Revving up for St Thomas

A preview to the International Rolex Regatta

Friday March 28th 2008, Author: Barby MacGowan, Location: United Kingdom
At the St. Thomas Yacht Club today, positive energy blended splendidly with the excitement surrounding preparations for the 35th running of the International Rolex Regatta. The three-day event starts tomorrow, offering handicap and one-design racing for 90 boats and hundreds of sailors, who are giving two thumbs up to some new twists. First, the regatta has taken a lead in offering IRC racing, since the popularity of that rating rule has grown rapidly in Europe and North America and is now catching on in the Caribbean. Second, the event is the first part of Virgin Islands Race Week, which combines the International Rolex Regatta scores with those from next week's BVI Spring Regatta to determine winners in a series that unites two Caribbean nations.

"It's a good IRC turnout," said John Munns about the 12 IRC boats split into two classes. Munns, who is the navigator and captain aboard Richard Matthews' Oystercatcher XXVI, further explained that in the past the only option was to sail under the CSA, or 'Caribbean Rule'. "Richard, with his previous Oystercatchers, has sailed here many times under CSA," he said, "but this boat was purpose-built for IRC. We have won several notable events in the UK in the year since the boat was launched, but we came here for more competition. We also have a CSA rating, but IRC is a better rating for us." Munns then laughed: "But technically we're not in a position to argue, because we just won (in CSA racing) at the Heineken Regatta."

Up against Oystercatcher XXVI will be someone who has proven himself many times over at this regatta: Clive Llewellyn with his Judel/Vrolik 49 Mad IV. At the same time, OnDeck, a St. Thomas company that offers racing yacht charters, has entered one of its Farr 40s with a partially supplied crew. It will be skippered by St. Thomas's America's Cup veteran and Olympic Medalist Peter Holmberg, who is rounding out the crew with Sailing World editor Stuart Streuli and local talent Maurice Korg, Ben Beer, brother John Holmberg and Dean Coles.

Perrenial competitors Bill Alcott, owner of the Andrews 68 Equation and Jim Muldoon, owner of the custom 72 Donnybrook, also are sailing IRC and will face formidable competition from the likes of Norbert Plambeck's Frers 80 Hexe, Sam Fleets Swan 601 Aquarius and Ron O'Hanley's Farr-designed Cookson 50 Privateer, which sports the only canting keel here at the regatta and may bode well for the brisk breezes forecast for the next few days. "It means that in high winds, we've got a lot of stability and we can be full-on with our sails," said the boats captain Ian Henderson, explaining that others in those conditions would have to shorten sail.

Highlighting the CSA division in Spinnaker Racing 2 class will be the BVI's Guy Eldridge aboard his Beneteau First Luxury Girl. Having won this regatta in 2005 on a Melges 24, Eldridge is already turning in winning performances with this new boat. Crewing with him are two Olympians from the UK, Barry and Sue Parkin.

In Spinnaker Racing 1 will be Caccia Ala Volpe, the Vallicelli 44 owned by Carlo Falcone (Antigua). "We are best in the windward/leeward racing," said Falcone, adding that some boats with asymmetrical spinnakers fare better than his on reaching legs through the islands.

The regatta kicks off on Friday with an all-classes distance race, along the south side of St. Thomas and finishing inside Charlotte Amalie Harbor, in the shadows of the cruise ships, creating a colorful spectacle for spectators. The fleet will then restart for a second race, reversing course back to the East End. Saturday will be the make-or-break day, with multiple around-the-buoys races taking place on the Ocean circle for two IRC classes, two Spinnaker Racing classes and a class each for Non-Spinnaker Racing and Beach Cats. On the Jersey Bay circle, plotted closer to shore, the IC24 one-design class will compete in back-to-back races, as many as can be fit in. To top things off, on Sunday, a middle-distance race in Pillsbury Sound will provide more incredible vistas and a challenging course for the racers, while the IC24s continue their non-stop windward-leeward competition.

Enrique Figueroa, who is sailing his Tornado DRD/Suzuki/Red Bull in the 17-boat Beach Cat class and has been coming to the Rolex Regatta since 1979, winning it more times than he can count, may have competition from a new sherriff in town. That would be Gringo Starr, sailed by John Casey, the U.S. Multihull Champion who has won the Tybee 500 three times. "I've got plenty of time on the ocean, just not here," said Casey, who is new to Caribbean racing. "Enrique has a 57 rating (Portsmouth Rule for Beach Cats) and we have a 59, so we owe them time." The result should be that Casey will be the first to finish in the races, but Figueroa has proven time and again that his blazing speed rewrites the theory of rules.

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