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Racing at The Bitter End Yacht Club

The Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound, Virgin Gorda—one of the world’s best natural amphitheaters for racing.
For sailboat racing enthusiasts, it just doesn’t get any better than this: Imagine having the opportunity to go around the buoys crewing for Paul Cayard or Russell Coutts in a fun, relaxed environment under the tropical sun with strong trade winds keeping you on the move. Or say you’d rather trim the headsail for a more senior member of the racing establishment like Lowell North or Keith Musto. Whatever your preference, there’s only one venue in the world where this is possible—the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands.

Each fall, the organizers of this unique event invite some of the world’s top skippers to compete on Virgin Gorda’s North Sound sailing aboard the BEYC’s fleet of Freedom 30s. Along with Cayard and Coutts, the so-called junior roster includes JJ Isler, Peter Isler, and Peter Holmberg. Joining Musto and North in the Master’s division are Rod Johnstone, Butch Ulmer, and Tom Leweck.

According to event organizer John Glynn, "The theory is that our guests get to crew for whomever they want. It’s the Walter Mitty experience of sailing—the average Joe Sailor gets to rub shoulders and go sailing with the best sailors on the planet."

Now in its 14th year, not only does the event introduce BEYC guests to some of sailing’s finest talents, it also gives them what is likely their first taste of Triple Racing. Under this novel format—created by legendary racer Paul Elvstrom—three boats go head to head around a short course with only the winning boat scoring a point. "We think it combines the best aspects of fleet racing, match racing, and team racing," said Glynn. "Imagine a start with Peter Holmberg, Russell Coutts, and Paul Cayard, that’s going to be cutthroat. Glynn explained that the organizers use a rabbit start instead of a countdown start and windward gates as well as leeward gates. "It makes for a much better event for spectators," he continues, adding that they even spice it up with on-the-water color commentary by Ken Legler from on board a spectator boat alongside the racecourse.

This year the event will offer a new twist: after the winners are determined in the respective divisions, each "Junior Sailor" will pair up with and crew for a Master skipper in the Team Trophy competition. "We used a random draw," said Glynn, "but somehow we managed to pair Paul Cayard with Lowell North [who sailed Star boats together years ago], Russell Coutts with Tom Leweck, Peter Holmberg with Rod Johnstone, Peter Isler with Keith Musto, and JJ Isler crewing for Butch Ulmer. As a special treat, 2000 Olympic gold medalist in the Laser—Ben Ainslie of Great Britain—will also be on hand to rotate through the boats as crew.

Want to share the fun? Log on to SailNet each day this week for updates of the activity, along with photos of the racing. Action at the SailNet Pro Am Regatta at the BEYC starts today (Tuesday, November 7) and culminates on Friday with the Team Trophy.

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