Few sailors have raced in and reached the podium in as many Caribbean regattas as Antigua’s Bernie Evan-Wong. A dentist by profession and sailor by recreation, Evan-Wong shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s speeding up by trying to break his own personal record for the greatest number of Caribbean regattas raced in one season. Why? “To me, racing is just pure excitement and thrills,” Evan-Wong explains. “I live on adrenaline for the whole regatta; don’t even feel hungry most of the time, and when you find other people that love the fun and excitement it just adds to the natural high! And as James Dobbs (Lost Horizon) always says ‘it’s more fun when you win.’”
Evan-Wong started sailing in his native British Guiana, now Guyana, at the age of two. This early start came thanks to his father Leslie, a keen racer himself who represented the country at the Chicago Pan American Games in 1957 in Snipes. Snipe dinghies were built locally and raced regularly out of the Demarara Rowing and Sailing Club, where Evan-Wong and his father would go most evenings and weekends. This is the routine he followed until age six when the family moved to the UK. Evan-Wong also followed in his father’s footsteps and earned his dentistry degree, but it wasn’t until he moved back to the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad, in 1976 that he began racing sailboats again.
“I started with a Kingfish dinghy, followed by a Laser and then began crewing on keelboats,” Evan-Wong tells. “The first boat I bought was a Spanish-built 31-footer. When I saw the Cal 40 Huey Too sail past at speed coming home from the Grenadines, I knew I had to have that boat, so I bought her in 1982 and still have her. I’ve also owned a series of boats in parallel, including an Evelyn 32, Beneteau 8M, a Humphries 30 one-off, Melges 24, a 27ft catamaran, and Mumm 36. There are also the boats I’ve chartered to race including a Beneteau 40.7, Carriacou sloop, Bavaria 46, RS Elites, Jeanneau Sunfast 20s and IC 24s.”
Over the past three decades, Evan-Wong has achieved podium finishes in regattas held in Tobago, Grenada, Petit St. Vincent, Bequia, Guadeloupe, Culebra and St Barths. He’s sailed in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta posting multiple class wins aboard different boats including achieving the ‘Most Worthy Performance Overall’ in 2007 aboard Huey Too. Evan-Wong, who now lives in Antigua, has sailed in Antigua Sailing Week for 32 years and won many times in a variety of boats. Most recently, he’s been called to the stage twice to receive trophies in the RORC Caribbean 600 after sailing his Mumm 36 High Tension around the challenging 11 island, 600nm course.
“One really memorable moment happened in an RORC Caribbean 600. We were planing, down between Nevis and Saba, at around 14 to 15 knots at night when someone shouted ‘Dolphins.’ Looking over the port side we could see the outline of dolphins swimming around the boat outlined by their phosphorescence and on looking up to the sky there was a moonbow. A truly magic moment!”
Evan-Wong’s passion for sailboat racing is so strong that he hopes to encourage greater involvement. That is, he’d like to see a website or Facebook page where yacht owners or regatta organizers and crews could coordinate for keen sailors to come from other islands to race and the local yacht owners or organizers could help with accommodation. After all, it’s universal that yacht owners nearly always need extra crew to race and, because of time constraints, flying between islands is more practical.
“Hopefully,” says Evan-Wong, “the end result would be more participation of yachts and crew, a reciprocal arrangement, and better relations between the islands and yachting community.”