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Culebra Heineken Intl Regatta and Dinghy Regatta

The sluggish economy didn’t stand in the way of near record participation at the 5th Annual Culebra Heineken International Regatta and 5th Annual Culebra International Dinghy Regatta, sailed in tandem March 20-22 out of Culebra, Puerto Rico. Instead, it was a lack of wind – after a month or more of sail-tearing, mast breaking breeze – that slowed sailing to a halt on the final day of racing. Still, the light winds made for keen competition, the event offered a great tune-up for class qualifiers to regional and international sailing events, and the phenomenal number of dinghy sailors bode well for the future of this regatta and Caribbean sailing.

“In light winds,” says St. Thomas’ John Foster, who won Spinnaker B on his Kirby 25, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, one of 61 vessels sailing, “the idea is to keep the boat moving. You’re tempted to sheet in tight when in reality you should ease out and let the boat go, ride the waves and pick up speed. It’s a hard lesson to learn.”

Barely breezy meant “sluggish sailing,” says St. Croix’s Jeff Fangman, who helmed his Thomas 35, El Presidente, to a tiebreaker in the Performance Cruiser Class against fellow islander Tony Sanpere who was driving his J/36 Cayennita Grande. “We were better upwind and he (Sanpere) beat us downwind.” Fangman won the tiebreaker by winning the second and final race.

Puerto Rico’s Edwin Romero sailed his Hunter Legend 43, Nemesis, to the top of the Jib & Main class with two bullets. “Light wind is good for my boat. More than 18 knots and it doesn’t perform as well. It’s light in weight and a new head sail for acceleration.”

Sailing in light winds is “tricky,” says Puerto Rico’s Pedro Quinones, who sailed his J/24, Bravissimo, to a win in the one-design class. “You really need to be consistent, be aware of the conditions at all times.”

The J/24 is one of the classes that will be represented at the Central American Caribbean (CAC) Games, to be held in 2010 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. “This is our first big race of the year and it’s a good measure of where we are before the qualifiers start in May. There are maybe 10 to 12 J/24s competitively sailing in Puerto Rico and only two can race in the CAC Games.”

Puerto Rico’s Fraito Lugo won the IC-24 Class. “We are sailing the IC-24 for this regatta, Rolex (International Rolex Regatta) and BVI (BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival), but will switch to the J/24 for the J/24 Worlds in Annapolis in April and then the CAC qualifiers for Puerto Rico,” says Lugo.

Likewise, the Puerto Rican qualifiers for the CAC Games start for One Design Hobie 16s in August. “There is a fleet of about 10 of us sailing. It will be very competitive, just like this regatta,” says Jolliam Berrios, who placed fourth with skipper Francisco Figueroa aboard Heineken. “Light air sailing to me is very technical. It requires a lot of technical knowledge.”

The Culebra Heineken International Dinghy Regatta marked the first regatta in the Caribbean to host an International 420 (I-420) Class. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands’ sailor, Alex Coyle and crew Jozsi Nemeth, won the four-boat class. “More time in the boat and more time training with my crew helped a lot,” says Coyle, who adds, “Light air is always a challenge.”

The dinghy regatta served as the Puerto Rican qualifier to select the I-420 team to compete in the ISAF Youth Sailing World Championship in Brazil this summer. Raul Rios and crew, Antonio Sifre, won the selection. Rios, who aced the Snipe class in February at the Club Nautico de San Juan International Regatta, says, “The I-420 teaches you speed, the feel of the boat and the use of the trapeze. In the Snipe, you’re constantly making changes – to the mast, trimming the sails. The synthesis of the skills of the two is the Olympic 470.”

Puerto Rico’s Juan Carlos Franco Monllor won the Optimist overall fleet in competitive light air conditions, while it was fellow islander, David Alfonso, who topped the Laser Radials. “Light air, heavy air, they both have their advantages and disadvantages and you just have to sail your best in all conditions,” says Alfonso.

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