There’s been a noticeable absence on the Caribbean racing scene this season. It’s been felt on the racecourse, at the beachside parties and, most recognizably, on the winner’s podium. For before this year, from Puerto Rico to Antigua and all regattas in-between, James Dobbs and his Olson 30, Lost Horizon II, have been right there at the top. In fact, it would be fair to say they that have won the most regattas of any boat in the Caribbean.
Gaining prowess at an early age, Dobbs began sailing 11-foot dinghies called scows at the age of five in his native UK, off the Isle of Wight. “I’ve been sailing ever since,” he recalls, his well-tanned face cheerily reflecting his love of the sea. Dobbs’ first island connection came when he moved to the Bahamas and raced Stars and Lasers on a circuit for 15 years. “Sailing in the North Americans and World Championships is a great way to learn humility,” he says.
In 1981, proclaiming himself financially independent, Dobbs decided to go cruising. “I didn’t think I’d race, so I bought a 41-foot Rival Cutter, but it wasn’t long before I was racing it and it wasn’t rewarding,” he says. In Antigua at this time, he bought Jol Byerly’s Olson 30, Riptide, and named her Lost Horizon II making the cutter into a mother ship.
The Caribbean racing season for Dobbs and partner, Nicola Pears, typically began when the two would make their twice-annual transatlantic crossing back from the UK, land in Antigua and gear up for Guadeloupe’s Triskell Cup. A number of club-style Antigua-based regattas would follow before the two would sail north and compete in the Caribbean Ocean Racing Triangle regattas, the International Rolex Regatta, St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and back to Antigua for race week, before crossing the Atlantic for the summer.
Along the way, says Dobbs, it gradually became apparent that the Virgin Islands had the best racing for a small race boat. “Most of the boats that are similar in size and rating to us are in the Virgins. That’s where the economy is good and where sailors can take time off to do the series,” he says. “On islands like St. Lucia and Grenada, there’s no middle class of boats. In Antigua, we do have some that are mid-size, but we need more to make it competitive.”
Through the years, Dobb’s says his secret to winning is in “always acknowledging that we can do better and improve,” he says. Keeping Lost Horizon II in top-notch condition is also key. “I always take all the winches down after a race, check the halyards for chaff and spot check sails for defects before putting them away,” he explains. Crew is important and, other than Pears, crewmembers are pick-up friends Dobbs has made through the years throughout the islands. “It’s important to have companionable people. I’d rather not do as well than to have a crew who didn’t enjoy one another.”
One long-time and capable crewmember, Dave Hanna, a.k.a. ‘Kiwi Dave’, is now the owner of Lost Horizon II.
Pears says, “Dave is a wonderful sailor and racer in his own right, full of enthusiasm. He has sailed with us all over, including Barbados, the Virgin Islands and Antigua, and to England during the summer when he and James rented a Daring for Cowes Week, which they nearly won much to the locals’ deep disgust.”
In the immediate future, Pears says, “We are off to Cuba, then the Bahamas, the Azores, and back to Europe for our usual summer visit.”
She adds, “James is now talking of getting an Aerodyne 38 for next year’s racing season. This may be talk or it may happen. Either way, we intend to enjoy ourselves. Racing keeps one within a field of people who are mostly much younger than us and therefore a good influence. We have met so many friends associated with racing; and the camaraderie engendered by racing together is precious indeed.”