Blue skies, warm water and steady trade winds have reserved a presence in St. Thomas, USVI, where 87 teams are preparing for tomorrow’s opening races of the 34th International Rolex Regatta, the oldest and most revered of a string of popular Caribbean regattas spanning the Spring racing season. Hosted by St. Thomas Yacht Club, the event runs for three days and includes handicap and one-design buoy racing in open water as well as around the picturesque islands and cays of Cowpet Bay and Pillsbury Sound. Caribbean-style beach parties and live music rule the afternoons and evenings, leading up to the Rolex Prizegiving, where–in keeping with more than three decades of tradition–the winning skippers in each class receive a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner timepiece.
"We have our traditional range of boats and mix of sailors, from weekend warriors to rock stars," said co-chair John Sweeney, "but the level of friendly international competition in a laid-back atmosphere is what I believe draws sailors to our shores."
The Ocean race circle will host three Spinnaker Racing classes and a class each for Spinnaker Racing Cruising and Beach Cats, while the Jersey Bay race circle, plotted closer to shore, will host the IC24 One-Design class and a Non-Spinnaker Racing class. Friday the boats will complete multiple around-the-buoys races, except for the Non-Spinnaker class, which will sail a single race through the islands. Saturday will serve up an all-classes distance race, along the south side of St. Thomas and finishing inside Charlotte Amalie Harbor, in the shadows of the cruise ships, creating a colorful spectacle for spectators. The fleet will then restart for a second race, reversing course back to the East End. On Sunday, a middle-distance race in Pillsbury Sound will provide more incredible vistas and a challenging course for the racers.
Defending champions in the spinnaker classes are Robert Armstrong (Christiansted, USVI) skippering the J/100 Expensive Habit; Martin Jacobson (Greenwich, Conn.) with his Swan 44 Crescendo, and Gliberto Rivera (Guaynabo, PR), sailing his J/24 Urayo.
In the Non-Spinnaker class, nine-time regatta winners Ellen and Tony Sanpere (Christiansted, USVI), with their Soveral 27 Cayennita, will attempt to keep their 2006 crown, while perennial Beach Cat class favorite Enrique Figueroa (San Juan), Puerto Rico’s multiple world champion and four-time Olympian, plans to add to his own string of Rolex victories aboard his Tornado Suzuki/Red Bull..
"I have been coming to the Rolex Regatta since 1979; it captivated me as a teen," said Figueroa, whose Olympic crew Jorge Hernandez is crewing for him. "Racing around islands on little catamarans was really exciting for a 15-year-old, especially sailing back to PR (alone) after the event was over. Now we try to make it a family event since the location is ideal for the kids."
Six-time Rolex winner Fraito Lugo (Ponce, Puerto Rico) returns to race an IC-24 (.Orion,) at the event for the first time. Unique to the Caribbean, the IC-24 is a hybrid design, constructed from an old J/24 hull with a new deck mold similar to the Melges 24. The class is extremely competitive and has attracted 19 entrants.
According to IC-24 skipper Anthony Kotoun, a St. Thomas native who also calls Newport, R.I., home, good local knowledge in this class will go a long way. "Everyone will have their hands full. You’ve got to be heads up on the distance courses, where there’s plenty of current, dead spots behind the tall islands and windshifts bending around all islands."
Live results will be posted on www.rolexcupregatta.com, where hometown rosters, nightly reports and photos also can be found. Daily video coverage will be available on demand by 9 p.m. each night at www.t2p.tv or by clicking on the TV icon on the regatta web site.
A.H. Riise, Official Retailer of Rolex watches in the U.S. Virgin Islands, takes an active role in sponsorship of the event. The St. Thomas duty free shop is one of the largest in the Caribbean and is located on the historic waterfront of downtown Charlotte Amalie. Rolex is known for sponsoring high quality events such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Rolex Fastnet Race, Giraglia Rolex Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds.