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Caribbean update: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities

Published on October 15th, 2019

Alison Sly-Adams

For the past decade, Alison Sly-Adams has served on the organizational team for Antigua Sailing Week (ASW) and is now ASW’s president and commercial director. In the last half-decade, Sly-Adams has been one of the chief organizers of the Caribbean Sailing Association’s (CSA) Annual Conference. Last October, she was elected CSA president.

In anticipation of the upcoming 2019-2020 season, ALL AT SEA asked Sly-Adams her thoughts on Caribbean yacht racing trends, challenges, opportunities and what’s new for the CSA.

Looking at potential competition globally, do our conditions still make the Caribbean the best place to sail in the winter/early spring?

The Caribbean is stronger than ever on the global calendar. With the loss of Key West Race Week, the Caribbean is the centerpiece of this period. The Caribbean 600 is one of the top 5 distance races in the world. The consistent trade winds and warm weather will always put us in a prime position along with our general stability politically as a region.

What do today’s racing sailors want?

They want professional well managed racing, and a variety of courses – coastal, round the cans, round the rocks and offshore. Each islands’ geography dictates what is feasible and thus we literally have all bases covered across all the events. Our member islands are also good at catering to the latest trends in type of boats. The new St. Maarten multihull event is a great example.

What are the trends in volunteer versus professional race management?

There is definitely a trend towards paid regatta managers. Anyone who hasn’t been under the bonnet so to speak, may not understand the level of work involved in delivering a great regatta. My perspective is that regattas started when sailing was really a leisure pursuit. Ultimately the goal of regattas became to drive economic activity.

This necessitated raising funds to deliver a quality regatta, and with this comes contracts with sponsors, partners and tourism authorities, and the demands of delivering marketing and commercial goals. While it’s great if you have a volunteer, who is willing to put in the hours it demands to deliver, ultimately it’s a job that needs skill and experience to do it properly.

What is a major challenge for Caribbean regattas?

I think it’s literally having all types of boats and sailors racing here. We see everything from multi-million-dollar racing campaigns to mom and pop cruisers. Some events dominate in certain classes. However, bigger events all have representation right across the classes.

The more regatta organizers speak to the professional campaigns about what they want and ensure they deliver the quality of racing needed along with ease of shoreside logistics, the more likely the regatta is to retain and build them. Les Voiles does a great job of this.

That said, many events see a big contingent of groups of friends in race charter and bareboat charter classes on a bucket list experience: 50th and 60th birthdays, weddings, and reunions. So, the challenge is to offer exciting well-run racing while giving people enough time shoreside to enjoy the destination. It’s a win-win for each island nation where regattas have a major economic impact.

The biggest opportunity?

I encourage everyone to see the benefit in working and promoting our fantastic circuit together as a group. Owners generally don’t bring their boats to the region for only one event. The more we maintain our individual calendar dates to allow people to do more than one event, they more likely owners will bring their boats out to do a handful of events each season. Outside of that we have to maintain our individual uniqueness. Ensure people walk away from our event with our own islands experience.

What are the latest CSA initiatives? What will we see for 2020?

First, we will host our CSA Annual Conference and Caribbean Dinghy Championships, newly named Caribbean Sailing Week, at the same time: October 17-20, in English Harbour. This is to bring together as many people involved in the sport of sailing in one place as the networking and learning opportunities go up exponentially.

At last year’s Conference, we reaffirmed our commitment to sailing development. This is not just supporting grassroots programs but building capacity across the board. Prior to this year’s Conference, we will host a Race Management Clinic with World Sailing. We have also started work on Coach Development.

Ultimately we are focusing on how to remove barriers of entry to the sport and provide resources to our member clubs, programs and MNA’s (Member National Authorities) so that they can run effective and inspiring programs.

Secondly, the measurement team under Bastien Pouthiers leadership has spent the last 18 months moving the CSA rule to new software which enables them to test and update it more easily. Work has begun on the CSA Multihull Rule, which has until now been a manual rule. We are improving our administration so boats can pay for their measurement on-line.

Finally, I think 2020 is going to be an interesting year. Forecasts are that it will be significant travel year for many as it’s a milestone year. I think that will play out in attendance at key regattas and especially regattas such as the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Hopefully, greater economic stability in the US and UK and one year further along from the 2017 hurricane season will see an increase in entries across the regattas from the UK, Europe and North America.

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