Richard Branson at the BVI Spring Regatta
A single day of racing remains at the 40th Anniversary BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival and the tussle for podium places is getting serious. Razor-thin margins define several classes, and Mother Nature is forecast to deliver a wild card tomorrow: less pressure. For the past two days, 122 participating boats have enjoyed 15-22 knots, so tomorrow’s question mark will test each crew’s ability to switch gears. While the party rages at the race village at Nanny Cay, the regatta’s base, everyone knows that change may literally be in the wind.
One pronounced format change here over most other regattas is the presence of on-the-water umpires in the IC 24 class. While the BVI Spring Regatta isn’t the first to use umpires in a fleet-racing format, we’re advancing a popular new protocol. Rather than using a protest room to settle an on-the-water kerfuffle, umpires observe and assign penalties in real-time; guilty sailors, in turn, serve immediate penance.
“We don’t have 10-15 protests stacking up at the end of racing,” said Glenn Oliver, an International Judge and Umpire. “It speeds the game along.” When queried as to whether this innovation will spread, Oliver advises that it requires a sophisticated regatta to pull it off. “You wouldn’t see this in most places - [only] larger events where they can bring in umpires to do the work.”
“I think it’s the way to go,” said Frits Bus, an IC 24 skipper from St. Maartin. “You avoid protest rooms and nasty discussions.” On-the-water umpires not only save everyone time, but their presence is a catalyst for a better change. “It keeps people honest,“ said William Bailey, a red-hot 18 year old skipper from nearby St. Thomas, adding that, “it puts the pressure on people then and there.”
While umpires aren’t lurking amongst other classes, the noose is tightening on the final standings for everyone. Take the Racing C class, where James Hudleston’s Three Harkoms is currently leading Richard Wesslund’s El Ocaso and Jaime Torres’ Smile and Wave. “The beauty is that we have a lot of closely matched boats,” said Torres. “It feels great to sail against highly qualified people who are your buddies.”
Other classes are more settled. In Racing B, Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32 Team Intac is sitting on six straight bullets and a ten-point margin over their nearest rival. “It’s been great competition! We’re getting faster as a boat,” said Topher Kingsley-Williams, TEAM Intac’s bowman and captain. As for tomorrow’s forecast, Kingsley-Williams feels solid. “We’re good in the light stuff—we’ve just got to make sure that we work well as a team.”
But given the potential wildcard, much mystery remains. “Generally, the classes here are decided with the last race,” said Bob Phillips, the Regatta Chairman. “It usually comes down to how many races the committees run. If they run three, there could be different class winners than if they only run two. This regatta is still everyone’s game.”
Meanwhile here are some more pictures of Sir Richard Branson and his 115ft cat Necker Belle (currently last in the multihull class...) courtesy of Ingrid Abery/www.ingridabery.com