Hundreds of sailors, sailing on everything from 16-foot Beach Cats to 75-foot Turbo Sleds will contest one of the Caribbean's oldest and most revered sailing events from 26 - 28 March, the 31st annual International Rolex Regatta.
On the sapphire blue waters south and east of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, where regatta host St. Thomas Yacht Club makes its home, yachties will enjoy competitive racing and warm-hearted hospitality that have become trademarks of the event.
While other Caribbean regattas cater to charter boats, the International Rolex Regatta tends to draw more from the hard-core racing teams. To that end, the professional race committee is headed up by ISAF appointed International Race Officer Peter REGGIO, who served as head PRO for the America's Cup Challenger Series for the Louis Vuitton Cup.
As well, the internationally recognised Arthur 'Tuna' WULLSCHLEGER returns each year with a group of highly respected international judges.
Watch out for longtime Rolex regatta competitor and four-time winner Tom HILL from Puerto Rico, who will sail his brand-new Titan XII, a Reichel/Pugh 75, against first-time entrant Roger STURGEON (USA) and his Reichel/Puch Transpac 52 Rosebud.
Both will have notable talent aboard, but Hill claims among his crew Peter HOLMBERG (ISV), the Olympic medallist and America's Cup veteran of international notoriety, who has local knowledge as a St. Thomas native and past International Rolex Regatta winner. Holmberg is also the current Commodore of the St. Thomas Yacht Club.
First-time entrant Bill DOCKSER (USA), chartering a 'Formula One' Farr 65, will bring along almost a dozen America's Cup veterans to sail with him.
Past winner John FOSTER, a local sailor who has been to the Olympic Games eight times (five times in the Star class, twice in the Tempest class and once in the bobsled competition) has sailed in every Rolex regatta since its 1974 inception and has won two of them.
Local Chris ROSENBERG, who has won his class at the Rolex four times sailing a Melges 24, introduced in 2001 a class for his newly developed IC24, a unique hybrid boat that features Melges 24-style modifications to a J/24 hull.
Now the class is packed with local talent, including Rosenberg and John HOLMBERG, brother of Peter, who has sailed in all but one of the Rolex events, winning two of them. With 15-20 IC24s expected this year, the class will have its own racing circle.
Bill ALCOTT (Detroit, Mich.), who comes to the islands every February and stays until May, is a St. Thomas Yacht Club member. The yearly hiatus from his high-powered business life and racing his Andrews 68 turbo-sled Equation in the International Rolex Regatta is what he lives for.
Enrique FIGUEROA of Puerto Rico, undisputable 'King' of the Beach Cats and perennial favorite at the International Rolex Regatta with eight victories since 1989, will sail a Hobie Tiger (formula 18) in the Beach Cat spinnaker division. He is Puerto Rico's representative to the 2004 Olympic Games in the Tornado class and a three-time Hobie world champion and five-time Hobie U.S. National champion. Figueroa expects tough competition from Hobie sailors who are using the International Rolex Regatta to prepare for the Hobie Worlds in Cancun in May.
Walter FISCHER, president and CEO of Rolex Watch U.S.A., attends this regatta each year. An avid yachtsman, he is a founder of the event, which debuted in 1974, and makes his second home in St. Thomas.
In keeping with longstanding tradition, winners of each class receive Rolex timepieces. This year, commemorative Submariners, manufactured by Rolex to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the timepiece's debut in 1953, will be awarded as prizes. With a special green bezel and unique black dial, the Submariners are in high demand.
A tented 'Rolex Village' has been added to the St. Thomas Yacht Club venue to provide a staging area for bands and parties, including the 'Taste of St. Thomas' farewell finale held in conjunction with the Rolex Awards Ceremony.