With block buster attendance at Tortola's West End Yacht Club's flagship Red Hat event, the race committee was hard pressed to keep up with registration. With a record number of 47 entrants, some showing up minutes before the skippers briefing, the scene at the Jolly Roger was organized chaos. Registration twice ran out of SI's and applications.
Running out of time, the handicapping of such a varied fleet of classic boats was made possible by the flexible Performance Handicap Racing Formula (PHRF). Thus boats as diverse as Lianna Jarecki's 26ft Mallard sloop competed against the lovely 115ft schooner Eros sailed by Grace Bodle, along with wild card catamaran Shamwari, owned by local sailor Kevin Rowlette, making its debut on the racing scene.
Meanwhile the committee boat was facing challenges running out of anchoring room. With bow and stern anchors set, the boat finally settled abeam of a 5-6 knot current off the point at Frenchman's Cay. The race committee warned starting competitors of the severe southerly current at the start, sweeping boats towards the line and the committee boat. One skipper, misjudging the river like flow, said he had never encountered conditions like it in 42 years of sailing! After a tide change during the day, boats faced the reverse current trying to reach the finish off Little Thatch. Some boats made no headway until their frustrated skippers eked out enough 'speed over the ground' from the fluky Sopers Hole wind, to cross the line before the 5pm deadline.
A brisk 10 to 14 knot forecast for Sunday kept two Laser competitors away (yes the Laser is now a classic) but the body of the 'big' boat fleet ran out of wind in the shadow of Sage mountain, meandering for an hour before reaching the promised gusty conditions off Pelican and Flannigan Islands.
Charlie Haines sailing his winning sloop Lydia in the 25-34ft Classic Class said: "With a north-northeast wind sailing conditions and even the color of the water were wonderfully different to the norm."
Asked about the record setting attendance, Commodore Martin van Houten said: "The weather always helps but we had good coverage in All at Sea which brought in many off-island boats and we are seeing more down island cruisers making this regatta date since the introduction of the Couples Class." The pretty yawl Castanet sailed by John Ford took first place in this class.
Observers of the sloop Kate up from St Kitts were treated to a surprise as Philip Walwyn had converted her to a much faster yawl, having cut 18ft from the monstrous boom she carried two years ago.
As always the true Sweethearts stole the show on Saturday with seven schooners ranging from John Castanza's 32ft Cowhorn Cala Breeze to Elliot Hooper's 110ft three-masted iron staysail schooner Silver Cloud (rumor has it she is haunted) built in 1899.
Nigel Bower skippered his 40 ft Alden schooner Heron to take the Fletcher Pitts 'Spirit of the Sweethearts' perpetual trophy.
With the WEYC tradition of 'everyone gets a prize', problems were not over for the four-person race committee. With more than 60 entrants over two days in nine classes there was a risk of running out of Red Hats and prizes! But a call to the Mount Gay Rum 'well' saved the day with bottles of rum for all. With two hats in each gift bag for every boat, the remaining hats were ceremoniously given to the winning boats. Lou Schwartz from the Jolly Roger commented: "Mount Gay considers this regatta one of their most important in the Caribbean."
Income from the regatta will go toward the WEYC's continuing effort to support youth sailing in the BVI.
1ST PLACE RESULTS
35 to 45ft Class – Cala Breeze, John Castanza
45 to 60ft Class – Heron, Nigel Bower
60ft + Class – Eros, Grace Bodle
Single Handers – Cayennita Grande, Tony Sanpere
One Design Squib – Charity, Jaye Noel
Classic 25 to 34ft – Lydia, Charlie Haines
Classic 34 to 45ft – Osprey, Larry Best
Classic 45 to 60ft – Kate, Philip Walwyn
Classic 60ft + – Eros, Grace Bodle
Wannabes – Kalina, Patrick Lockett
Couples – Castanet, John Ford
Mike Kirk is a retired engineer living in Tortola. He is Treasurer of the West End Yacht Club and enjoys J boat racing in most of the Leeward Island Regattas.