St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The international fleet of sleek-sailing yachts racing in the 44th St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR), sailed March 24 to 26, were joined by the Royal Danish Navy training ships, THYRA and SVANEN. The participation of these two 60-foot Bermuda-rigged yachts, plus their officers, cadets and crew, was one way members of the St. Thomas Yacht Club joined in the territory’s commemoration of its Transfer Centennial, which marks a century since the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917. In addition, Club members also organized and participated in community-wide activities that featured these magnificent yachts such as educational tours for school students and a special boat parade.
“We received word last fall that the THYRA and SVANEN would be in St. Thomas in late March for the commemoration of the Transfer Centennial. Therefore, we reached out to the commanding officers and invited them to race. Our invitation was accepted, and with strong community support, the rest is history,” says regatta director, Chuck Pessler.
The two yachts arrived on March 20 where they docked at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande marina for the week. The Club orchestrated the measurement of the vessels, a three-plus hour process, in order to assign a CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) handicap rating. This enabled the THYRA and SVANEN to race competitively with other yachts, providing more fun for fellow competitors and hands-on training for the vessel’s officer-in-training cadets.
The next day, sixteen students from the Marine Vocational Program, who have taken learn to swim, sail and powerboat classes and who are also members of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Thomas, enjoyed a hands-on tour of both the THYRA and SVANEN. The students enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the Danish cadets and officers about their nautical experiences. The cultural exchange was even more pertinent when students asked why the Danish flag flying atop the vessel’s masts didn’t look like the country’s flag they saw in their school lessons. The officers explained that the forked ‘fish-tail’ rather than straight edge on the right side of the flag denoted that the THYRA and SVANEN are military ships.
“This was really an incredible experience for our students. They were able to see, take part in and learn many things about the boats and the Danish sailors,” says Jacqueline Brown, St. Thomas unit director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands.
On Wednesday, the THYRA and SVANEN’s officers, cadets and crew met with members of the sailing community and public at a reception at the Coral World Ocean Park. The cultural exchange continued in seaside surroundings that are a signature feature of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Nearly two dozen racing yachts cast off on the 2nd Annual Round the Rocks Race on Thursday, including the THYRA and SVANEN. This event is a tune-up for STIR and features a circumnavigation of St. John, offering sailors an opportunity to get acquainted with the beauty of this U.S. Virgin Island.
Weather conditions for the three-day STIR ranged from breathless calm to winds gusting 20-plus knots, flat calm to 6- to 8-foot seas, and rain squalls intermixed with bright sun. The THYRA and SVANEN were among the vessels that sailed into the Charlotte Amalie harbor on the first day of regatta racing, then sailed in towards the waterfront bulkhead to give a ‘Centennial Salute’ to spectators ashore. The parade coordinated with the shoreside centennial Fort Fete. The Royal Navy yachts continued to race right throughout the weekend.
“Racing presented a different opportunity for our cadets. Normally, training is a slow and methodical process. In racing, you have to make quick decisions. It was definitely a very nice experience that we and our cadets will long remember,” says Lt. Commander Martin Kristian Engelhardt, commanding officer of the Svanen.
On the final day, the THYRA and SVANEN were observed in action by Royal Danish Navy Squadron Commander, Captain Lars Hansen. The Club treated Hansen, who was in the territory for the Transfer Centennial events, to a day on the water to watch the racing.
The sea, sailors and sailing ships have long played an integral role in the history of the U.S. Virgin Islands. This made a sailing activity such as STIR, especially combined this year with participation by Danish Royal Naval yachts, a natural and highly successful part of Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial commemoration events.