Variety is the spice of life. Its also the pizzazz in the pot that set the 33rd annual International Rolex Regatta, held March 24 to 26, out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, apart from all the other Caribbean spring regattas.
Boats: Big & Small, Brand New, and Crews from Near & Far
Everything from Beach Cats to big Maxi yachts raced this year’s Rolex. For example, there was Puerto Rico’s perennial multihull favorite, Enrique Figueroa, a four-time Hobie 16 national champion and four-time Olympian, who came to defend his last year’s class win aboard his Suzuki/Red Bull. Figueroa was successful, but not without a few bumps along the way. “The first day, we went to the Maxi mark in the second race. That cost us some time,” he said. One other second place finish, which occurred in the final race of the regatta where beach cats bucked waves in light winds, were the only two scores that took Figueroa out of the leader slot.
Ironically, it was Figueroa’s fellow islanders, Francisco Figueroa skippering his Hobie 16, Heineken, and Keki Figueroa at the tiller of his Hobie 16, Exodus, which not only chased him for the first place slot, but also shared his last name. “We all know each other, but aren’t related. Figueroa is a common name in Puerto Rico.”
Twenty-year-old Francisco Figueroa may do more than share a name in the future. “I’ve been sailing since I was four, racing beach cats since I was 13, and am working towards competing in the 2012 Olympics.
Another young sailor in the beach cat fleet was 16-year-old Fabiola Mustafa, who crewed for her father, Ibraham, aboard the Hobie 16, HF Mortgage. “The first experience my daughter had sailing was eight years ago here at the Rolex. My regular crew couldn’t make it, so I took her aboard and we finished in 2nd place. We thought it appropriate to keep racing Rolex together,” said Ibraham, who confessed he can’t swim and sticks with the beach cat class because of his daughter’s enjoyment and enthusiasm.
On the other end of the size scale was Donnybrook. This custom Santa Cruz 73-footer is owned and driven by former head of U.S. sailing, James Muldoon.
Size did matter too in the IC/24 Class. This year saw record participation with 18 boats on the start line, triple the number of when this design debuted to the world at Rolex in 2003. Of this number, Fred Ruebeck, tactician aboard the BVI-based, Fiona, said, “It made it more exciting at the start, it was always crowded at the mark and it was anybody’s game at the finish."
Expensive Habit, a J/100, owned by St. Croix’s Robert Armstrong, whose family owns the Buccaneer Hotel, was a brand new boat and representative of a brand new class.
Crewmember, Tim Pitts, explained, “Robert (Armstrong) took delivery of the boat the day after the St. Croix regatta. It’s a new design and his is hull #93, so there are not that many yet. We only raced together two or three times before this regatta.”
Yet, Armstrong stacked his boat with talent, including St. Croix’s talented Skov brothers, Jens Hooksen, a former Sunfish World Champion, and Pitts, who sailed a Laser in the 2004 Summer Olympics. This ace combination proved the winning ticket. Armstrong rousted long time class leader, Antigua’s James Dobbs, aboard his Olson 30, Lost Horizon II, out of its first place slot.
Right from registration, this year’s Rolex fleet proved itself to be more international than in year’s past. Skippers and crews aboard the 93-boat fleet hailed from the U.S. mainland, Canada, England, France, Holland, Ireland, Italy, and Switzerland, with the balance coming from the Caribbean – the U.S. Virgin Islands, BVI, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and Antigua.
One of the international yachts was Dsk Comifin, a Frers 45, driven by owner Danilo Salsi of Milano, Italy. Salsi handily won the Spinnaker Racing A class with a nearly flawless string of bullets. “I was here last year, but on another boat. This year, I decided to bring my own boat and have enjoyed the competition and courses. The long distance races have helped us train for the Newport-Bermuda race that we’ll do later this season,” Salsi said.
Courses: Round the Buoy, Round the Islands
Some regattas feature racecourses that wind around islands, rocks and cays. Others focus on routes that round the buoys. This year’s Rolex Regatta gave sailors a bit of both.
