Bill Canfield and the irresistible lure of a Caribbean race programme
The Caribbean racing season is rapidly approaching and it is not too soon to pick the events for your 2015-2016 winter programme. The islands offer an ever-expanding and moveable feast of 11 regattas in a 12-week period from mid-January through April.
One thing we can almost guarantee is perfect sailing conditions in our wonderful trade winds and crystal clear water. That alone should have you buying your tickets and packing your bags but there is far more to our racing season that you will enjoy. Let me start by bragging a bit and telling you how Caribbean racing has evolved for the better over the past decade:
The Caribbean Sailing Association employs its own handicap rule and it is extremely easy to get measured in the water and obtain your certificate the same day. The CSA rule is now over 50 years old and it has been constantly tweaked to keep up with trends and changes in raceboat design. The CSA rule is well accepted by our visiting yachts and is now used at every Caribbean event. IRC and ORC are also on offer in St. Thomas but most boats choose CSA. This is also one of the few rules that accommodates catamarans. For more info go to Caribbean-Sailing.com or email a measurer and make an appointment to get measured when you arrive.
The whole Caribbean has made huge improvements in this area and the days of amateurism among our race committees and juries are long gone. Seasoned race officers and judges are flown in to all of our events and work alongside and also train up local race teams to ensure quality courses wherever you choose to compete. It is now increasingly common to find an International Jury at Caribbean events and we can now guarantee well run and fair racing throughout the islands.
The theme at the Heineken Regatta is ‘serious fun’ and at St Thomas International it’s ‘we love it here’. In spite of increasing professionalism among both organisers and competitors, our events continue to maintain a very relaxed attitude compared to the US and Europe. Most teams stay within walking distance of their boats, starting times are usually 11am and the social side is how we show off our culture to visitors. We all will incorporate our island rums, the white sand beaches and top-notch local music into the party mix. Put away your inhibitions and get out on the dance floor. If you don’t you will miss the true nature of Caribbean sailing.
And no one will tell…
Pick your sailing discipline
The Caribbean season offers it all. Our events combine a great mix of windward-leeward courses, point to point racing, round the rocks courses and even distance races like the RORC Caribbean 600. Each day is different, equally exciting and always centres on our clear water, trade winds and beautiful coastlines. If you are a cruising non-spinnaker sailor or an out-and-out Grand Prix racer each regatta has a class for you. And you can charter a bare boat or a high tech ocean racer if you’re not ready to bring your own boat to our area.
We also continue to explore new ideas and classes even as I write. The new VH1 class is bringing 18-boats to St.Thomas and BVI Spring Regatta and the fast little C&C 30s are also exploring the idea of class racing in the Caribbean this year. We also welcome Melges 32s, IC24s, J24s and other one design classes to our different events. No excuses, if you don’t bring a boat we have one just right for your needs.
What events should I do?
Like their host islands, each Caribbean event is different from the one the week before or after. Some are low-key local affairs with great opportunities to learn about the island and meet the locals while others cater for the racing superyachts with lavish villas and top-notch international entertainment. I alluded to a moveable feast earlier and I really can’t find a better phrase to describe island sailing.
The other point I can’t emphasize enough is that we are by nature user-friendly down here in the trade winds. Don’t hesitate to seek our regatta directors out for help. Most of us have been doing this for years and understand how formidable it can be to understand local laws and culture. As a group we are here to help – feel free to contact us, ask your questions and express your worries. We will accommodate your needs. And if professional help is needed locally we know who the go-to person is and will put you in touch.
Please remember we are islands. Airports are small, accommodation is finite and boat transport to our area leaves early from Miami, Southampton and a limited range of other European ports. Also, do book flights as soon as you have decided to visit as changes may be difficult… and often expensive. Define your housing needs and contact a villa broker locally with a preferred budget. This will allow for choices rather than being forced into a take-it-or-leave-it position. Ask questions locally, prepare for some minor setbacks along the way. Above all remain flexible! In the long run once you arrive and sip a piña colada you will realize it has all been worth the few inconveniences you have had to overcome.
Finally… some advice from a local resident of 40-odd years. Chat with the local sailors, we have a great understanding of the local waters and are more than willing to help others. You might even stumble on a Caribbean legend like Don Street in Grenada or Dr. Robin Tattersall in Tortola. We have our share of characters and their stories are well worth hearing. Our area is rich in sailing history and amusing anecdotes. Don’t miss out on this element of your Caribbean adventure. It may be the part you most remember.
Try our local fare in the restaurants. Seek out island ‘rum shops’ for your crew dinner. In Barbados it will be flying fish and barracuda, Grenada it’s the local spices, Antigua offers great curry dishes. Further north it’s salt fish, Johnny Cakes and Mahi. Each island has its great local fare… please enjoy it.
Do more than one event, if possible. If not do one of our longer, week-long events like Les Voiles de St Baarts, Grenada or Antigua. If you come to the three-day event in St Thomas then cruise just six miles down the road for a second three-day event in Tortola the following the weekend. Two great events and a few days cruising all in a single 10-day period. If a second event is not possible at least go cruising for a few days. It’s a long trip so once you arrive try a do a little extra while you’re here.
Too much sun and too much Rum
Be careful! Our sun is brutal, wear lots of suntan ‘stuff’, cover up when possible but don’t believe the labels as you can and will get burned through clothing… especially if it’s wet. The rum speaks for itself. We trick you with our tropical drinks that go down like water. Be aware we are evil people down here when it comes to rum and sun.
I hope this was a helpful guide to what you will find in our wonderful islands, racing in our unique selection of contrasting events. Do not hesitate to ask questions and prepare yourself for the trip. Above all, do come! Unfortunately, however, once you have taken the plunge you will be hooked forever.
Bill Canfield, St Thomas
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