St. Thomas International Regatta: Conditions Put Sailors To The Test

Photo by Dean Barnes
Photo by Dean Barnes
Photo by Dean Barnes

Wind was the word at the 43rd St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR). For three days gusts blustered over 30 knots and kicked up seas of six to eight feet. Combine these conditions with courses that offered a mix of round-the-buoys and round-the-island racing and it was a recipe that many racers on the 67 entered yachts relished.

Chief among these happy sailors was 2015 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Steve Benjamin. Benjamin’s TP 52, Spookie, not only won the tune-up Round the Rocks Race on Thursday, but didn’t break from his bullet-only streak in the CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) Spinnaker Racing 1 Class during the entire event.

“The second race in north Pillsbury Sound was extraordinary,” says Benjamin. “It was a challenge for the crew in the strong winds, shifts, waves and currents that thoroughly tested us all. Overall, we had a marvelous experience and highly recommend this regatta to everyone.”

In CSA Spinnaker Racing 2, it was California’s Doug Baker and team on the chartered J/122, Team Magnitude-El Ocaso, that bested the class with flawless first place finishes.

St. Thomas International Regatta:Jack Desmond driving his boat, Affinity. Photo by Dean Barnes
Jack Desmond driving his boat, Affinity. Photo by Dean Barnes

“The big breeze was definitely challenging. It made boat handling and crew work really important,” says helmsman, Chadwick ‘Chad’ Hough. “What we really liked was that every race was on a new course. That meant it didn’t get boring because we constantly had to figure out the currents and the wind shifts.”

In CSA Spinnaker Racing 3 Class, two boats were tied on points going into the final day of racing. In the end, Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Lipuscek and crew on the J/105, Dark Star took first by five points over St. Thomas’ Lawrence Aqui aboard the Dufour 40, Wild T’ing.

“This is two class wins in a row for us and a fourth time total,” says Rafael ‘Rafi’ Martinez, Dark Star’s tactician. “We had a tacking duel with Wild T’ing at the start on the last race. We knew we had to keep them behind us and we did by good boat handling. It was a blast to go 14 to 15 knots. Definitely a wild wet ride.”

In the CSA Non-Spinnaker Class, Jack Desmond’s affinity for winning clearly showed. Desmond won the class aboard his Swan 48, Affinity, after close racing with Puerto Rico’s Claudia Nicolow on the Swan 53, Bella Vela.

The home-grown one-design IC24 class was the largest of the regatta. The craft’s creator, St. Thomas’ Chris Rosenberg aboard his Bill T drove a highly competitive route to the top of the scoreboard.“It took a lot of effort to win with the high-caliber of sailors in this class,” says Rosenberg, who revealed his most incredible STIR moment was surfing the first day downwind to Charlotte Amalie harbor on an all-out plane aboard this modified J/24.

Two of eight beach cats braved the regatta’s big winds. In the end, it was California’s Olympic and America’s Cup sailor, Annie Gardner, and husband Eric Witte who won onboard the Nacra 17, Flight Risk.

This year STIR welcomed two new classes: Gunboats and VX Ones. Stephen Cucchiaro’s Flow, a Gunboat 60, started out slow when a breakdown on the first day caused the team not to finish the race nor start the second. However, Flow came back to win every race thereafter and win her class.

It was a test of the class rules in the VX One Class. Class rules call for no starts when the median wind speed exceeds 22 knots. Class vice-president, St. Croix native and owner of the first place Cruzan Rhode, Tim Pitts, called for an increase in that limit to 27 knots. As a result, the class raced all three days.

St. Thomas International Regatta: Spookie’s Steve Benjamin and wife Heidi Benjamin with their winner’s trophy. Photo by Dean Barnes
Spookie’s Steve Benjamin and wife Heidi Benjamin with their winner’s trophy. Photo by Dean Barnes

“We’re maturing as a class and although anything over 25 knots is challenging, the skill level is there to handle it,” says Pitts, who now lives in Newport, RI, and is responsible for bringing the VX One Class to the Virgin Islands. “On the other hand, it’s kind of ironic to invite your friends down and beat them in your own backyard. Still, although I’ve been on several STIR winning boats, this is the first time it was my boat that won. That’s pretty sweet.”

Trevor Davis, a 13-year-old junior sailor from Annapolis, was one person who didn’t mind the baptism of fire that saw many in the VX One class experience broaches and capsizes.

“The first race we shot off the start line like a rocket and clocked 19.4 knots,” says the eighth-grader. “I wouldn’t say it was scary in the high winds, except in the last race where a competitor’s ’sprit ripped off two of our shrouds, but it was definitely a really fun boat.”

Class winners received limited edition Island timepieces from Cardow Jewelers. In addition, Spookie achieved the fastest elapsed time and with it the skipper’s weight in Cruzan Rum.

For more information and full results, visit www.stthomasinternationalregatta.com

 

Race report by Carol M. Bareuther. Photos by Dean Barnes.  

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