St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. An island tour on fast forward is the best way to describe the courses and conditions for most classes on the second day of racing in the 43rd St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR). While the one-design IC24 and VX One classes sailed round-the-buoys and the beach cats stayed away on shore, the rest of the racers came out to play on round-the-island courses set off St. Thomas’ and St. John’s southern shores. Winds remained in full force with continual gusts over 30 knots making for some wet and wild rides.
“We didn’t do too well today because we have a new crew that isn’t used to sailing in this much breeze and we were off on our spinnaker work,” says Robert ‘Bump’ Wilcox, from Marblehead, MA, who helmed his Beneteau First10r, Bad Monkey in STIR for the first time and in the CSA Spinnaker Racing 3 Class. “But I have to say the racing was beautiful. Going around the buoys maybe a good way to sharpen some skills, but point-to-point racing around the offshore islands and cays especially here in the Caribbean is really breathtaking. Where else can you tack right off the beach and see all the way to the bottom in 20 feet of water. It’s just beautiful sailing here.”
St. Thomas’ Peter Corr, at the helm of his chartered King 40, Corr’s Light Racing, also enjoyed the inter-island race courses.
It was varied and tough racing today,” says Corr, whose team sits in second place in CSA Spinnaker Racing 2 behind California’s Doug Baker’s chartered J/122, Team Magnitude-El Ocaso. “The rudder stalled in the higher wind speeds, which made it difficult to steer at times. We won the class last year and beat El Ocaso. Now, they’re in front of us by five points. It’s not game over yet. We’re looking forward to a great last day.”
Crews aboard the two 60-foot Gunboats, Flow and Fault Tolerant, enjoyed their island tours. However, a large size and twin hulls didn’t make these vessels immune to breakdowns brought on by big winds.
“Yesterday, we ripped two sails and had to go in to have repairs made at the local loft,” says Jack Slattery, tactician aboard Flow. “Today we pushed it hard. We’d hear a noise of something breaking, fix it and keep the boat going. That’s how we won both of the day’s races.”
Flow was also equipped with top talent on board. This included champion beach cat as well as America’s Cup sailor, Annie Gardner, and Cam Lewis, who raced aboard the maxi-catamaran, Commodore Explorer, when it won the first Jules Verne Trophy for the world’s fastest circumnavigation in 1993.
That’s the Breaks
There was nothing spooky about Steve Benjamin’s TP52 Spookie dominating the CSA 1 class with another day of flawless score of first place finishes. Scary though was when Antigua’s Bernie Evan-Wong snapped the rudder off his RP 37, TAZ, while racing and had to get a tow back. Lucky though, the team aboard Dark Star, Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Lipuscek’s J/105, who was racing in CSA Spinnaker 3, was able to retrieve the rudder from the water. Wong’s crew took the damaged appendage to a local boat builder and hope it can get enough TLC to allow the TAZ team to race STIR’s final day.
In the CSA Non-Spinnaker Class, St. Croix’s Tony Sanpere wasn’t about to risk racing on courses up to 14 nautical miles in blustery gusts with only four crew aboard his Catalina 30, Nauticayenne, Sanpere, who has sailed in over 30 STIRs, faced a dwindling crew count after non-serious injuries in the heavy winds on the first day of racing forced some to stay ashore.
“The Catalina 30 is a fun boat, but the weather this weekend is better for big boats,” says Sanpere, a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Paralympic Sailing Team, which is actively fundraising to compete in Rio this summer.
The VX One Class pow-wowed in the morning to discuss wind conditions and seven brave teams decided to venture out. It paid off as the teams that did race had a blast and suffered much fewer capsizes than the first day. One of those racing was 15-year-old St. Thomas junior sailor, Christopher Sharpless.
“It was so windy that one of the teams wanted to add a third crew member for extra weight,” says Sharpless, who sailed with St. Croix’s Charles ‘Toro’ Goodrich’s Matadora and trimmed the mainsheet. “The boat is fast, scary fast. Going downwind is so much fun. I’d like to see a class of VX One’s here all the time to sail.”
The home-grown IC24 Class completed the most races of any class. After 8 races over two days, only one point separates the leader, St. Thomas’ Chris Rosenberg’s Bill T from Puerto Rico’s Ramon Gonzalez’s Sembrador.
“The IC24 Class is a hot bed of Caribbean high performance sailors,” says Puerto Rico’s Jaime Torres, who switched from a Melges 32 to IC24 last year. “It’s so unforgiving and there’s no room to make a mistake or you really feel it on the scoreboard. Today, not only was it windy, but it was puffy and shifty. The better sailors were able to keep the boat going and going in the right direction in these conditions and it showed.”
Where to Watch, Where to Party
Competition for the 67-boat fleet – ranging from 16-foot beach cats to 60-foot Gunboats and with crews hailing from the Caribbean, U.S., Europe, South America and Australia –
concludes competition on Sunday March 27. Racing will be in Pillsbury Sound. Music starts on the beach at the St. Thomas Yacht Club at 2:30 p.m. with Flip Switch.
The Awards Ceremony for STIR, known as the ‘Crown Jewel of Caribbean Yacht Racing’, starts at 6:30 p.m.Class winners receive limited edition Island-theme timepieces from Cardow Jewelers. The skipper of the yacht with the fastest time overall will win his or her weight in Cruzan Rum. The Final Fling Party kicks off right after with Ah We Band.