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Smile and Wave Wins Vuelta Culebra

Sailboat racers turned out in the heat of the summer for a perennially favorite event held over Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth Day holiday weekend July 23rd – 24th. The Vuelta a Culebra (Around Culebra) regatta hosted by the BoRinquen Islands Sailing Association (BRISA) saw six boats compete. Yet, the two-and-a-half hour circumnavigation of this ten-square-mile island turned out to be a tight race between two veterans for the win.

Forecast storms kept several sailboats from the 20-mile upwind trek to Culebra, says Jaime Torres, who helmed his Beneteau First 40, Smile & Wave. “It’s too bad because Sunday’s weather was a sailor’s dream – steady 15 to 20 knot winds and clear skies.”

The warning gun fired at 12:30pm over the short start line where shallows lurked just a few yards from the port pin.

“Because the first leg was a port tack fetch to the first mark, we decided on a port tack start near the pin,” says Torres. “With a minute-and-a-half to go, we found ourselves being hunted by the J/122 as we sailed away from the line. Our gibe back was thwarted by a starboard call from the J/122, so we tacked instead and headed at full speed towards the line with only 35 seconds left. The J/122s aggressive tactics at the start may have cost them the race as they failed to tack with us and soon were chasing us back to the line from behind.”

Veteran sailboat racer, Sergio Sagramoso, was at the helm of the brand new J/122. Sagramoso competed in many of the Caribbean’s spring regattas aboard his larger Grand Soleil 54, Lazy Dog.

“I decided to get a smaller boat that I can race in Performance Cruiser,” Sagramoso explains. “The J/122 is a great all around boat with a fair CSA rating. It’s fast and just the right size. It’s not too expensive to equip and it’s big enough to take it to St. Maarten and Antigua.”

Sagramoso’s J/122, also named Lazy Dog, and a few other port tackers barely avoided a massive jam at the pin. But after the momentous start, Lazy Dog and Smile & Wave took off and left the rest of the fleet behind.

“We sailed upwind in 18 knots short tacking up the reef,” Torres explains. “We rounded the southeast point of Culebra with about a minute lead over the J/122. Lazy Dog hoisted their huge A-kite behind us but it was too windy and tight to be effective. They ran into trouble with the hoist and that added about another 15 to 20 seconds to our lead. We hoisted a minute after and bore off into a beautiful five mile down-winder along the north-east coast of Culebra. We fully expected the J/122 to take off in the breeze, but it never happened.”

Smile & Wave, with new crew aboard, experienced mechanical problems with their pole during the gibes, but the cockpit crew kept the chute full the whole time. They gibed a few times, and rounded the northwest point with a two-and-a-half minute lead over Lazy Dog.

“We were set up for a gusty and shifty long upwind leg,” says Torres. “It was tough as we got 20 knot puffs followed by five knot lulls for 30 minutes.”

Sagramoso managed this leg better by consistently pointing higher than Torres’ team and gained back 30 seconds by the time the two boats reached Punta Soldado, the southernmost point in Culebra. All that remained was a short beat to the entrance of Ensenada Honda and quick run to the finish – which Smile & Wave won.

“This was our first time racing the boat and we were still learning the ropes,” says Sagramoso. “We closed the gap between us and Smile & Wave to less than two minutes and were very happy about that. It was a great race.”

Results & Corrected Times
1. Smile & Wave, Jaime Torres, Beneteau First 40: 2:12:52
2. Lazy Dog, Sergio Sagramoso, J/122: 2:14:22
3. Tax Return, Bebo Feliciano, J/24: 2:24:01
4. Liceo de Arte, Feliz Cruz, Olson 29: 2:24:07
5. Soca, Luis Juarbe, Henderson 30: 2:28:36
6. Fresh Air, Fernando Mora, CS-40: 2:29:07 

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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