The Bitter End Yacht Club played host to Olympians, World Champions and America’s Cup sailors during the 25th anniversary of the Pro Am Regatta on October 29 to November 5th.
More than 70 sailors participated in the weeklong regatta, where they got an opportunity to learn from seven professional sailors.
Olympic gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe was taking part in the regatta for the third straight year. She considers it ‘vacation sailing’ and less stressful than her ‘regular’ sailing schedule. When she wasn’t on the water competing, she was sightseeing with her father, who accompanied her on the trip to the Caribbean.
She is usually racing on the international Olympic scene, where everyone is trying to win a gold medal.
“That racing is very intense all the time, you cannot lose a race,” Ms. Tunnicliffe said.
She said dropping a race at the Pro Am Regatta is not the “end of the world,” and enjoys sharing her knowledge of the sport with others.
However, she acknowledged the abundance of professional and seasoned skippers that were sailing in the event. This year’s pros included Peter Holmberg, Ed Baird, Dave Ullman, Andrew Campbell, Zach Railey and Tom Lee.
“There are a lot of good pro skippers here,” Ms. Tunnicliffe said. “A lot of whom I look up to. For me to come and race against them is a huge honor. It gets very exciting and intense. I get nervous sometimes when I am racing against Ed Baird or Peter Holmberg.”
The Americas Cup AC 45 schedule conflicted with this year’s Pro Am Regatta resulting in two professional sailors – Paul Cayard and Russell Coutts – not attending the event.Â Both have attended and won the Pro Am Regatta in the past.
“They are no strangers to the event, it is just unfortunate that they couldn’t make it this year,” Regatta Chairman and Director of Sales and Marketing for BEYC John Glynn said.
There were more crews than boats leaving sailors to take turns racing, while others waited on a large committee/spectator boat. Mister Glynn said this was an opportunity for sailors to converse while watching the regatta. The event featured both fleet and match racing.
Anna Tunnicliffe sailed with 16 different sailors throughout the week. Each professional sailor has a different sailing style, she said.
“Everyone is super keen to help out as much as they can. If I say something, they are very interested in what I have to say. But a lot of them are very good sailors in their own right. I usually don’t have to say anything and let them do their jobs. It is like sailing a regular race; everyone has a job to do. I let them do their job and they let me do my job. Everyone gets along. It is a learning experience for everybody.”
Robin Stout of Redondo Beach, California, has been participating in the Pro Am Regatta for the past three years.
“Anna (Tunnicliffe) and Zach (Railey) are my favorites, especially Anna,” Ms. Stout said.
She favors Ms. Tunnicliffe because they are both match racers.
“She has an amazing amount of patience,” Ms. Stout said. “She will constantly talk to us and coach in a delightful way. She is always telling us what she is about to do – when a boat does this, we do that. It is a learning experience. Everyone walks off her boat with a smile. She is a doll.”
She said the Pro Am Regatta is her “fantasy camp.” The experience and techniques that she learns from the regatta are put to use in events she competes in back home.
“It is a summer camp for adults,” Ms. Stout said.
Selecting professional skippers means more than just having an impressive resume, according to Mr. Glynn. He said organizers look for personalities that “fit.”
“They are genuinely nice, real people,” Mr. Glynn said. “And they are enthusiastic about spreading their love of the sport with regular sailors.”
It isn’t uncommon that the professional sailors develop ‘life-long bonds’ with other sailors, whether it is through e-mail or phone, he added.
However, over the years there have been some professional sailors that didn’t work out or fit in with the Pro Am Regatta.
“They are now not here for a reason,” Mr. Glynn said.
The regatta continues to be a unique and successful event because of the venue and its sailors, according to the regatta chairman.
“There is really nothing like it, at least not at this level,” Mr. Glynn said. “Regular sailors or weekend warriors can actually go racing with a world champion or an America’s Cup sailor. And do it in an environment where it is real racing and a learning experience.”
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.