Caribbean sunshine

Barby MacGowan previews this Easter's International Rolex Regatta in the US Virgin Islands

Friday March 25th 2005, Author: Barby MacGowan, Location: United States
Action and atmosphere are the operative words at this year’s International Rolex Regatta, which starts tomorrow in the U.S. Virgin Islands and continues through Easter Sunday. Already known for its keen competition and island-style hospitality, the regatta, in its 32nd year, is stepping it up by giving sailors courses that weave through the spectacular islands surrounding St. Thomas on two of the three racing days and reserving the kick-off day for around-the-buoys courses. The two styles of racing will show off the diverse talent aboard 78 boats from the Caribbean, the U.S. mainland and abroad, including the UK, Germany, and Bulgaria.

"For competitors, it’s a new challenge," said Principal Race Officer John Bonds after describing Saturday’s plans to race the fleet from the island’s east end, where regatta host St. Thomas Yacht Club is located, to the main harbor of Charlotte Amalie six miles away, and then reverse the course for a second race back to where the fleet started. "It will be a challenge for the race committee to make it work, and it will make the racing accessible to the people of St. Thomas." Sunday’s traditional distance race through Pillsbury Sound, like Saturday’s, will be a strategy game and navigator’s delight, while tomorrow’s four buoy races will highlight quick thinking and brilliant boat handling for the nine classes competing.

Returning from Italy is Carlo Falcone aboard his Valicelli sloop Caccia Alla Volpe in Spinnaker Racing Class 2. The defending champion will work to anticipate the moves of last year’s second place finisher Mike Shlens and his Cosmic Warlord (Express 37) racing team from the Los Angeles area. He’ll also face the unknown of Charles Engh’s new entrant Stray Dog, a Farr 36 loaded with sailors from Annapolis, Md.

Spinnaker Racing Class 1, for the biggest boats, will see the return of four-time winner and defending champion Titan XII, Tom Hill’s Reichel/Pugh-designed 75-footer from Puerto Rico that has been burning up the race courses lately, most recently winning the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and setting a record in the 2005 Pineapple Cup Montego Bay Race. The addition of the J/160 Kativa, skippered by Michael Finn, and Sequoyah, a J/145 skippered by James Moore, means the competition amps up for two other International Rolex Regatta regulars, the 73-foot Donnybrook, owned by James Muldoon, and the 68-foot Equation, owned by Bill Alcott.

Other 2004 winners returning to the event are Puerto Rico’s Enrique Figueroa aboard Suzuki/Red Bull in the Beach Cats class and fellow countryman Fraito Lugo aboard Orion in the J/24 class.

All classes are racing for a Rolex watch as first-place prize, but for many at this event, winning seems not as important as the experience itself. Competitor John Foster of St. Thomas epitomizes the spirit of the International Rolex Regatta. He has competed in the event every year since its inception and does so strictly for the "fun, friendship and competition." For the five-time Olympian, who has won the event twice and will sail with "a good, close team" aboard the J/27 Magnificent 7 in Spinnaker Racing Class 4, the regatta just gets better with age. "It welcomes a good mixture of hard core racers who come back every year, and new young people," said Foster. "This year should be very exciting."

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