Some of the best skippers and their crews from North America competed for the chance to sail in the Nation’s Cup Grand Final in Ireland later this year at the TAG-Heuer Nation’s Cup Regional Final held in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, June 8-11. In the end, it was San Diego, California’s Brian Angel and his Team USA crew who won the honor in the Open Division, while Paula Lewin and her Team Bermuda sailors secured the slot in the Woman’s Division.
While the big names in the sport ultimately won, this regional qualifying regatta offered an opportunity for relatively unknown teams to show their talents and take a decided stab at toppling the leaders.
St. Thomas’ Henry Menin, who is chairman of the match racing committee for International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and also an ISAF umpire, said, “match racing has increased in popularity more today than ever. The idea of having eight regional qualifiers all over the world – New Zealand, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki, Madeira, Slovenia, Great Britain and St. Thomas – for the Nation’s Cup is to be able to allow teams to compete without having to fly thousands of miles to do so.”
Indeed, the aim of the Nations Cup, established by ISAF in 1990, is to broaden the availability of match racing and provide international match racing competition for national authorities and sailors at a reasonable cost, while acting as an incentive for national match racing programs.
“There’s no match racing scene in Trinidad. But I’ve done quite a bit of it while in college at Old Dominion University,” said Trinidad’s Justin Castagne, who competed with fellow islanders and crew Alan Alkins, Phillip DeGannes and Bruce Martin.
Unranked and unknown, Team Trinidad & Tobago and Team St. Lucia both emerged as match racing forces to be reckoned during this event, ending a phenomenal second and fourth overall, respectively, out of eleven teams competing.
Team Trinidad’s learning curve proved steep and swift. The southern Caribbean sailors moved from a score of 2 wins and 4 loses on the first day to 4 wins and 2 loses day two, when they gelled together as a team and perfected their boat handling technique. This effort paid off in their winning a three-way tie that took them into the Semi Finals against St. Lucia and removed Team USVI and Team BVI from the top ranking competition.
Ultimately, Team Trinidad won its match against Mike Green and his Team St. Lucia and advanced to the finals paired against Team USA. Reading wind shifts correctly and navigating astutely led Trinidad’s Castagne to beat Team USA in the first of three deciding races, while a series of smart moves on the USA’s part eventually took Angel and his 40 th world ranked crew into the winner’s circle.
Castagne was pleased with his team’s performance and the caliber of the competition. “We could have lost to any team, at any time. It was that tight.”
Meanwhile, St. Lucia’s Green was bested by Team Canada, but still reveled in their stellar fourth place finish. “We used to do a lot of match racing seven years ago, but not since then. The caliber of competition here was great. We’re happy with our performance.”
While Trinidad’s Castagne and St. Lucia’s Green have competed in high-level international regattas in the past, no members of the USVI’s Women’s team had ever done so. Yet, this event provided them with the opportunity to compete against the likes of Bermuda’s Paula Lewin, who is ranked 25 th and won this regatta. Team Bermuda will advance to Ireland. Lewin beat second place Sally Barkow’s Team USA. Barkow is currently ranked 3 rd and was named Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year for 2005.
“This was our first match racing event ever,” said Verian Aguilar, who crewed on the USVI Woman’s Team. “All the other teams had match racing experience, so we had a steep learning curve. We did go all out. We practiced for the last two months or more, practiced against our guys, at least two to three times per week. We ended up beating the Cayman’s Women’s team, so we were very happy.”
In the future, says Menin, “I think we’ll see match racing grow in popularity even more. For one, it’s exciting. Spectators understand it better. Who finishes first wins, who wins the most goes onto the semis, and it’s the last man standing in the finals who wins the day. Its simple. Match racing is a superb training tool for fleet racers. You get more starts, tactics and jibes in a few days than you do in several months of fleet racing.”
Menin adds, “Here in the Caribbean, the other nice thing about match racing is that you can just show up with your gloves and suntan lotion and be ready to go.”