Sailing is something the British Virgin Islands' Colin Rathbun has enjoyed all his life. Yet, it hasn't been until more recently that he's ventured into the world of match racing and found this chess game on the seas fits his competitive nature to a tee.
Born in the BVI to an American father and French mother, Rathbun literally grew up with the globe's waters as his backyard.
"My folks lived on a boat," he says. "We cast off cruising and kept sailing downwind until we eventually went around the world."
Rathbun returned to the BVI at the age of 17. He worked as a windsurfing instructor, chartered a bit and tended bar all to raise money for a college education. During this time, he traveled up to the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, where he had his first chance to sail competitively.
"I figured if I could sail around the world I could race a Laser – wrong!" he says. "I ended up capsizing and not being able to finish the race. It was enough to interest me though because it was a challenge. After that I started sailing out of the yacht club."
Rathbun attended the University of Miami in Florida, where he graduated with a double major in Advertising and Marine Science Affairs and a minor in business. While in the U.S., he competed in handicap races crewing on yachts out of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.
Back in the BVI, Rathbun found employment opportunities slim in advertising, so he decided to start his own business. A Looking Glass is a graphic design company and publisher of The Property and BVI Yacht Guide. He also began working with his father at the family's airfreight company, Tortola Express, and took over as CEO when his father passed away in August 2009.
This busy professional life didn't stop Rathbun from sailing. It was quite the contrary. He started crewing, first as bow, on bigger boats in major regattas such as the BVI Spring Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week. Then, when Racing in Paradise built the IC-24 fleet, Rathbun was quick to jump onboard.
"In handicap racing, if you didn't have the right boat it could be hard to perform well," he says. "But one-design racing, where all boats are equal, is much more interesting to me."
Rathbun decided to trade his crew position for the helm in one local IC-24 race and came in second.
"We went to the yacht club for the awards and Fred Ruebeck came up and said he'd like me to sail the Gustav Wilmerding regatta with him – and that I was driving. We won the race and after that I was hooked on the helm."
Today, Rathbun trains the crew and uses his advertising knowledge to secure a sponsor, LIME, and Ruebeck provides the IC-24. While Rathbun races LIME in local regattas, and those as far away as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, he also jumps behind the tiller of other boats to match race.
"I love the idea of match racing. Win it or lose it," he says. "Match racing hones all of your skills, everything has to be perfected and you have to work as a team and be on top of every maneuver."
This kind of attitude, and ability, has seen Rathbun win the BVI's Pete Sheals Memorial Match Race Regatta an unprecedented four times in the past four years. That's not all. In 2006 he competed in the Nation's Cup Qualifier in St. Thomas and the Carlos Aguilar Match Race in 2009 and 2010. This past summer, he worked on his skills by taking match racing guru Dave Perry's four-day course on Long Island. Then Rathbun and his team traveled to the Chicago Match Race Center for even more coaching and competition. Up next, he'll match off against some big names at the Budget Marine Match Cup in St. Maarten, then at the first-ever Grade 3 Gill BVI International Match Racing Championship in Tortola, and finally the Nation's Cup Qualifier in Texas this summer.
"Someday I'd like to make it to a World Match Racing Tour event," says Rathbun. Meanwhile, "I look forward to sailing here in the Caribbean and continuing my life and work with my family here in Tortola."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.