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Winning Regattas: Expert Tips from Caribbean Sailors

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Regatta season is here. Are you ready to win? All At Sea asked some of the best Caribbean sailors what they do to prepare for a successful season. Here’s what they said:

1. Set Your Calendar

Some skippers stay close to home; others plan a campaign that spans the Caribbean.
“Sailing is an expensive sport and there’s the logistics of boat transport,” says the BVI’s Colin Rathbun, who skippers the IC-24, LIME. “For us, that means a lot of local racing in the BVI, USVI and Puerto Rico.”

Antigua’s Bernie Wong, aboard his Melges 24, Huey, and Cal 40, Huey Too, has a core of regattas he attends. “These are chosen based on my previous enjoyment, past successes, cost of attendance, accommodations, facilities, organization, and friends that live or also go there. These include Antigua Sailing Week, RORC Caribbean 600, Grenada Sailing Festival, St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the BVI Spring Regatta and whatever else I can fit in.”

Each season is different for BlackBerry Enzyme, a Henderson 35 built and based in Trinidad, says Jay Alvi, crew and sponsor. “We alternate between focusing on our local boat of the year competition in Trinidad and doing the entire Caribbean circuit.”

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2. Assemble Crew

“Crew is a universal problem for all skippers,” says Antigua’s Wong. “Everyone is busy these days and with the economic recession it is hard to get regular crew. I have a small core crew, which I may have to support financially, that can help with deliveries and race. The rest I scrounge up from wherever I can. I have even tried online sources with very mixed results.”

Crew doesn’t necessarily need to know how to sail as far as the BVI’s Rathbun is concerned. “I look for those who are keen, because they are eager to learn.”
Friends are who St. Maarten’s Frits Bus, who sails his Melges 24, Team Coors Light, selects. “Even if they are not the best sailors, I have more fun sailing with people I know and can trust.”

Puerto Rico’s Angel Ayala, onboard his J/80, Sun Bum III, says it’s all about family. “My son, Alexis, and his college friends, are my crew. It’s like one big family and there’s an advantage to sailing with the same crew year after year.”

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3. Prep Your Boat

“Immediately after a race season,” says BlackBerry Enzyme’s Alvi, “we do a post mortem and list all of the off season ‘to do’ list items. Crew members are assigned specific tasks – rigging, hull, engine, lines etc., to repair and maintain. Then we place our new sails inventory order. We all have our day jobs so it is very important to spread the workload around. All jobs need to be completed by ‘launch day’ when we float the boat and do a shakedown sail.”

Puerto Rico’s Ayala starts preparing his J/80 in the fall. “We’ll have Fraito (Lugo) and Jorge (Hernandez) go over all the rigging, for example. If something breaks when you’re racing, it’s your fault, no one else.”

4. Train

Busy schedules can make time limited for practice sessions. However, St. Maarten’s Bus says, “We have a lot of local races and use these for training.”

On the other hand, training time is a dedicated activity for St. Croix’s Armstrong and his team. “Bad Girl usually goes back in the water in October and then we sail just about every Sunday till the last regatta. People think that’s a lot, but for sailors like us life just doesn’t get any better. It’s not training; it’s paradise.”

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5. Coordinate Logistics
Puerto Rico’s Ayala enjoys a family advantage when it comes to booking regatta entry, air flights, dockage, rental car, provisioning, accommodations and all the off-the-water details. “Peggy does everything,” he says of his wife, who is a non-racing crew member.

Others, like Antigua’s Wong, sail and handle the logistics. “I use the Internet, accessing any relevant information from regatta websites.”

Crew can be invaluable, says the BVI’s Rathbun. “One of our crew works for a charter company. There’s nothing better than a 40-foot catamaran to tow the race boat and provide for accommodations and meals.”

6. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
“Preparation is key in my book,” says Antigua’s Wong. “This begins early on and continues on a constant and ongoing basis.”

St. Maarten’s Bus agrees. “You can be a great sailor, but if your boat keeps breaking down or you sail the wrong courses, you’re not going to win.”

“If you have prepared well,” says St. Croix’s Armstrong, “you will have a quiet boat when the wind meets the sails, the water meets the hull and friends become a team. And quiet is fast.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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