Some Serious Fun in the Caribbean

Published on May 11th, 2017

Several years ago there was an initiative by the Caribbean Sailing Association to better synch their racing calendar to be supportive of all events and to maximize participation in multiple events. As Larry Huibers reports for RCR Yachts, that can lead to some serious fun.

Touch2Play Racing had a fantastic winter filled with sun, sand, friends and regattas. Rob Butler figured the best way to have fun was to do a winter in the Caribbean – pretty smart guy!

After Quantum Key West Race Week, the J/88 boat and trailer was packed up to be shipped to St Thomas to get rigged and ready for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, St Thomas International Regatta (STIR), BVI Spring Regatta, and the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth.

These run from early March to early April with enough time to do the deliveries between. They race under their own handicap system called CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) Rating Rule. It’s a measurement rule that is a hybrid of the old CCA, IOR, ORC, and IRC. It is a mystery rating like IRC so you don’t know what the key triggers are.

The ratings differ from the other systems as where the J/88 would have been owed time, with CSA we now had a less friendly rating. As Don Finkle of RCR Yachts points out, there are different horses for different courses and this was the case here as it seems to favor displacement boats over planning boats.

Since the J/88 is relatively light and can surf well, it gave us a rating where we owed a fair amount of time to J/105s and were about the same as J/109s, depending on their jib and kite size.

As with any handicap racing, you have to think about getting around the course as fast as possible. We’re used to one design racing where tactics are more positional than elapsed time (relatively). We needed to relearn this a few times. Priority areas in descending order were: speed, strategy, boat handling, and tactics.

Many can argue the reality of this but we won and lost races by seconds elapsed and even tied on a race so a quicker set, later drop, better start, etc, would have changed the result, likely as much as how much leverage you had on another boat.

In the final evaluation, I think the rating was fair but it required us to sail exceptionally well, which was the whole purpose of going anyway right? Waterline played a key role since in the 10-18 knot breeze it determined how fast you could go.

The old saying about regattas – “it’s never like this here” – seemed to ring true with each event having an uncharacteristic light (sub-10 knots) day (or two). We didn’t complain since those days seemed to play into our sweet spot. There were the idyllic trade wind days and it was fantastic!

It was everything all the print and social media say it was. The packing list of shorts, shoes, sunglasses and sun tan lotion covered the crew off since we all sported the Touch2Play Racing pink shirts.

Each event had its strong points and all are worth doing. I didn’t do STIR but the other three all had the right blend of high caliber racing in pretty tight rating bands and amazing shore side events.

The party area for the Heineken was off the charts with UB40 as the closing act plus cheap beer and fun race courses. The highlight was the around the island race that was a great way to see the beaches since getting close to shore seemed to be helpful for current relief.

This regatta had the largest charter boat fleet and they raced on a different course so we didn’t see much of them. Dealing with the bridge at Simpson Bay is fun and teams go to a lot of energy to impress the gallery drinking at the yacht club bar right beside the bridge. Somehow we managed a second in class – very pleased with that.

I’ve been to BVI enough that it feels like an old shoe – comfortable and reliable. The Spring Regatta was no different. Nanny Cay puts on a great event and the local food vendors serve amazing cuisine. The course selection was a blend of around islands (Peter, Norman and Salt) and dropped marks for W/L races. This one had a larger rating range and we were against some 40-foot boats.

The local boat Pipe Dream with some people I’ve sailed there with managed a fabulous start to finish lead for the final race to claw their way into first. We managed to sneak into third – another good performance given the fleet.

St Barth’s is everything you read about. Very high brow. The title sponsor is Richard Mille, they make watches ….and not normal watches. Google them if curious. If you won the event you got a watch, which some rich guy won to match his yachts.

Getting passed to leeward (thankfully) by VO70s, Rambler 88, 100+ footers and on and on was surreal. The beach party was amazing as was the lay day. We rented ATVs and toured the island, great way to see the sights. There too we managed a third which was very special.

I didn’t do STIR and the boat was most competitive there (I’m not taking it personal). They came second and if not for losing one race by 1 second would have won – it was that close!

This doesn’t happen without a huge commitment by Rob, many thanks to him! Matching personal time commitment by numerous others made the logistics easier. We were very fortunate to have the likes of Jeff Johnstone, Kerry Klingler, Evert McLaughlin, Jim Pearson, Keven Piper, Hillary Noble, and many more. All said and done we rotated through 18 people to do the four events.

We are already planning for next year and are adding two more events – Grenada Race Week and Antigua Race Week. So if you don’t see the pink boat on the water this summer you’ll know why.

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