Each island has a person whose name pops out in the sport of sailing. When it comes to competitive racing, especially race organization and management, Bob Phillips is the marine mover-and-shaker in the British Virgin Islands.
Born in Canada, Phillips’ fate to love yachting seemed sealed at birth. “My grandfather was a race officer at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in the heyday of big boats during the 1920’s and 30’s and my parents had a boat in Canada and bought another one when we moved to Tampa, Florida.”
Phillips himself started sailing at the age of eight, and then continued onto keelboats at the age of 16 when the family made their move to Florida. He became hooked on the sport immediately.
“I did a mixture of both cruising and racing with close to 100,000 miles combined,” he says. “It got me out of school and away from my parents during my teen years. Then, it provided the means to see a lot of the world, which resulted in sail-making becoming my vocation.”
Over the years, Phillips has sailed a fair amount in North America and Europe, making several Atlantic crossings. He’s competed in many Fastnets, Cowes Weeks, and a dozen or so SORCs.
“Back in the 70s and 80s, I sailed numerous offshore races like Jamaica and Bermuda twice,” he says.
One-design racing has seen Phillips as a competitor in national, North American and pre-Olympic regattas. He’s also leisurely cruised to locales such as Europe, Central America, and the eastern and western coasts of the U.S. and Canada.
“Sailing and racing presented opportunities to travel and see the world, and it still does,” he says. “I like the competitiveness and enjoy applying the skills I’ve learned over almost forty years. While younger sailors are stronger, sailing smart can overcome a lack of strength.”
Phillips foray into race management and regatta orchestration started in Florida.
“The yacht club that I sailed out of in Florida, Davis Island Yacht Club, insisted that all the sailors help run races, so I have been involved in this aspect of the sport from the beginning,” he says.
Phillips adds, “Later, ISAF held a race management seminar in 1996 in St. Thomas which I attended. I managed to pass the test at the end that was required for certification as an International Race Officer. At that time, I was already the chairman of Spring Regatta, so I was able to experiment with course layouts and, in particular, multi race formats that reduced the wait time between races.
Good race management, says Phillips, “is critical to the success of a regatta; good parties help, but sailors come for the racing. There are thousands of regattas in the world and the challenge for me is to keep sailors coming back to the BVI for Spring Regatta. Today’s sophisticated sailors understand the effort it takes to run a good event and reward that hard work with their presence.”
Over the years, Phillips has seen the sport of sailing in the Caribbean change and evolve. Ways in which he’s witnessed this, he says, include the quality of events. “This has increased dramatically, to the point where we are often cited as examples of how regattas should be run. We aren’t afraid to try new things and realize that we have to be evolving if we are to remain an attractive part of the world for competitive sailors.
Looking towards the future, specifically for the BVI Spring Regatta, Phillips says he would like to develop the one-design course into a qualifier for the CAC and Pan American games, adding more dinghy classes in the process. Also, he adds, “I’d like to attract the larger one designs like the Farr 40s and Transpac 52s.”
In addition, Phillips would like to add a challenging mix of buoy and tour races in the Cooper area and broaden the appeal of the Norman Course where the BVI’s offshore islands are showcased by using them as marks.
“There is no better place to sail and what we have will only become more attractive,” Phillips says. “We have room for growth and will be making use of it. Likewise for the Caribbean as a whole, when winter is what it is up north, where else would you want to be?”