Spills, thrills and lots of competition sums up the 36th annual International Rolex Regatta (IRR), raced out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, U.S. Virgin Islands, March 27 to 29, 2009. Though attendance was down due to global economic woes to only 64 boats, the level of competition was high.
“This has got to be one of the most exciting Rolexes,” said Bill Canfield, who co-directed this year’s regatta with John Sweeney. “…a large number of boats in each class and some really close finishes.”
First race, first day, all eyes focused on the biggest yacht on the course: the USA’s Jim Muldoon’s Custom 73’ Donnybrook. The sleek-sailing, black-hulled vessel’s huge spinnaker came splashing down on the second leg of the round-the-islands race. The crew ultimately had to cut the big sail free and it was swiftly picked up by nearby safety boats. That ended Muldoon’s Rolex by sea, but he and his crew enjoyed the regatta festivities ashore the rest of the weekend.
After a four year hiatus, the BVI’s Kevin Rowlette’s Olson 30, Rushin Rowlette, was back on the race course and looking good in a shiny safety orange paint job. Problem was, there were a couple of corroded spreader tips. Rowlette didn’t notice the problem during the vessel’s face lift and it cost him and his crew the mast on the second race of the regatta. Still, everyone had fun. “We’re racing with the same guys, some new faces too,” said Rowlette.
Ten-foot seas and 20-plus wind gusts can only mean one thing. “It was wet and wild out there,” said St. Croix’s Chris Schreiber, skippering his Hobie 16, Auto-Manic, to an eventual class win.
The five-boat beach cat class saw a mix of three different makes – Hobie 16, Hobie Tiger and Inter 20. “We just focused on beating the other Hobie 16,” said Schreiber. “That gave us an advantage because we pushed ourselves.”
The competition was “fabulous,” said Lawrence Aqui, skippering his C&C 37, Top Gun, in the highly spirited Racer-Cruiser Class. “Ours was one of the biggest classes, and if you looked at the finish times, sometimes there was no more than a second or two separating the boats. For us, local knowledge played a big role. It gave us an advantage over other boats that were sailing just as well.”
The Spinnaker Racing Class saw a battle of the planing versus non-planing hulls – with the planing hulls plainly winning. “I felt sorry for the other boats in our class,” said St. Maarten’s Frits Bus, sailing his Melges 24, Team Coors Light, to a class second. “The wind was good for us because Melges can plane in those conditions.”
The BVI’s Dave West’s Melges 32 ultimately beat Bus out for the Spinnaker Racing Class title. “It took three years, but we finally won our class,” said West, who started practicing last November and added rock star crew like former St. Thomas and now Newport-based professional crew, Anthony Kotoun. “The watch is cool,” said West, referring to his Rolex prize, “but the nicest part is sailing well.”
Nothing could have been closer than the competition in the one-design IC-24 Class. One point from the top going into the last day of racing on his Orion, Puerto Rico’s star sailor, Fraito Lugo, ended in 8th. “It wasn’t my day,” said Lugo. “What can I say? I have no excuses. You can’t have a bad day in IC24s and still do well.”
The situation just about reversed itself for the BVI crew on Intac. Fifth headed into the last day, the boat was one point from a Rolex after a series of nearly flawless, astute moves on the part of 17-year-old skipper Alec Anderson. “One bad race sealed the deal on our second. You have to be really consistent to win, like Chris (winner Chris Curreri on Brand-New Secondhand).”
A ‘RAF’ caught St. Croix’s Tony Sanpere, helming his J/36, Cayennita Grande, by surprise both on sea and on the scoreboard. “All of us old-timers know the inter-island courses and we didn’t bother to read the race instructions carefully,” said Sanpere, who along with two other boats in the class missed the Ratta Island mark and earned a ‘Retired After Finishing’. Other than that, Sanpere scored three bullets, making an impressive comeback for an overall third.
The IRR is one of only a few events in the Caribbean to offer dedicated classes for IRC-rated yachts. “David Aisher, driving his Rogers 46, Yeoman XXXII, said, “We just won the Caribbean 600 and the crew is used to doing more offshore racing. Still, with only six boats in the class, there’s lots of competition – the Cookson (Privateer) with its canting keel and the Swan (Arethusa) is really switched on.”
While there’s debate about the pros and cons of offering IRC Classes in the land of the CSA rating rule, the UK’s Mike Irwin, RORC’s rating office technical director, said, “What everyone should be interested in is happy sailors, letting the local boats race under the local rule and enticing visitors to race by offering the international rule. Happy sailors mean a successful regatta and boost for the local economy.”
Complete results: www.rolexcupregatta.com