The inaugural 2013 OtterBox® Melges 32 Virgin Islands Sailing Series was not only dubbed a ‘resounding success’ by competitors and organizers alike, the three-race series also set the stage for future Caribbean competition by this progressive sportboat class and it sparked the start of the region’s own Melges 32 fleet. This is all due to the invitational and organizational work of the BVI’s Mark Plaxton and USVI’s Peter Holmberg. And some of the world’s best teams, who took the risk to ship their Melges 32s to a previously unraced destination for three regattas, branding their experience a ‘big thumbs up’.
Switzerland’s Roberto Tomasini Grinover aboard Robertissima, who won the series kick-off BVI Sportboat Regatta in February held at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Virgin Gorda, the Caribbean Championship off Peter Island in April, and the overall series by one point over the USA’s Dalton DeVos driving Delta, says, “I have not raced in the Caribbean before and it took quite an effort to do so. But I was rewarded with sailing at some of the most beautiful venues, with good winds and exciting racing.”
DeVos, who won the series second leg at the International Rolex Regatta held out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club in March, adds, “We saw the Series as a great opportunity to further our development as a program and there really isn’t a better venue for doing so. The Islands were beautiful, as always, and the yacht clubs were extremely hospitable. The Virgin Islands are known for having consistent breeze, and aside from one day in Peter Island, the wind did not let us down.”
At the helm of Volpe and sailing with America’s Cup skipper Ed Baird as tactician, DeVos’ cousin, Ryan DeVos, finished third in the series.
Most of the rest of the ten-boat series fleet reads like a Who’s Who of the top Melges 32 teams: the USA’s Jason Carroll’s ARGO, Richard Goransson’s Inga From Sweden 3, the USA’s Alex Jackson’s Leenabarca, and Russia’s Valentine Zavadnikov on Synergy GT. In addition, there were three Caribbean entries: the BVI’s Mark Plaxton’s INTAC that finished third in the Peter Island leg, and Puerto Rico’s Jaime Torres Smile and Wave and Luis Juarbe’s SOCA.
Looking ahead, Plaxton explains, “We intend to host another Melges 32 Series in the Virgin Islands in 2015, coordinated between Melges USA and Melges Europe. The plan is that after the Worlds in Miami in December 2014 and Key West Race Week in January, the boats will ship to the Virgin Islands. The Series will have three events, one or two in Virgin Gorda due to the facilities and sailing conditions both inside and outside North Sound. These will take place in February and early March or early April. The International Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas will host the third event. Thirty boats on the start line is not unrealistic.”
In the meantime, Plaxton hopes to build the Melges 32 fleet in the Caribbean.
“We already have two boats in Puerto Rico, one in St. Maarten and one in the BVI,” Plaxton says. “I intend to buy a new boat for 2015 and that will make the 5th. To help grow the class, I’m offering to sell my current Melges 32 for $100,000, if it stays in the Caribbean. That’s a good deal. I put $350,000 into it and it’s turnkey, ready to race.”
Puerto Rico’s Torres, who enjoyed a huge learning curve sailing in the series, is also working hard to grow the Caribbean’s Melges 32 class. “First, we’re putting together a demo weekend program where local sailors can get the ‘sportboat rush’ at zero cost,” Torres explains. “Secondly, we’re working with the Class to encourage a Caribbean one-design racing program. There are so many amazing regattas in the region and all it takes is five boats to get our own class.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.