St. Thomians may have launched the
IC24 and the Puerto Ricans may have some of the newest boats, but it is the
BVIslanders who are winning most of the races these days. Why? A combination of
sustained enthusiasm and practice makes perfect.
It was in 2002 that Chris Haycraft and Richard Wooldridge
embarked on an ambitious program to build 10 IC24s. They set up a company
called ‘Racing in Paradise’ (RIP) and sourced boats in Florida and New
Jersey. They sold the finished IC24s to owners who
let their boats be chartered-out for one-design race events. So far, RIP has
built 9 IC24s and the team has another 3 J24s on island ready to convert. The
fleet is based on floating docks just inside the bulkhead at Nanny Cay Marina.
Since the first few hulls were launched, BVI sailors have
been active aboard their crafts. And, they’ve stayed active unlike the St. Thomas fleet. There
has been regular local evening/weekend racing, inter-island and international
regattas. Last fall, the crews decided they wanted a little more action and
opted for spinnakers for their weekly races. As a result, BVI sailors have
sharpened their prowess and proved to be the ones to beat.
Who is the competition this spring?
The Hirst brothers, Robbie and Mark, grew up racing
J24’s throughout the Caribbean and it
was Robbie who called for the use of spinnakers. They will be formidable
opponents, but they don’t always sail together. In the lead up to the
IC24 Worlds this year, both Robbie and Mark made a point of racing with other
BVI teams. “I was fortunate enough to have Robbie on board for a couple
of races. He reset all our settings and taught me the tricky art of sailing
flat upwind and generating ‘lee helm’. This technique is hard to
master but certainly pays dividends when done properly I’m told,”
Looking back over the year’s results, Andrew Waters helming the Conchquerer has
rarely been off the pace. During the Worlds this year he handily won the second
day. “If he can keep his seasoned crew this season could see the
Conchquerer win a major regatta,
that’s my prediction,” Wooldridge says.
Mark Plaxton and Intact may well have
something to say about that. He has been placing well and has brand new sails
for the season. “Mark is very competitive and continues to improve. When
spinnakers fly, crew work will be at a premium. Mark will need to hold down key
crewmembers at the sharp end to do well,” Wooldridge predicts.
He continues, “If we had a prize for last seasons most improved team it
would have to be the KATS kids. Their second IC24 First Caribbean KATS was launched
shortly before the Chief Ministers Cup last July. During that event our two
Tortola teams had a mixed bag of results but after the
event, instead of packing up, they sidelined their adult coaches including
myself, and started racing for real. Remember that they have several different
helms and constantly rotate. They entered the Worlds and pulled off a second
place in one race. In another they were leading at the windward mark but, along
with several others, sailed the wrong course. Plenty of
Mike Masters, with his trusty Black Pearl,
will be in the running. He convincingly won a race during the Worlds and has
been enjoying the services of a regular crew. “To cap it all,” says
Wooldridge, “Pearl has been
stripped down to her original black gel coat and will most likely be sporting
one of the fairest bottoms in the fleet.”
Another boat receiving some serious attention is BVI IC24 hull #1, now named
Racing in Paradise, built in just 12
days immediately before the International Rolex Regatta three years ago.
“In the rush to complete the conversion before the Rolex all that time
ago, one major job was sidelined, that is removal of Vermiculite and
reinforcement of the keel/floor structures,” says Wooldridge. This
resulted in RIP being the heaviest boat of the BVI fleet by nearly 200 pounds
due to water absorption. Restorations have now trimmed her down to weight.
Desperado will be another one to
watch. “She will be campaigned by Andrew Thompson, Arjan Stoof and Peter
Tarn. They are not guys who like being beaten. With a new bottom job, new sails
and some regular teamwork she should be up there,” says Wooldridge.
The new Dark Horse will be Latitude 19,
Chris Haycraft’s new boat. Some parts from the
ill fated but salvaged Latitude 18
were used during the conversion. “It will be
interesting to see Chris put together his own campaign,” Wooldridge says.
“He missed out on the Worlds by taking on the duties of Race Officer.
Colin Rathbone is rumored to be number one crew. Rathbone is also looking for
an IC24 of his own.”
“So, there’s plenty of action coming up,”
Wooldridge says. “The Tortola fleet is
very healthy indeed. Perhaps our trump card is our ‘learn from each
other’ attitude. Crews rotate between the boats, hot helms jump on boats
to give some pointers to upcoming helms and we generally have a post race
blow-by-blow discussion over a beer or two. Long may this continue!”