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31 March 2006, 10:40 am
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International Rolex Regatta 2006
St .Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The 33rd International Rolex Regatta was every sailor's best dream. The three day event, hosted by the St. Thomas Yacht Club in the US Virgin Islands from 24-26 March, saw hundreds of sailors aboard 92 boats plying the shockingly blue waters of the Caribbean under colour matched skies, with winds cooperating perfectly.
Though shorts and flip flops may have been the sailing gear of choice and beach parties the evening priorities, the casual look and feel did nothing to lull the fiercest competitors, who came to win class honours and Rolex Submariner timepieces - one up for grabs in each of eight classes for boats ranging from 24 to 80 feet.

Crescendo Impresses

From the first day, Martin JACOBSON's (USA) Swan 44 Crescendo led the Spinnaker Racing Cruising class, with 1984 Australian Olympian Jamie WILMOT (AUS) steering. 'It was just paradise,' said JACOBSON after the first day's racing on which his team aced three windward-leeward races in twelve to 16 knot breezes.

The next day's races, held in even brisker breezes, gave the team a 4,1 to add to its scoreline along with some vivid memories of the dramatic coastline on the harbour race from the east end of the island, along its south side, to Charlotte Amalie. After a finish and restart just inside the harbour - in the shadows of large cruise ships and visiting super yachts - a reverse direction race brought the fleet back home to the St. Thomas Yacht Club. On the last day, a distance race among the islands in Pillsbury Sound, handed a fifth victory to Crescendo, which became the only entrant among 22 registered from the USA mainland to claim a class crown.

'It was a great experience,' added JACOBSON, a newcomer to the International Rolex Regatta. 'I loved how close everything was. The boats at the yacht club, the parties on the beach, the crews staying within walking distance. It made it very easy to come and enjoy myself.'

SALSI Also On Form

Danilo SALSI of Milan, Italy, also led right out of the gate. He steered his Swan 45 DSK Comifin to victory in Spinnaker Racing Class 1 and, like JACOBSON, won all but one of his six races. Though SALSI had not expected it, his CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) rating served him well, leaving the class' larger boats such as Donnybrook (a Santa Cruz 70 owned by Jim MULDOON of Washington, USA) and Equation (an Andrews 68 owned by Bill ALCOTT of St. Clair Shores, USA) in his wake. Two other Swans, a 48 footer named Privateer (owned by Ron O'HANLEY of Ipswich, USA) and a 45 footer named Devocean (owned by Steve DEVOE of Stamford, USA took second and third, respectively, in the class.

'We are overseas here until June 2006, training for the Newport to Bermuda Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart,' said SALSI, who won Rolex Capri Sailing Week in 2005, more recently finished second at Acura Key West Race Week and plans to next compete in the BVI Spring Regatta and Rolex Antigua Sailing Week. 'The configuration courses are not so important to us. We like the distance races; it is what we need for our training.'

RIVERA Happy

Before the third day's distance race was scored, Gilberto RIVERA of San Juan, Puerto Rico, sailing his J/24 Urayo, had sewn up the series for the CSA 24 Spinnaker Class. 'We sailed the last race anyway, because we wanted to enjoy the day; we tried to not be aggressive, since other boats were sailing for second place,' said RIVERA. Urayo's fifth place finish in that race, held in comparatively light breezes, was well balanced with a second place finish and half a dozen first place finishes posted over the previous two days. 'The strong winds and waves of the first two days separated the more experienced sailors from the less experienced,' he added.

Rivera finished second at last year's regatta, losing out to six-time Rolex winner Fraito LUGO (PUR), who chose this year to sail in the IC-24 Class and finished fourth there. It was RIVERA's first time to win a Rolex watch, which he gave to his father in thanks for his 'sponsorship' of RIVERA's sailing programme over the years.

Another Puerto Rican winner was Enrique FIGUEROA, a multiple world and national catamaran champion who has represented his country in the Olympics four times. He defended his title aboard the Hobie 16 Suzuki Red Bull in the Beach Cats Class and has won this Rolex regatta, 'More times than I can remember.'

While Puerto Rico was represented by 22 boats, the US Virgin Islands had the largest contingent with 30 entries.

Home Success

One of those, St. Croix's Robert ARMSTRONG, sailing the J/100 Expensive Habit, took the Spinnaker Racing Class 2 by storm. With the help of 2004 J/24 World Champion Jens HOOKANSEN, who grew up in St. Croix but now resides in Middletown, Rhode Island, USA, ARMSTRONG posted all first place finishes except one in his six race line up. A fellow St. Croix sailor, Tony SANPERE, likewise steered his Soverel 27 Cayennita to victory in Non-Spinnaker Racing Class 2 to defend his title there.

The balance of the fleet came from the British Virgin Islands (seven), Antigua (two), St. Martin (two), Canada (one), Belgium (three), Ireland (two), Italy and Great Britain (one each).

Two of the BVI entrants captured crowns in their classes: Christopher LLOYD (Road Town, Tortola) with his Beneteau 44 Three Harkoms, in Non-Spinnaker Racing Class 1 with all four first place finishes, and Robby HIRST (Road Town, Tortola), who leapt from third to first on the scoreboard on the last day, driving his IC-24 Sea Hawk to finish positions of 1,2,2 in three final races.

Comeback Victory

The IC-24 Class, with a fleet indigenous to the area and growing rapidly in popularity, completed a ten race series, participating in the harbour races to and from Charlotte Amalie but returning to round the buoys racing on the final day while the rest of the fleet sailed in Pillsbury Sound. 'I'm somewhat speechless,' said HIRST, who was the British Virgin Island's Olympic representative in 1996 and won the IC-24 class here last year as well. 'I had no idea we'd pull it out like that.' The day prior, St. Thomas sailor Chris ROSENBERG (ISV) aboard Bambooshay seemed to have wrapped up the series, with four straight victories in his scoreline. The final day's light breezes, however, became his downfall. 'Sometimes if you have a lot to lose, you get defensive and end up losing it,' said HIRST. 'We had nothing to lose: we decided to just get out there and race, be consistent and stay in the top five all day.'

Ironically, HIRST already wears a Rolex timepiece that ROSENBERG insisted on passing on to him when HIRST helped him sail a Melges 24 to victory in a prior International Rolex Regatta. 'I think the one from this year will be claimed by my wife,' said HIRST, with a half-joking laugh.

Rolex also is the title sponsor for the Rolex Antigua Sailing Week, due for its 39th running from Sunday 30 April through to Saturday 6 May 2006.

Barby MACGOWAN (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Crescendo starred in St. Thomas:© Daniel FORSTER/Rolex
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