PETER HOLMBERG offers some expert local insight and walks the course at the headline acts of the 2014 Caribbean Sailing Season...
As chairman of the Caribbean Sailing Association, I’m keen to extend an invite on behalf of our wonderful islands and the local residents. We invite you to come and experience racing in the idyllic conditions the Caribbean has to offer. We have a host of events, each with their own unique style and flavour, to choose from. As a native Virgin Islander, I’ve also gained a fair bit of knowledge on and off the water that you might find helpful in choosing the events that are right for you.
The greatest feature of racing in the Caribbean is our reliable trade winds and warm weather. For a sport such as ours, played outdoors and reliant on wind, having these in abundance is really key to our growing success. After spending the time and money to come down and race, teams and owners will appreciate this feature of racing among the islands.
Improved logistics has been the biggest game changer to racing in the Caribbean over recent years. Starting with air travel, all aspects of getting here and enjoying your stay have improved. Direct flights are now offered from most of the big cities in Europe and the USA, turning what used to be a wild adventure into something reasonable. There is now also a wider range of options for accommodation to suit every taste and budget. Teams can choose from hotels, private villas, or for total immersion you can charter a catamaran as a mobile mothership. Picture finishing a race, dropping sails and pulling alongside your mothership, diving in to cool off before relaxing with a cold one.
Great improvements have also been made to the racing side of things. The standard at almost every event now is to bring in qualified race officers and umpires to work alongside a local team, helping to ensure good courses and race committee work are blended with local knowledge.
Tied closely to this is our CSA handicap rule. This was developed over 50 years ago as a measurement rule that would allow inexpensive and simple measurement for both local sailors and visiting boats, and we have done a nice job balancing this goal with accuracy to give the serious sailors a fair result.
We introduced ‘performance factors’ to the mathematical equation long before IRC came around, as a smart and practical means to keep up with new design trends. Our measurers on all the different islands do a good job communicating whether results match what they see on the water, and this broad group has enabled them to keep the rule on pace.
We have made a point over the past few years of publishing results under both our CSA and IRC, and demonstrating that the CSA rule is as accurate if not more so than IRC in fairly measuring performance. But just as important as the handicap rule itself to give quality to our results is to involve the measurers in the event, working together on class groupings and courses. This is key to getting meaningful results with a diverse range of designs that inevitably perform differently across the range of conditions.
Now that I’ve convinced you to come to race in the Caribbean, allow me to give you the how and where, as each event has its own unique flavour. The season starts in January and runs through to May, so it allows you to mix and match the events to suit your schedule and personal preference.
The season kicks off with the Mount Gay Rum Round Barbados Series in mid-January. The big round-the-island race is preceded by three days of buoy racing, and plenty of shoreside parties. The special racing atmosphere in Barbados is due to the spirited local culture; honestly, the Bajans have a style of racing that is unique in the world, with fun, rum and jousting as big a part of the sport as sailing skills.
Next up at the end of January is Grenada Sailing Week, a fiveday event with a lay day in the middle. This is the smallest event on the tour, on an island renowned for their friendly people. So for those seeking that small island event experience over the big crowds, this regatta offers it all… plus the great sailing conditions of the southern Caribbean.
Mid-February it’s the Caribbean 600, our newly famous distance race that starts in Antigua and winds around 10-15 islands before finishing again in Antigua. This event needs no promotion; it has been an absolute hit since day one when it started five years ago and it will continue to grow into a true offshore classic. The solid winds, T-shirt conditions and challenging course around various islands make this a 600-mile distance race like no other. Seriously, name another distance race that is more attractive!
Less than two weeks later is the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. This has grown into the Caribbean’s biggest event, with a full festival of music and parties alongside the racing. Races end in different towns each day, so you get to see and experience other parts of this island that is half Dutch, half French. The event attracts everything from grand prix race programmes down to the charter boat fleets, with both around-the-island and buoy courses, so there is something for everyone.
Next up is a pair of superyacht regattas for the big boys. First is the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in mid-March, hosted by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda at their new clubhouse in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. This event is special because of its perfect setting, in the small, pristine corner of the British Virgin Islands. It is new to the tour, and owners and teams have loved both the racing around Virgin Gorda and the tranquility of the North Sound.
The following weekend is the St Barths Bucket. This is the undisputed biggest superyacht event in the world, and each year attracts the biggest and best to the exclusive and quaint French island of St Barths. With upwards of 50 superyachts, the racing is challenging, exciting, scary and glorious, all at the same time. And the Island of St Barths is, without doubt, one of the prettiest, best kept, well governed island in the Caribbean. Add in a great regatta management team, and that is what has made this event so successful.
At about the same time are a pair of back-to-back regattas in the US and British Virgin Islands, making a perfect combination where teams can race one weekend, enjoy a couple of days’ holiday in the Virgins, and then race a second event the following weekend. First up is the St Thomas Rolex Regatta in the US Virgin Islands. A big airport with easy connections, plus numerous hotel and condo options within walking distance of the yacht club make for easy logistics. All the racing and parties are based out of the St Thomas YC, a perfect beach setting where you are sure to catch up with sailors from all the other teams. The racing offers everything from one-design to maxi classes, and courses range from windward-leewards to tricky coastal races around islands and cays.
The BVI Spring Regatta is the following weekend in Tortola, and for those looking for organised racing and fun activities, they offer a sailing festival on the days in between the regattas. Race headquarters are at Nanny Cay, and all the racing takes place right there in Sir Francis Drake Channel using both marks and islands to provide a full range of courses. Being the charter boat capital of the world, the bareboat fleet is huge, competitive and lots of fun. The regatta village also features mini versions of some of the island’s top restaurants, with music and dancing every evening.
About 10 days later is the Voiles de St Barths, the newest event on the circuit, and a success from day one. The smart atmosphere of the event, the quaint island, and the regatta format of four race days with a layday in the middle, all contributed to its quick popularity. Throw in prizes of upscale watches and villa rentals, and no surprise that there is now a limit on entries. Definitely one of the best events on the circuit, located and scheduled perfectly between other events.
This final event of the circuit is the grandaddy of them all and the one that originally put the Caribbean on the map: Antigua Sailing Week. Antigua prides itself on having a beach for every day of the year, so there is no shortage of beautiful scenery as you race around the island. This is also the southeastern Caribbean, so highest chances for big breeze and big waves, making for some true Caribbean racing. Antigua offers classes for the full range of boats, small to maxis, plus charter boat classes. Great parties every night, a lay day in the middle, and the best yachting facilities in the region ensure that this event remains a classic.
Ten events over a four-month span offer something for everyone. Numerous shipping options mean you can bring your boat down, pick a few events, and either vacation in between or fly back and forth, leaving your boat at one of many secure marinas. There is also the rock-up-and-race option, where your team just fly in and charter a raceboat. And best of all, I am certain that at every event you will find someone who is keen to help with logistics to make the process even easier.
Caribbean events and the local economies truly appreciate having you come race in our waters, and you will normally find the assistance you need within the regatta team. For more general info, visit the CSA website at caribbean-sailing.com. Ya mon, hope to see you down here soon.
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