Breezes blowing 10 to 15 knots set the scene for the first day of racing, where boats sailed round the buoy courses set south of St. Thomas for the spinnaker racing and beach cat classes and inside the bay for the one-design J/24 and IC/24, performance cruising and Jib & Main classes. “I enjoy the buoy racing. It can be more competitive,” said Lost Horizon II’s James Dobbs.
The second day, the fleet cruised down the south side of St. Thomas and into Charlotte Amalie harbor. Like last year, the course had its fans and foes.
“We has a great ride downwind into the harbor, surfing on the swells,” said Taylor Canfield, at the helm of the IC/24, Fresh Produce.
“Coming back up,” said John Holmberg, who skippered his IC/24, Stinger, “It broke us up. We weren’t in such a tight pack group as when we are buoy racing. But, it was a long race.”
Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagramoso, skipper of the Beneteau 40.7, Lazy Dog, said, “We liked the round the buoy racing better because it gave us more chances for things to happen. It wasn’t such a drag race as the harbor race was.”
The last day, all classes except the IC/24s sailed a 14-mile long course that wound around the islands boarding Pillsbury Sound. “The light winds and long distance separated the experienced from less experienced sailors,” said Puerto Rico’s Gilberto Rivera, skipper of the J/24, Urayo.
The last day of racing was particularly sweet for Rivera. “We didn’t have to sail at all to win our class. We sailed because we wanted to, and we tried not to be aggressive since other boats were competing for second place.”
Rivera credited his father for supporting him in his sailing. “Today is my father’s birthday,” Rivera said at the awards ceremony, just after he was presented with a signature Rolex watch for his stunning win in the J/24 one-design class.
1. Urayo, J24, Gilberto Rivera, San Juan, Puerto Rico (13)
2. KQ-LO, J24, Carlos Sierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico (21)
3. Saudades Cemex Pr, J24, Leopoldo Loria, San Juan, Puerto Rico (25)
IC 24 One Design
1. Sea Hawk, IC24, Robby Hirst, BVI (44)
2. Bambooshay, IC24, Chris Rosenberg, St. Thomas, USVI (56)
3. Stinger, IC24, John Holmberg, St. Thomas, USVI (57)
Spinnaker Racing 1
1. Dsk Comifin, Frers 45, Danilo Salsi, Milano, Italy (7)
2. Privateer, Swan 48, Ron O’Hanley, USA (19)
3. Devocean, Swan 45, Steve Defoe, USA (22)
Spinnaker Racing 2
1. Expensive Habit, J100 33, Robert Armstrong, St. Croix, USVI (10)
2. Lost Horizon II, Olson 30, James Dobbs, Antigua (21)
3. Broken Drum, J29, Jack Bishop, St. Croix, USVI (31)
Non-Spinnaker Racing 1
1. Three Harkoms, Beneteau 44, Christopher Lloyd, BVI (4)
2. Wildflower, Sabre 402, Ron Noonan, St. Thomas, USVI (10)
3. Affinity, Swan 48, Jack Desmond, USA (13)
Non-Spinnaker Racing 2
1. Cayennita, Soverel 27, Tony Sanpere, St. Croix, USVI (5)
2. ATN, J27, Marcus Compton, St. Thomas, USVI (11)
3. Poco A Poco – Preferred Health, Pearson Flyer 30, Agustin Rodriguez, Puerto Rico (14)
Spinnaker Racing Cruising
1. Crescendo, Swan 44, Martin Jacobson, USA (9)
2. Lazy Dog, Beneteau 40.7, Sergio Sagramoso, Puerto Rico (19)
3. Pipedream, Sirena 38, Peter Haycraft, BVI (20)
1. Suzuki/Red Bull, Hobie Cat 16, Enrique Figueroa, Puerto Rico (8)
2. Heineken, Hobie Cat 16, Francisco Figueroa, Puerto Rico (19)
3. Exodus, Hobie Cat 16, Keki Figueroa, Puerto Rico (23)