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St. Croix Team wins Caribbean Challenge Team Racing

Sailboat racers from the St. Croix Yacht Club led a pack of four Virgin Islands’ teams to win all of their races and secure the Caribbean Challenge Team Race championship on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 & 2.  The event was sailed using 420s out of the St. Croix Yacht Club.  Racing was sponsored by the club and by the Virgin Islands Sailing Association (VISA).

“Team Racing is popular in college sailing, but is not done much in the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands because people do not understand all of it,” said Karen Stanton, whose sons dominated the event.   “For those that know how to team race, it can be brutal.  VISA thought this would be a good learning event. ”

Teams journeyed from St. Thomas and Tortola to compete against two St. Croix teams on a “Digital N” course inside the reef at Teague Bay.  Six boats were on the water for any given race, representing two teams sailing three boats each.  Two-handed 420 sailboats supplied by the yacht club were used for all 28 races.  Each team of six sailors maneuvered its three boats to try and out-sail the other team’s three boats.

“Basically, you are using the rules of sailings as weapons against the other people,” said St. Croix Yacht Club’s waterfront coordinator Krista Siino, who learned team racing tactics in college.  “You want to take out the best boat… the team leaders strategize before each race.”

“You want to have the other team make a fault,” said Ivan Diaz, who headed up the race committee.  “It’s more interesting and more tactical than most sailboat racing.”

In addition to the victorious yacht club team, a second St. Croix team participated composed of students from Country Day School.  The St. Thomas team came in second, followed by the British Virgin Islands team in third and the St. Croix Country Day School Team in fourth place.

“We just weren’t ready,” said Jae Tonachel of his Country Day School St. Croix team.  “We only practiced a couple of weeks.  But today (Sunday), we were much closer to winning than on Saturday.  Overall it was a learning experience.”

Experienced competitors were on the water for all teams, including Tonachel, who took first place in 420 racing at last August’s Caribbean Dinghy Championships, Mayumi “Mimi” Roller, who won both the single-handed Laser Radial class and double-handed 420 class at the St. Thomas Radiology Regatta on November10 – 12, and BVI’s Alec Anderson, who skipper the winning boat, Intac, at the Around Tortola Race on November 24.

“It was really fun,” said Anderson. “I’ve never done team racing…I’m used to racing alone.”

The St. Thomas Team was composed entirely of Antilles High School sailors.  “They will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years,” said St. Croix competitor Chris Schreiber, one of the event coordinators.

Light winds and lumpy seas on Saturday turned into a strong 15-18 knot breeze on Sunday.  Early on, racers realized that St. Thomas and the St. Croix Yacht club group were the teams to beat. Solid team racing tactics and boat speed carried both to the top of the leader board, but Schreiber’s St. Croix team held their advantage led by Pan Am Medal Round Finalist Peter Stanton and his brother, Collegiate All-American Scott Stanton. 

“There’s a lot to learn and it can be very tense,” observed Scott Stanton at the end of the weekend, after competitors’ tempers flared at times.

A unique feature for the format was the presence of on-the-water umpiring, settling disputes immediately while racing and imposing penalties on the spot.  Chief Umpire Rob Overton kept the races fair with on the water calls, aided by umpires Beecher Higby, Debbie Schreiber, Paul Lordi, and Morgan Dale. 

“All the conflicts were resolved on the water,” said Diaz.  “Two boats full of umpires conferred with each other by radio.” 

The second day was much more aggressive as sailors gained experience, according to Sue Gibbons, who observed from the Start Boat.  Gibbons’ son Billy, who sailed on the Country Day Team, has team raced with Optimist boats.

As hoped for by the organizers, the weekend was instructional for many of the sailors who have had limited exposure to team racing.  Post racing debriefs each day helped explain umpire’s calls, and all competitors came away with a greater understanding of the rules.  Local officials also were on a learning curve.

“We have to get in the middle of it,” said umpire Lordi about the fast action and tightly-clustered boats.  Some races were only seven minutes long, keeping umpires on their toes as much as the competitors.

“The 420s are very maneuverable,” said Diaz.  “and these guys knew how to handle them.”

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