Sailing over the finish line first takes a lot more than sheer talent and training. There are a number of tasks that need to be accomplished weeks and sometimes months before hitting the start line. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes some of the Caribbean’s most competitive skippers to put together a successful spring regatta race campaign.
Crew & Crew Training
“Experience has taught us that the most critical component of success in sailboat racing is the crew, better described as the ‘team’,” explains St. Thomas’ Paul Davis, whose J/27, Mag 7, has raced in over 140 regattas since the early 1990s. “For Mag 7 the core five crew members have been with the program for five to ten years. We’re on our third race boat together. Time on the water in practice is the key to perfect boat handling and trips to the podium.”
Sint Maarten’s Frits Bus, who will this season campaign his Melges 24, Team Island Water World, says, “Friends are my first choice to have as crew. Sailing the regattas is not only for the competition; it’s also a vacation, a good time together sharing free time.”
Yet good crew has become a real nightmare for some with the current global economic climate – unless a skipper is willing to pay them, claims Antigua’s Bernie Wong, who plans to sail his Mumm 36, High Tension, in at least five major regattas this season. “Just when you think you have full crew suddenly two or three will drop out because they got some kind of job opportunity, and right now that will always take priority! It’s often best to find nice persons than train them to be crew, if time allows, and then you get good faithful crew.”
Training his own crew is what Puerto Rico’s Jaime Torres, who will be racing his new Melges 32, Smile and Wave, did last season. “Finding talented crew for an extended sailing campaign is very challenging and one of the greatest obstacles to succeeding at the high performance levels required to win in the Caribbean. Our team chose to train new crew members from scratch or trained beginners to become high performance sailors. We accomplished this with a combination of bi-weekly training sessions and through the hiring of private coaches.”
“If you want reliability on the racecourse, it is necessary to examine every possible piece of equipment methodically,” says Bernie Wong.
“To be competitive, especially in the racing classes where ‘money is no problem,’ you can’t have sails older than a couple of years. In addition, for boat speed the bottom finish is one of the most critical factors. It’s no coincidence that boatyard owners always do well in regattas.”
Saint Thomas’ Paul Davis spends summer and fall in the boat yard completely resurfacing the bottom of his boat and plugging all the holes that could lead to water weight. “With age, these balsa core boats tend to soak up water which can slow the rocket down,” says Davis.
Behind the Scenes
In large well-funded campaigns there’s a team manager to take care of details such as booking travel and regatta registration. Many highly-competitive international teams travel with their own chef. But these jobs on successful Caribbean teams often fall to the owner.
“This is a major logistical challenge for low budget race teams such as Smile and Wave,” says Puerto Rico’s Torres. “We create a full season crew schedule and pre buy air tickets. Accommodations for us this year will be on a charter catamaran, which will simplify race day operations but provides the added challenge of limited cooking facilities.”
In addition to crew travel, there’s boat delivery. “We tow Mag 7 with Papillon, our mother ship, and three to five crew for delivery,” explains Davis.
“Unfortunately sail boat racers often also have jobs. The ones that can’t deliver get flown or ferried over and we all stay comfortably on Papillon in the marina.”
“I take care of all paperwork, travel arrangements, registrations and accommodations,” says St. Maarten’s Bus. “However, we share in the work for shopping and cooking.”
A spring regatta campaign isn’t cheap. These skippers estimate it costs them anything from $4,000 to $7,500 per regatta; from $16,000 to $20,000 annually for four to five regattas, and up to $60,000 for eight regattas.
Yet, St. Thomas’ Davis sums it up well: “Even though when it’s all over and the boat is beat, the crew is battered, and I’m down on funds, we couldn’t and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything! Race on!”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.