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Classics Sail Backwards in Sopers Hole

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A strong westerly tide and current in Drakes Channel meant that boats returning on the last leg of racing into Soper’s Hole faced a strong adverse current to the finish line. This resulted in some humorous but also heart stopping moments for the 32-boat fleet during the Valentines weekend, in which many boats sailed backwards at critical times.

On Saturday, February 16, the six Schooners and five intrepid singlehander’s, returning from the Northern course around Sandy Cay, enjoyed stiff winds that gave the winning schooner Liberty a fast time of one hour, 46 minutes. (Is this a record?). With Robin Pitts on board and crewed by the Coral Bay devotees of Fletcher Pitts’ 82-year old Malabar Schooner, Liberty showed she is still The Sweetheart of the Virgin Islands.

Fittingly, Liberty won the “Spirit of the Sweethearts” trophy given in memory of Fletcher Pitts. Last year’s winner Heron came in a close second and we hope this duel of titans will continue in years to come. Tracy Obert’s Sloop Kahuli stole the singlehander race by one minute and two seconds on corrected time over Rainbow Maker who took line honors.  

In an attempt to prevent an early start, John Hayes, sailing the only Cat in the fleet and in a style reminiscent of Foxy’s Cat fight, crossed the start line backwards earning him a prize of one day’s training at a local sailing school!

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But by Sunday the weather had moved from classic Christmas trade winds to gray squalls and driving misty rain. Wind strengths varied from 25 knots to two knots as prolonged squalls marched westwards leaving low wind holes behind them.  Visibility at the start was less than a mile as the boats beat around Frenchman’s Cay to enter Drakes Channel for the Southern course.

The fleet faced a 6.5 mile beat to Pelican and Flanagan Islands into a veritable maelstrom of driving rain. The committee settled in for a long wait. By 2.30 pm the vanguard of the faster boats was beating against the westerly adverse current into Soper’s Hole…but the wind was dropping…and dropping.  Adrian Sinton’s Columbia 40, Rascal, took line honors in a time of two hours 38 minutes with just enough wind to negotiate the westerly ebbing current.

But as the slower boats trickled in over the next three hours, a racing rule phenomenon developed. The heavily favored pin end sucked boat after boat into a dead wind spot, compounded by an adverse current. With ten feet to the finish line, Tony Sanpere’s Cayenne III had to fall away from the line or risk being swept onto Little Thatch. He took over four minutes to cross the line to win the Wannabe Class over pursuing Stella di Mare.

In one to five knot dying breeze, several subsequent boats actually had their bows cross the line to receive a finish gun, only to repeat Tony’s performance and fall off—never completely crossing the line. With the light wind and transverse current, these boats headed for the harbor.  With four minutes to go before the time limit of 5 p.m., Honora ghosted across the line in a one knot “breeze” after five hours 30 min. Now that’s perseverance!

So here’s the Question: Was the Race Officer (name withheld) correct in giving boats who did not completely cross the line their finish time or should they be scored DNF? (Answer given below.)

Ashore, with the Mount Gay tent open and coveted Red Hats everywhere, comments were overhead from old salts ranging from: “The best day’s sailing I have ever had,” to “Now that was a challenging race!”  In West End Yacht Club tradition, all competitors received a prize donated by the many supportive businesses around the British Virgin Islands.

Answer to the Pop Quiz:
In 1996 the old rule requiring the whole boat to cross the line was changed.  In the 2005 Definitions Section of the ISAF rules: “A boat finishes when any part of her hull or crew or equipment in normal position, crosses the finish line in the direction of the course from the last mark…” Well done, Commodore and Race Officer Martin van Houton.

Mike Kirk is a retired Engineer from the corporate world and long time sailor who loves sailboat racing of all kinds. He has sailed dinghies in England and the US, and now races actively on a J120 in the Caribbean circuit. He and his wife Di live in Brewers Bay Tortola.


46 to 60ft

  1. Kai Kanani – Todd Duff,
  2. Breeze Maven – Greg Graham
  3. Ushuaia –  Morgan  McDonald

61 ft to 100ft

  1. Liberty – Robin Pitts
  2. Heron – Nigel Bower


  1. Kahuli – Tracy Obert
  2. Rainbow Maker – Vincent Barnett
  3. Wildfire – John Hayes.


26 to 34ft

  1. Frequency – Ryan Walsh                                          

35 to 45 ft

  1. Rascal – Adrian Sinton,
  2. Ruffian – Marty Halpen
  3. Osprey – Larry Best.

46 to 60 ft

  1. Rainbow Maker – Vincent Barnett
  2. Flying Circus – Neil Newhard
  3. Ushuaia – Morgan McDonald

61 ft to 100ft

  1. Liberty – Robin Pitts
  2. Heron – Nigel Bower


  1. Cayenne III – Tony Sanpere
  2. Stella Di Mare – Erik Greenenberg
  3. Zing – George Stuckert


  1. Wildfire – John Hayes
  2. Image of Falmouth – John Constantine
  3. Nina Rose – Marc Hale
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