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Pete Sheals Memorial Match Race Winners (from left): Colin Rathbun, Jason Putley, Paul Exner and Claudia Delahoy, with their trophy on the deck at the RBVIYC
Pete Sheals Memorial Match Race Winners (from left): Colin Rathbun, Jason Putley, Paul Exner and Claudia Delahoy, with their trophy on the deck at the RBVIYC

Rathbun Crowned BVI National Match Racing Champion

Focus and constant improvement earned the BVI’s Colin Rathbun and his team the win at the 12th Pete Sheals Memorial Match Race (PSMMR), sailed out of the Royal BVI Yacht Club and in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, November 9-10 2013. The victory earned Rathbun the title of BVI National Match Racing Champion.

Rathbun set sail against five other teams from the BVI, USVI, Puerto Rico and USA, including one USA team where the USVI’s Taylor Canfield – currently the number one ranked match racer in the world – sailed as crew.

“We got off to a slow start,” explains Rathbun, who has competed in this event six times and won in 2010. “We lost our first match, then won a match and then lost another one. So out of the first three races we weren’t doing very well. But even the ones we lost were very close matches.”

Rathbun’s team didn’t lose another match for the rest of the regatta. At the end of the first day’s double-round robin with 24 matches completed, Rathbun was second to the USA’s Elizabeth Kratzig, who had Canfield as crew.

The second day, the breeze picked up to a perfect 12 to 15 knots. Principal Race Officer Bill Canfield from St. Thomas ran ten more matches before the skippers for the semi-finals were determined.

“We won 2-0 against the USA’s David Storrs in the semis and that put us in the finals against the USA’s Maggie Shea, who was skippering for Kratzig and beat Marco Teixidor from Puerto Rico,” Rathbun says. “The finals were a first to one point. We got a good start on Maggie and led the whole race to the finish line. We were really in phase.”

Rathbun’s team included Claudia Delahoy, who has experience skippering Swedish Match 40s at the Oakcliff Sailing Center in New York; Paul Exner, who is new to the sport but brings much enthusiasm; and 15-year-old BVI sailor Jason Putley, a talented junior sailor who started on bow and ended up calling tactics.

“The first few races we weren’t in tune or focused,” says Rathbun. “After that, we kept improving in both tactics and concentration.”

The USA’s Kratzig/Shea finished second, USA’s Storrs third, Puerto Rico’s Teixidor fourth, USVI up-and-coming junior sailor Thomas Walden fifth, and BVI’s Kevin Wrigley sixth.

In addition to pro Canfield, race officers included umpires David Pelling, from Canada; the USA’s Don Makowiecki and St. Maarten’s David de Vries.  Thad Lettsome, one of the BVI’s top junior sailors, rode along with de Vries on Saturday to learn more about the rules of sailing ‘up close’ from the experts.

“The event was great fun and very exciting to watch, as the flag and signal coordinator on the Race Committee boat I got to see the pre-starts up close and personal, it was great to see the young sailors as well as the inexperienced match racers battling it out with the top ranked match racers,” says regatta director Clair Burke. “It was also a bonus having Taylor Canfield at the event. I think everyone learned something from him, both on the water and at the debriefing on Saturday afternoon.”

The PSMMR started in 2001 when members of the BVIYC wanted to start match racing. A decision was made to name the inaugural BVI Match Race after Pete Sheals, an avid sailor who tragically passed away three months prior. The Club at the time had two wayfarer dinghies and these were used for the first PSMMR. The initial event had to be postponed after the first day when one of the masts broke, and it concluded in February of the following year when the new mast arrived. The match race continued in wayfarers for a couple years until moving into IC24s. In 2010, the PSMMR developed further with the introduction of international competitors and ISAF qualified Umpires. The 2011 event was the first ISAF graded event.

Is match racing on the rise in the BVI?
“It’s still of a niche,” says Rathbun. “There are a few sailors who enjoy the challenge and others that want to race more leisurely with a beer in their hand. In match racing, the beer spills too easily.”

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