A team of U.S. and British Virgin Islands' sailors are out to conquer the world, the world of sailing that is, and to bring that world to the Caribbean. And they are well on their way.
M32 or Team INTAC/Crowley, is a Melges 32 helmed by the BVI's Mark Plaxton, with an all-star crew that includes America's Cup winning St. Thomas-based helmsman Peter Holmberg; J24 World Champion, Anthony Kotoun; professional sailor, Ben Beer; and 49er Olympic hopeful, Topher Kingsley. The team built a 'picket fence' of first place finishes this season at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, International Rolex Regatta and BVI Spring Regatta. Their goal is to win the Melges 32 Worlds in 2012 and ultimately bring the hosting of this championship back to Virgin Islands waters.
"The Melges 32 is the Formula One of racing," says Robert Jennings, an avid sailor, colleague of Plaxton's at the BVI-based INTAC Global Investments, and media/advertising liaison for the team. "The economy is leading to downsized Farr 40 and TP 52 programs, and as a result, some of the top sailors in the world
are racing the Melges 32, so it's an extremely competitive class."
The International Sailing Federation recognized the Melges 32 as an international class in 2008 and there are now fleets in North America, Europe and Australia. What's interesting is that this one-design class has strict rules such as the boat must be owner-driven and no more than three professional sailors can sail aboard as crew.
The first phase of M32/Team INTAC/Crowley's campaign was to build a solid string of wins in the Caribbean. Indeed, the team scored no less than first place finishes to win the CSA Spinnaker Racing Class at both the Gill Commodores Cup and St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and also picked up 'Best Overall Boat'. This feat they repeated twice more, winning their class and earning 'Best Overall CSA Boat' at the International Rolex Regatta, and winning the CSA Spinnaker Racing 2 class at the BVI Spring Regatta with seven firsts and also 'Best Overall Boat' award.
"We worked very hard together as a team for the last several months and it has paid off handsomely," says Plaxton, who has lived, sailed and worked as INTAC's chief investment officer in the BVI for 17 years. "Our motto is Peace, Love and Boat Speed."
Next up is securing a sponsor.
"Ideally we're looking for one sponsor," says Plaxton, "Or, if not, three to four sponsors."
The cost to conquer the world doesn't come cheap. The campaign is estimated at around $750,000. But with this dream team it certainly makes a good investment. This is also the first time a Melges 32 has been backed by a full time media partner: T2P.TV and Tucker Thompson.
Plaxton will next ship the Melges 32 to the U.S. mainland for several major regattas These include the U.S. National Championships in Rye, NY, in May; the North American Championships and Northeast Regatta in July and September, both in Newport, RI; the East Coast Championships in Charleston, SC, in October, and finally the Gold Cup in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, in December. The 2012 Melges 32 Worlds will be hosted by the New York Yacht Club and sailed in Newport, in September. A win here would definitely put the team, and the Caribbean, even more firmly on the world map for competitive sailing.
Looking ahead, Jennings says, "The owner of the Peter Island resort has two sons that race Melges 32s. I think Peter Island would be a wonderful location to host the Melges 32 Worlds in the future."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.