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Out on the Water at the Culebra Heineken International Regatta

Running the waterside of the Culebra Heineken International Regatta (CHIR) is a team effort, says Angel Ayala, who serves as regatta director. “We have a talented team of five people who assist Principal Race Officer (PRO), Michael Thompson, and handle all of the on-sea regatta operations from planning the courses and writing race instructions months in advance to setting buoys and getting races off smoothly.”

Chuck Lyman, who serves as Race Officer (RO), takes care of the Committee Boat business. “On the Committee Boat we take a look at the wind to determine the course and wind direction. As for dealing with wind speed and direction, it’s pretty much seat-of-the-pants. I will look in a particular direction over 20 or 30 minutes and check for extreme left and right compass headings. I will get headings from the ‘Balizeros’ who are a mile or two upwind. We are lucky here in the Caribbean with generally consistent with moderate shifts. I will pick a heading somewhere in the middle of the extremes (10 or 15 degrees). If I see a trend of moving one way or the other, I’ll tack on five degrees in favor of that direction.

“If we are sustaining 25 knots or more of wind, I prefer to postpone or cancel,” Lyman says. “Things seem to break and people can get hurt and we are supposed to be having fun, right? No wind is the toughest. Generally we need four or five knots minimum to get started. We are of course looking at weather forecasts and also out on the water to see where the wind might be beginning to fill.”

David Kerr is in charge of the chase boats and the ‘Balizeros’ for setting the buoys. “My job is one everybody runs away from,” says Kerr. “Sounds simple? One of the first things is getting people to do the work. For the last couple of years I’ve had the help of some fine and hard working young men, CJ Rodriguez and his brother Vincent. They usually bring along some friends to help us out.”

Kerr continues, “A typical regatta day for me starts at 5:30 a.m. All buoys must be inspected for leaks, ground tackle evaluated and chase boats checked to be sure engines start. We leave by 7:15 am to pick up the Race Committee (RC) and drop them off on their boat. We then escort the RC to the Race Area and wait for instructions.

Kerr explains that he and his crew get directives to set a course by the PRO or RO. “They will tell us the wind direction and distance for the buoys. Luis Matos comes in very handy with his GPS as he double-checks the buoy positions before they are set down. The course is usually set about twenty minutes before the first start. That way, if there is a wind shift, it doesn’t grab us with a set course that we have to change. These are all instructions that we receive from the PRO.”

In the past years, the CHIR has run a one-design course in addition to round-the-island courses for Cruising and Jib & Main classes. Jose ‘Cacho’ Pastrano and his helpers are in charge of setting, re-setting if needed, and running this one-design course.

David ‘Abuelo’ Kerr, Sr., serves as the official timer for the regatta. “I do whatever I can to assure that the Committee Boat is ‘on station’ well before the time set for the first start,” says Kerr Sr. “I call the time on a regular schedule to the PRO, advising remaining minutes to the start of the first race.”

During the races, Kerr and his crew hang around in case of any wind changes that would require changing the course. If nothing shows up, they turn into go-fers. “Go for this or go for that,” says Kerr. “We also ferry information and people between the RC and shore.  At the end of the races, we pull the buoys and head into shore. Once ashore, I make sure all Chase Boats have gas/oil before we head back to the barn. Again, all of the equipment is checked and repairs done as needed.”

When it comes to the waterside running of a regatta, “volunteers are always helpful,” says Lyman. “We can find jobs for, and need help from both the experienced and not-so-experienced. They need to know we are working and that we all need to concentrate on our jobs. Basically take instruction, and keep conversation to a work-related minimum.”

Sailors, like any other athletes, can sometimes find it hard to understand what’s happening on the water in terms of race mechanics. To this, Kerr offers a saying his grandfather told him: “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

“A suggestion that I have for every sailor is to get involved at least once in their lifetime in every aspect of Race Management,” Kerr says. “It will help you get a better insight on how a regatta gets organized and executed. It’s not all partying. There is a lot of hard work involved in getting a regatta off.”

The 2009 Culebra Heineken Regatta takes place March 20 – 22. 

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