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Regattas Behind the Scenes: Building a New Regatta Series

Sailors in 2009 can look forward to a new Caribbean sailing series, the Southern Caribbean Circuit, combining a trio of established regattas in Carriacou, Grenada and Tobago that will take place in January and February 2009.

Orchestrating a single regatta isn’t a simple feat, much less coordinating a series. But, the regatta organizers behind the scenes of this new venture are a talented group.

How It Started

Niki Borde, manager of the Trinidad & Tobago-based Regatta Promoters, who will put on the new Tobago Carnival Regatta February 10-14, explains how the Circuit got its start. “Tobago has hosted Angostura Tobago Sail Week for over 25 years. After a comprehensive analysis of the sailing traditions in the Caribbean, it was clear that hosting a regatta as late as May, on an island at the Southern most end of the Caribbean chain, was not working to our advantage,” said Borde.

“Looking at the trends of the sailing community from Europe and North America, we recognized that we needed to find a way to lure the audience that would normally race in the northern regattas down to our island. To that end, the idea of a Southern Caribbean Circuit was born.”

Orchestrating both a regatta and a series, says Sarah Baker, organizer of the Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival which will take place January 30-February 3, “takes flexibility and co-operation. These are two of the key elements in running regattas according to Alison Kern, who was on the original team that ran the first Grenada Sailing Festival back in 1994, and who is now spearheading the new look 2009 event.”

Where flexibility comes in, Baker adds, “is that all organizers need to have great plans in place, but then they also need plans B through G as back up when you must cater to changing conditions and arrangements. The elements of cooperation and flexibility have come into play strongly this year in order to run with the great initiative from Trinidad & Tobago to create the Southern Caribbean Circuit.

“Once the plan was in place, it was a case of moving quickly and keeping in touch, to ensure the message was getting out there from all players. Quick and efficient communication, while at the same time all parties are moving at high speed on their individual events, has proven that it can work. Here’s to a lot more boats in the southern Caribbean this winter,” said Baker.

Jerome McQuilkin, regatta director for the Carriacou Sailing Series, which celebrates 10 years in 2009 and is set for January 14-18, explains that sailing events and a sailing series are more than just sea, surf and sailors. “The sailing industry in the Caribbean forms part of the main larger tourism Industry which many Caribbean states rely on heavily as a source of income and employment.  Our responsibilities as organizers are serious because sailors come to the Caribbean islands to take part in a sport which forms part of or all their disposable vacation time.”

McQuilkin adds, “If a visitor came to your Island and had a bad experience it would have a negative impact on that place. We believe the same applies when a visitor (sailor) comes to our island to sail as part of his/her vacation.  We have a responsibility to organize events professionally so our visitors leave with positive thoughts. To achieve this, we design courses that range from very challenging to very user friendly.”

The Events

This year’s Carriacou Sailing Series marks the beginning of the Southern Caribbean Circuit. “We are very pleased to be part of the circuit,” says McQuilkin. “Carriacou in particular will put on our best show with great courses and fabulous food. Our lobster BBQ is well received by all. As one of the organizers, I consider no complaints an indication of a successful event. Most of our main committee are sailors and we always look forward to meeting friends old and new at regattas.”

The 2009 Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival, the Circuit’s second leg, will have an exciting new dimension to it, says Baker, “due to Camper & Nicholson’s coming on board as the new owners of the Port Louis Marina. From 2009 onwards the event will have a great new center for our visiting yachts – world-class marina facilities and dock space. The organizers will be working closely with the new sponsor to create a true ‘home base’ for the event over the forthcoming years.”

The Tobago Carnival Regatta is the third and finale leg of the circuit. “The regatta has been transformed into a multi- dimensional event that features boats as spectacular as the large Farr 65’s to the smaller and more agile Melges and J 24’s as well as local and regional Bum Boats, the young Caribbean and Latin American Optimists, the impressive Kite boarders and wind surfers, creating ‘A Festival of Wind!” says Borde.

This has been no easy feat. Borde adds, “The mini regattas within the large regatta each has its own logistical aspects which need to be addressed. For example, judges, rules to suit each sport, performance time frames and equipment storage. With such large numbers of participants and guests attending the event, Customs and Immigration issues must be taken care of before their arrival, medical services and security must be put in place as well as entertainment and other infrastructure elements that form the framework within which the event functions. Examples include transforming a beach into a regatta village, organizing the placement of markers, starter boats, press, film crews, transport and taking care of sponsors and other important personnel.”

Putting It All Together

The art of hosting a good event, sums up Borde, “is the ability to create an atmosphere where everyone, the participant and the audience, has everything they want at arms length and can move around freely and enjoy it all in a seamless fashion. What sailors in a quality regatta never realize is the amount of people in the background working tirelessly to make things happen for them without getting in their way.”

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