Having pitted themselves against some of the best helms in the South Caribbean J24 circuit, and in particular the two previous Bequia winners of 2006 and 2007, the St. Lucia Youth Team realized what a task they had ahead of them. Undaunted and with consistent scores and good team work, they kept in the top five and pulled it off!
In their own words this was their action plan: On the 18th of March, after much preparation, a team of four St Lucian Youth sailors set off with their coach Ben Todd to Bequia Easter Regatta with high hopes of finishing in the top half of the fleet. The swell forecast for the Thursday of that week nearly called the trip to a halt with coach and parents expressing their concern as to the safety of the youth sailors. The call was made to leave a day earlier to avoid the swell, and the team departed at approximately 10pm on the 18th.
The race boat J24 Attitude was kindly provided by Charles Devaux and towed down to Bequia by Christian Richings of Free Spirit Charters. The sailors helped to sail the towing boat down the island through the night. At 8 a.m. the next day, the team arrived in Admiralty Bay Bequia in SVG.
The team then had only two days to train together for the regatta and worked extremely hard on crew work and boat handling techniques. The team amalgamated very quickly and soon had the important manoeuvres running smoothly and efficiently.
Friday the 21st of March brought the first event, a 3 and a ½ hour coastal race. At the start, 11 boats from various Caribbean nations lined up jostling for position on the start line. These boats included some big-hitting teams from St Lucia—former Olympian Mike Green on Unbridled and previous regatta winner Nick Forsberg on Jabal—as well as James Arindell from Trinidad & Tobago and boats from Grenada, Barbados, and Martinique. The race ran in winds reaching 25knts and a long hard course tested all the boats and crews. At the finish the team was surprised and extremely pleased to finish in second.
The next day took place within Admiralty Bay around a smaller but technical course. The racing again was hard fought and, with renewed vigour and determination, the team secured two more second places. Despite snapping a spinnaker pole, the team was lying in second position overall at the end of day two. This alone was causing a stir in the race camp as people were asking the question—who these kids were and where they had come from. The team had no hesitation to tell of their Lucian nationality and of their age!
At the start of the final day, the start of the first race was controlled well by the helm of the boat and after the first upwind leg the team were in first place around the marker buoy. This remained the same until the last upwind to the finish when the main sheet sheared off—not a quick repair—and the team ended up with a fifth position in that race. On paper, first place overall now seemed out of reach.
The final race was longer with some of the cruising class on the same course; this presented a further challenge but also gave rise to opportunities to make big gains on other boats. After one lap of the course and on the final upwind leg to the finish, the team were in first position being chased hard by Nick Forsberg and Mike Green. The team held their own to the last getting that greatly-desired, and deserved, first place.
Back on the shore the team, ecstatic with a race win and second overall, found that the leading boat had false-started over the starting line and been disqualified from that race. This meant that after a long six days of training and racing the team got the ultimate reward for hard work and sound preparation and won the Bequia Easter Regatta 2008.
Special thanks go to Charles Devaux, Commodore of the St. Lucia Yacht Club, for allowing the use of Attitude and a set of very expensive racing sails, to Christian Richings for ferrying the team to and from Bequia with his charter boat, and Bill Simmons for supplying free accommodation in Bequia for the team.
The response from the organisers was fantastic; everyone seemed so pleased to see young sailors do so well against such a wealth of experience and talented senior sailors, and most importantly sailors from our island, St Lucia.
J24 Attitude in first, Bequia Easter Regatta 2008:
Frederic Sweeny, Helm, age 19
Charlie Daher, Jib/Spinnaker, 17
Eric Simmons, Jib/Spinnaker, 17
Anthony Clavier, Pit, 21
Benjamin Todd, Foredeck, 25
Submitted by Ben Todd, Coach, St. Lucia Yacht Club Sailing Program
Thanks again for this great write up Ben. It’s a privilege to have these memories to recount. R.I.P to my father Bill Simmons. 2008 what a great year that was for the boys.