Local islander and America’s Cup team helmsman Peter Holmberg gives a preview of next year’s premiere regattas around the Caribbean. Each featured event has its own unique attributes and flavour, allowing teams to select those that suit their style, their type of racing and their schedule...
My hope is to provide some inside information on the logistics and practicalities of racing in the Caribbean, to encourage more teams to come and race, do a few events while you are here, and help make that experience as enjoyable as possible.
Let’s start with the schedule. The Caribbean racing circuit fits nicely within the international race and weather calendar. The circuit starts in January when our sailing conditions are perfect, and runs through April, which places it perfectly after Key West Race Week and before the racing season starts in Europe or America. New this year is a slight adjustment of dates for a couple of regattas which now gives each event its own time slot, so no overlapping events with conflicting dates.
First on the list of logistics is whether to sail your own boat down, ship it here, or just charter a boat. Several teams sail on their own bottoms and, providing they allow a timeframe to pick the right weather window, it’s a reasonable crossing from Europe or America. Just remember, as my brother John says, the most dangerous thing about a delivery is a calendar! The other option is to select one of several shipping agents or companies that cater for the growing number of boats coming down in December-January, and returning in April-May, both to North America and Europe.
A new event this year that will serve to bring more boats from Europe to the Caribbean is the RORC Transatlantic Race, a 2,800-mile event that starts on 29 November in Lanzarote and finishes in Grenada.
Another development worth mentioning is a new business venture being floated that would cater for one-design classes. The concept is for a 180-220ft supply vessel or barge that would provide the full package, from shipping the fleet of boats both ways, to on-deck storage between events, onboard repair facilities, supply of spare parts and climate-controlled sail storage space. A great concept that will hopefully find the necessary backing.
The race charter route is a growing trend, and the options range from chartering and racing in the bareboat division, to chartering a raceboat, to just buying a spot on a commercial raceboat.
The bareboat option can be a fun adventure with friends, or a full-on competitive campaign if you choose the right event with a big class.
Chartering a performance boat can be an easy way to race in a competitive class, with good sails usually being the trick to getting results. A smart option here can be to bring a few good sails with you. Last year’s race sails that a top programme no longer values can perform pretty well in our conditions with a little more cunningham and a couple more friends on the rail. The best way to learn which charter options are available is to work directly with the events. You want to race, and they want entries, so they will help put you in touch with all the available options for their regatta.
The next major decision in choosing which events to enter is closely tied to the type of boat you have, and the type of racing you want to do. I have to be careful here not to show favouritism and so will just present the information to help shape your decision.
If you go the charter boat route you would be smart to look at the events with the biggest charter fleets – this would include Heineken, BVI and Antigua. But also you should realise that all events are now including these fleets. As for which events offer the best racing, with good classes, courses and race committees, a smart move is to look at the last few years’ results on their websites which will show the make-up of boats and classes that regularly attend. You should also look at the current entry list, and enter early, which will encourage similar boats to sign up too.
Once you’ve selected the events to attend, the next major decision that rewards early planning is finding the right accommodation. The three basic alternatives are hotel/condo, villa/house rental or a floating charter boat, with each having their pros and cons.
The standard hotel room or condo within walking distance of the host club or marina is always a good default option if available. This allows the crew freedom to come and go individually, avoids the need for a rental car, is usually cost-effective and offers the comfort of a basic room with beds and AC.
The next option is house or villa rental, with several bedrooms, kitchen, pool and the comforts of home. Most islands have a significant villa rental business so there are usually several good options to be found working with a local broker. As with hotels, the early shoppers have more options. The villa requires a car or two for crew transport, but offers a great space to relax and the ability to have home-cooked meals. One should also consider buying a few inflatable beds to get more crew per house, and hiring a local cook for the week to make crew lunches and a few dinners.
The third option to consider is floating accommodation, either by necessity on the smaller islands with limited hotels, or to fully enjoy the best of the Caribbean. The options range from a fully crewed megayacht with first-class amenities, to a spacious catamaran, to a standard monohull that gets the most bunks per dollar. This can be a great way to really have a fun and unique regatta experience. To make the charter boat option easy, consider ordering online to have the boat provisioned when you arrive, and get one or two crew to go a day early to pick up the boat and have it waiting at the regatta site.
On the subject of crew, I highly encourage that all visiting teams consider utilising one or more local crew. There are good sailors on every island and enough talent in the region to fill every position from strategist to bow. The upside of using local crew is that it saves money, reduces the number of flights and beds required, often brings a vehicle to the equation, provides local knowledge and contacts for everything, and creates goodwill in our sport. The best route to find local crew is to contact the regatta organisers and ask them to connect you with one of the good sailors within their club who can then open the channel to local sailors. Another option is to contact us at the Caribbean Sailing Association, and we can put you in touch with our contact on each island.
The final step that warrants smart planning is air travel. Generally it has improved greatly in recent years, with more direct flights from Europe and the US to all the major islands, so it is worth doing the research to find the best option. The general advice is that if you can land by jet at your destination island by making a connection within your country first, it is usually worth it. If you do need to island hop, there are several carriers, LIAT being the primary one, with several flights daily between all islands. Small plane charters are also available throughout the islands and can be cost-effective when three to five crew are travelling together.
Once you have decided to race in the Caribbean you should definitely consider doing a couple of the different events. There are marinas and haul-out options throughout the islands, and it should not be too hard to convince a crew member to spend a couple of weeks playing while prepping the boat for the next event.
Perhaps the most important point I can make is to consider how significant reliable winds and nice weather are in our sport of sailing.
After all the time and money invested to go racing, doesn’t it just make good sense to come and race in the Caribbean, where we have the reliable trade winds and some of the nicest weather and scenery in the world? I thought so. See you next year.
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