In the November issue (Professionalization of Sailing Events in the Caribbean) of All At Sea Robbie Ferron states that a number of new regattas taking place in the Caribbean are well sponsored events where professionalism and profit is now more important than any earlier Corinthian ideals. Whereas this may be true in certain events this is definitely not the case in the RORC Caribbean 600 as Mr Ferron suggests in his article. As a co-founder of this race I can categorically state that the reason that Stan Pearson and I handed over the whole organization of the event to the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Antigua Yacht Club was to avoid precisely what he is incorrectly suggesting. We believed at the outset (and still do) that this event would benefit from the efficient Corinthian (but professional) nature of the two organizations which in turn would not allow any self interest to depreciate the value of the event. Both the RORC and the Antigua Yacht Club are private yacht clubs, with modest membership fees, whose ethos is to involve their members and other interested parties by organizing well run events – and a very good job they do too. At this time there is no headline sponsor of this particular RORC event –further if one were to be appointed their presence would only be engaged primarily for the sponsor’s benefit and to further ensure that the competitors experience and participation is enhanced. In the last edition in February 2013 there were close to 100 volunteers in Antigua who gave up a huge amount of time (day and night) for no reward other than a free T-shirt and some refreshment. How Corinthian is that? The whole event is entirely dependent on these people based in Antigua and all of them, despite the RORC involvement, feel a certain local pride and propriety in this regatta. Any ‘profit’ is reflected in the success of the regatta – and that lies more simply in the fact that the race is an attractive challenge which sailors aspire to. All are welcome to participate, amateurs and professionals alike, provided the yachts, equipment and crew comply with required standards – and with IRC ratings you can be sure of a level playing field.
Mr Ferron himself was deeply involved in the Heineken Regatta and he will be well aware that in any world class sailing event you cannot simply rely on the goodwill of everyone. The RORC has a fulltime professional staff that is paid to run all their races (usually some 20 events each year). Getting the team to Antigua to run the event is not cheap. So – as and when sponsors are introduced (as in any RORC event) one aim is to ensure that as few as possible of the organizational costs are passed on to the competitors. Low entry fees, free parties and free prize giving events are the aim— entirely for the benefit of the sponsors and sailors participating. The RORC has a long history of ‘professionalism without mercenary gain’ – Mr Ferron has got it very wrong when he suggests that the RORC Caribbean event is designed for any pecuniary advantage and he is confusing professionalism with commercialism – two entirely different reasons for success. I would also point out that anyone who has ever attended a regatta party at the RORC Caribbean 600 will concur that is attended by children, families, wealthy owners, local volunteers, professional sailors and amateurs alike.
To conclude I do agree with some of Mr Ferron’s points – there are a number of Caribbean events that do seem to have moved more towards a business model, not least the ARC in its current format. This event is now hardly the ideal originally conceived by Jimmy Cornell. Its success however indicates that many people still want to participate in the event. Bucket Regattas on the other hand are an entirely special case. Large yacht racing regattas cannot safely be run by amateurs – nor can the sophisticated systems seen on today’s mega-yachts be managed by part time sailors. But like Mr Ferron I loathe the commercial vanities that have gradually been allowed to creep in to the advantage of certain individuals. This is why I am sure that another of the newer events in the Caribbean, The Antigua Superyacht Challenge, is proving to be such a success. Like the RORC 600 – its aims are low budget, no irrelevant sponsors and no one trying to make an individual or inappropriate profit. I believe that all those involved in both regattas have got this part of organizing an event right – and long may it prosper.