is the oldest regatta in Rolex’s yachting portfolio and one of the most venerable of Caribbean spring events. It has a stellar reputation for race management, offering a variety of courses ideally configured to test a sailor’s skills while showcasing the stunning shoreline. Included are the first day’s harbor races from the St Thomas Yacht Club to Charlotte Amalie Harbour and back, testing everyone’s focus; the second day’s island race will send competitors short tacking the length of St John’s south shoreline; and the final day’s sound race will test racer’s determination on complex courses around the cays of Pillsbury Sound.
Fleet racers take to the Sir Francis Drake Channel during the 2011 BVI Spring Regatta. Photo by Todd VanSickle.
BVI Spring Regatta
The BVI Spring Regatta has a lot to look forward to in its 41st year in the territory. Year after year, the famed event attracts some of the world’s most renowned yachts and sailors in the business.
The legendary 80-foot Whitbread Maxi, for example, topped the list as one of the notable early entries. The boat is in original and pristine condition and has been continuously maintained by its present Scandinavian owners. Briton Richard Balding’s Swan 60 Fenix was the best placed Swan in last year’s RORC Caribbean 600, and will again be gracing the BVI Spring Regatta as a competitor. Entries in February included competitors from around the world, including Croatia, Holland, Russia, South America and Scandinavia.
The BVI Spring Regatta draws a varied list of competitors, from high performance fleet racers and match racing skippers. The GILL BVI International Match Racing Championship, an ISAF Grade 3 event, will take place with the help of Chicago Match Racing Centre Coordinator Mary Anne Ward. The event has attracted an international field of eight teams. Lead sponsor GILL is gearing up to bring participants new blocks and gear to provide the highest level of competition.
This year, the BVI Spring Regatta will host the third edition of the International Yacht Club Challenge. Racing in one-design Sunsail yachts, the victor will win the generous prize of a week’s charter. Multiple bareboat classes from a range of yachts are available from regatta partner the Moorings, ranging in size from 37 to 55 feet. Easy access to charter options provide traveling racers of all levels the option to participate without having to ship or drive their vessels hundreds or thousands of miles to the event. The yearly event fuels the local economy, generating some $3 million annually, according to regatta Director Judy Petz.
Across the board, fine sailing conditions are expected to be the main draw to both acclaimed regattas; packed parties at tropical locales keep revelers coming back. Some might note that residents living in the Virgin Islands are quite spoiled, especially this time of the year, with two renowned regattas falling in succession. Without getting too big a head, it’s safe to say that the Virgin Islands is the ideal place to call home during this time of the year.