St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Seventy-two yachts with crews representing the Caribbean, U.S. mainland and Europe will set sail Friday in the 40th International Rolex Regatta (IRR). What started four decades ago as a small regatta of any-boat-that-floats, with estimated handicaps and round-the-island courses has grown into the ‘Crown Jewel of Caribbean Yacht Racing’ with high-tech racing machines, numerous handicap rules calculated instantly and electronically, and courses laid out by professional race officers. What has remained the same, says John Foster, commodore of the St. Thomas Club and one of the club members that founded the IRR, “is the great camaraderie, a spirit of sportsmanship and fair play and a great gusto to sail and party hard.”
This year’s fleet is divided into six classes that include one-design Melges 32s and IC24s, IRC- and CSA-handicap racing and non-spinnaker, and beach cats.
The Melges 32 is one of the hottest racing yachts in the world right now. The IRR, which is the second leg of the inaugural OtterBox® Melges 32 Virgin Islands Sailing Series, features a first-time class of nine teams hailing from the U.S., U.K., Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and the Caribbean. Switzerland’s Roberto Tomasini Grinover, sailing Robertissima, won the first event in the series hosted the end of February at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Virgin Gorda, BVI, and is looking forward to defending his lead.
“Competing for the first time in the IRR, we will be working very hard – from bow to my driving – as we did when winning the first event,” says Tomasini Grinover. “Moreover, our goal is to find the good lanes on the race course and, if we are able to implement all of this in every single race, we have a chance to end up quite high in the ranking again. This is always the intention when taking part in a regatta.”
The nine-boat CSA Racing 1 class is stacked with talent. Anson Mulder, of North Sails who calls tactics on Richard Wesslund’s J/120, El Ocaso, puts this in perspective: “Outside of the America’s Cup or an Olympic medal, the Rolex is yachting’s most recognizable and distinguished prize,” says Mulder. “It is sailing’s version of winning the Green Jacket at the Masters. Every sailor wants to win a Rolex and at the top of every class you’ll find the best sailors in the region fighting for the Holy Grail. Tight finishes are the norm and this year will be no different. Several competitors in our class have a shot at winning and past experience tells us Lazy Dog is one team that will be in the hunt. It will definitely be tooth and nail!”
Fresh from a class win in this year’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagramoso says he has high hopes of a podium finish aboard his J/122, Lazy Dog. “I hate to make crew changes for such an important regatta as the Rolex, but we had no choice. Our whole crew from St. Maarten won’t be able to make it,” says Sagramoso, who has competed in the IRR since 2004, winning a precision Rolex timepiece in 2007 aboard his Beneteau 40.7, also named Lazy Dog.
After eight second place finishes in a decade of sailing in the IRR, Jack Desmond is ready to give both El Ocaso and Lazy Dog a run for the class win. This year, due to an accident with his Swan 48, Affinity, Desmond will be sailing aboard the Swan 56, White Rhino. “For the first time we will be sailing with our complete summer regatta crew,” says Desmond, who lives in Marion, MA. “We always look forward to this event because we augment our crew with many local sailors who bring a great deal of spirit, experience and beauty to the race.”
The dozen boats in the CSA Racing 2 class are the meat and potatoes of the northern Caribbean’s elite racing fleet. Said another way, if you add up the years of racing experience in this class it would total a century or more, and the collective booty of trophies could literally sink a ship. Names to watch are the BVI’s Kevin Rowlette’s Olson 30, Rushin Rowlette, St. Croix, USVI’s Robert Armstrong’s J/100, Bad Girl, and Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Lipuscek’s J/105, Dark Star.
The tried-and-true troupers in the 13-boat CSA Non-Spinnaker Racing class include the USVI’s Steve Schmidt driving his Santa Cruz 70, Hotel California Too and Stan Joines at the helm of his J/36, Paladin, as well as New Hampshire’s Thomas Mullen racing his J/95, Shamrock VII. Yet, the relative newcomers are ready to give the veterans a run for their money.
“The IRR is always a favorite event,” says Martin van Breems, who runs Dutchman/Sound Sailing Center in Norwalk, CT. “With a new (to us) headsail we are looking to put a string of mid fleet finishes and climb up on that podium!!”
The five-boat IRC class will see the grand return of Donnybrook, Annapolis, MD’s Jim Muldoon’s Andrews 80, with its hi-tech canting keel and 17-member crew to sail her. “I’ve sailed in the IRR since the 1980’s when I had my 46-footer,” says Muldoon, former president of U.S. Sailing. “The boat reached a maximum speed of 32 ½-knots in the Pineapple Cup this winter. We’ll see what happens this weekend. There’s always good conditions and competition at Rolex.”
The homegrown IC-24 class is the biggest of the regatta with 17 entries. Puerto Rico’s Fraito Lugo, an 8-time Rolex winner, is back aboard Orion and looking forward to continuing his winning streak. He’ll be up against the likes of St. Thomas’ Taylor Canfield, one of the top ten match racers in the world, who’s crewing aboard Stinger, skippered by St. Thomas’ Emily Newbold.
Finally, it’s the need for speed that has enticed St. Thomas’ John Holmberg to jump ship from the IC-24 class to sail with his son, Kai, in Beach Cats. “Fast is fun, and afterwards this class parties together,” says Holmberg, who has sailed in 39 IRRs. “Plus, I enjoy sailing with my son. We have sailed in many Rolex’s and have a 1-2 record in the Hobie, Humbug.”
The fleet will sail into the Charlotte Amalie Harbor on Friday where spectators can see the action close-up. On Saturday, most of the fleet will race south of St. Thomas’ east end and on Sunday in Pillsbury Sound. The IC-24 and Beach Cat classes will race near to shore in Great Bay and Jersey Bay, respectively, on Saturday and Sunday. Racing starts daily at 11 a.m.
The St. Thomas Yacht Club-hosted IRR is the oldest regatta in Rolex’s portfolio of international sailing events and dates back to 1974.
For more information and results, visit: www.rolexcupregatta.com