After completing a single distance race on Sunday, the eight class leaders nailed down overall victories at the 35th annual International Rolex Regatta, which began Friday.
The trade winds that made the prior two days so exciting delivered once again as sailors on 90 boats completed the Pillsbury Sound course, set between the east end of St Thomas, where host St Thomas Yacht Club is located, and its smaller sister island of St John.
The two IRC classes, as well as two of four CSA classes (Spinnaker Racing 1 and Spinnaker Racing/Cruising) and Beach Cats sailed a longer version of the race (13 nm with several windward-leeward laps included) while the remaining two CSA classes (Spinnaker Racing 2 and Non-Spinnaker Racing) stuck to the more straightforward shorter course (13 nm). In all cases, however, the key to victory lay in playing the second windward leg of the course correctly.
"After rounding Turtle Rock Buoy, the boats headed upwind into a northbound current, which you had to play for relief and back eddies,"
said local sailor Ben BEER, who crewed aboard fellow St Thomas sailor Peter HOLMBERG
's Farr 40 OnDeck Bandit and finished second overall in IRC 2. Bandit headed straight to the St Thomas shoreline and hugged it while tacking to windward, rather than sailing eastward toward a string of cays that marked more open water. Had the strategy been Bandit's alone, it would have worked beautifully, but Tortola's Christopher LLOYD, sailing his Beneteau 44 Three Harkoms had the same idea and won the race on corrected time. Three Harkoms also won the class overall and joined other winners that night to collect a Rolex Submariner timepiece as his prize on a stage built over the water at the club's beachfront facility.
Three Harkoms won the Non-Spinnaker division last year, so this was quite a step up for them, said LLOYD. "Our boat lends itself to the IRC rule, so we were encouraged to switch from CSA.It worked very well for us."
Using the same inshore tactics to win the day and the regatta in IRC 1 was Sam FLEET's Swan 601 Aquarius.Fleet, who had been following his closest competition, Bill ALCOTT's Andrews 68 Equation, until the moment when Equation "went left and we went right,"
gained 20-25 boat lengths on his competition and rounded ahead at the next mark. "In the end, however, Equation beat us boat-for-boat [by about two boatlengths],"
said FLEET, "but they still owed us time, so we won. It was a really exciting race."
About the regatta overall, FLEET added, "It was awesome, and I'm so happy. It's only our second regatta. The crew was great, and in the high winds we kept breakage to a minimum and if we did break something, we had a spare."
FLEET, whose team also won the Governor's Trophy for good sportsmanship, said he was disappointed that Ron O'HANLEY's Farr-designed Cookson 50 Privateer had to retire on the second day because of a gear failure that ultimately couldn't be fixed. "They beat us at the Heineken Regatta, so we were looking forward to a rematch."
The IRC classes attracted a total of 12 boats. According to Luiz KAHL, the US-IRC's Executive Director who also served as head scorer for the event, it was an impressive turnout considering it was a first-time offering. "Five of the boats were 50 feet and above and they were from all over the US and abroad. Some said they wouldn't have come otherwise, so it's a great start."
Winning Spinnaker Racing 2 was Gilberto RIVERA's J/24 Urayo, which also won in 2006. RIVERA, who gave his Rolex watch to his father in 2006, gave this year's prize to foredeck crew Francisco VELEZ and plans to give any watch he wins in the future here to a crewmember until it's his turn. "That's so my crew will stay with the boat,"
said RIVERA jokingly. "Seriously, this is such a great event; we've been coming since 1998."
Jens HOOKANSEN, who steered Robert ARMSTRONG's J/100 Bad Girl to win Spinnaker Racing 1, had similar sentiments. "I love coming down here,"
said HOOKANSEN, a native of St Croix. "The venue is fantastic and you get a chance to wear a Rolex home. What could be better?"
Non-spinnaker Racing class was won by Juan MOLINE's J/24 Medalla Light, while Spinnaker Racing/Cruising class was won by James DOBBS' J/122 Lost Horizon.
In the IC-24 and Beach Cat classes, San Juan, Puerto Rico's Fraito LUGO and Enrique FIGUEROA
continued a show of dominance to win their respective classes. LUGO, sailing Urayo, posted victories in two windward-leeward races today (the IC-24 class followed a schedule of around-the-buoys racing instead of distance racing) but mathematically had the 14-race series won before the final race. "Today I was there to defend my position and do nothing offensive. The bullets we posted were from our good starts,"
said LUGO, who counts this as his seventh International Rolex Regatta win and his first in the IC-24 class.
Sailing his 20-foot Tornado catamaran DRD/Suzuki/Red Bull, FIGUEROA posted an impressive seven victories in as many races. He was pleased at the depth and quality of the 17-boat Beach Cat fleet. "Recently, the fleet in the islands has been getting stronger, and more good sailors are returning to the class."
The International Rolex Regatta is the first part of Virgin Islands Race Week, which bridges this event with the BVI Spring Regatta, and is included in the US-IRC Gulf Stream Series 2008. Live results by Interactive Creations will be posted on www.rolexcupregatta.com
, where hometown rosters, nightly reports and photos also can be found.
A.H. Riise, Official Retailer of Rolex watches in the US Virgin Islands, takes an active role in sponsorship of the event. The St Thomas duty free shop is one of the largest in the Caribbean and is located on the historic waterfront of downtown Charlotte Amalie. Rolex is known for sponsoring high quality events such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Rolex Fastnet Race, Giraglia Rolex Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds.
International Rolex Regatta - www.rolexcupregatta.com