Sixty two yachts, everything from a Hobie 16 to an Andrews 72, raced in the 39th International Rolex Regatta (IRR), out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, March 23rd – 25th. This breadth and depth of fleet is what makes the IRR one-of-a-kind. It’s one of only two Caribbean regattas to boast an IRC-rated class, welcome participants from as far away as Monaco and Russia, include a strong beach cat class, invite all-girls’ teams to race, and accept crews ranging from winning America’s Cup helmsmen to inexperienced high-schoolers.
A world-class fleet of nine IRC-rated yachts competed this year.
The high point was a win by the Cayman Islands’ Peter Cunningham’s TP 52, PowerPlay.
The low point was the first day’s dismasting of Monaco’s Lord Irvine Laidlaw’s Reichel-Pugh 52, Highland Fling XII. “It was very sad and unfortunate,” says St. Thomas’ America’s Cup sailor and Highland Fling’s tactician, Peter Holmberg. He added, “We were super excited for this event.”
The mast came crashing down minutes into the first race just before the first mark when the crew furled the big reaching jib. While dropping it, the jib got caught up in the rig, breaking the lower spreader and causing the mast to fall over, taking the boat out of the regatta and the season.
Another key player this year was Detroit, Michigan’s Bill Alcott, who brought down his STP 65, Equation, known previously as Rosebud. “We took delivery of the boat last May,” says tactician, Stu Argo. “Sailing here against a couple of well-sailed 52s offered us a good opportunity to improve.” While Equation didn’t earn a podium finish this year, ending fourth, owner Alcott, who’s been racing in the IRR since the 1980s, was awarded the Commodore’s Trophy for perennially inviting up-and-coming junior sailors to crew. One of these is Cy Thompson, who has already secured a spot for the 2012 Summer Olympics in the Laser Class.
This year’s IRR welcomed its first team of sailors from Russia. “We’ve sailed in Italy, Croatia and Greece and like to visit new places,” says Dmitry Gornyy, crewmember aboard the chartered X-65, Karuba 5, which raced in the IRC Class. “We’ve sailed in Rolex-sponsored events in Europe and they are known to be high level. That’s what brought us all the way here.” The Karuba 5 team for the IRR was a mix of experienced, intermediate and beginner sailors. “What were most difficult for us were the winds. We weren’t used to the strong winds here in the Caribbean. We did like the sun, the warm and the parties,” says Gornyy.
Ten beach cats crossed the start line, making it one of the biggest Rolex cat classes in years. The winner, Puerto Rico’s Jorge Ramos, aboard his Hobie 16, Universal, says he came to the regatta for one reason and that was “to defend our title from last year.”
Others jumped into the beach cat class for other reasons. “It’s fun,” says St. Thomas’ John Holmberg, a former Prindle 19 National Champion, who has sailed the IRR in keelboats for the past few years and who finished second this year aboard his Hobie 16, Time Out.
Holmberg’s crew, 14-year-old Naomi Lang, added, “They’re fast. I like to go fast.”
St. Thomas’ Mark Chong also likes going fast, but found it difficult on his Nacra 20, Blame it on Rhea, to compete with what he called the ‘Hobie factor’ on handicap. “It’s great to have this many boats on the line,” says Chong. “Next year, if they give this class a Rolex watch, you’ll see 20 or more boats on the line.”
Two all-girl teams raced in this year’s IRR, one in the Beach Cat and the other in the IC24 Class.
“I don’t like to think of it as girls competing against guys, we’re all just one great class of competitors” says St. Thomas’ Terry McKenna who raced with Joyce McKenzie aboard the Hobie 16, Island Girls. “Sure, the guys have a weight advantage when the winds are heavy, but we have the same advantage in light winds.”
St. Thomas’ Antilles high school senior, Nikki Barnes, put an IC24 team together with some of her friends, her sailing coach Kim Murtha and some of Murtha’s friends, aboard the BVI’s Chris Haycraft’s Latitude 19. “I thought it would be fun to put an all-girl team together,” says Barnes. “It was the first time that we all sailed together. We didn’t do that well (11th), but we had a good time and it was a good experience.”
Saint Croix Central High teacher Stan Joines used to put out an announcement seeking student crew to race with him. “This year they found me,” says Joines, who recently purchased Tony Sanpere’s J/35, Cayennita Grande. Sanpere shared driving duties with Joines while crew such as Jensen Estephan trimmed the jib, Eric Perez handled the Genoa and Cizangel Pilier raised the spinnaker pole, racing to a first place finish in the seven-boat CSA Non-Spinnaker Class. “The team effort paid off,” says Joines.
For full results, visit: www.bvispringregatta.org/bvi
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.