Ask yourself this: How often does the average sailor get the chance to crew for someone like Paul Cayard or Russell Couttsarguably the worlds foremost racing sailors? Maybe never, unless you pony up and start your own Americas Cup campaign. Or unless you decide to spend early November at The Bitter End Yacht Club and participate in the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta there. This year, roughly 80 guests at this idyllic resort in the British Virgin Islands took part in the on-the-water action racing aboard Freedom 30s in Virgin Gordas North Sound, crewing for some of the top talents in the sport.
Every year for more than a decade the Bitter End Yacht Club invites a cadre of celebrity sailors to the Caribbean to participate in one of the sports most unique eventsa combination of hard-core racing, shoreside frivolity, and unparalleled camaraderie. The best part of the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta is that it provides a platform for mixing professional sailors with the rank and file. This yearbeing an off year for the Americas CupA-Cup veterans Russell Coutts, Paul Cayard, and Peter Holmberg were joined by Peter and JJ Isler, who were fresh from JJs silver medal victory at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia to make up the so-called Junior Division.
The events organizers know that more equates to merrier, so they also invited a contingent of more senior sailors to compete in a Masters Division. This year living legend Lowell North was joined by Rod Johnstone, Keith Musto, and Tom Leweck. (Butch Ulmer was also on the roster, but had to bow out early due to a family emergency at home.) As an amateur participant, not only do you get a chance to trim the jib for Russell Coutts or Keith Musto during the day, you can sit around in the evening and banter with Lowell North and Peter Isler over cocktails. Not a bad way of adding a little spark to your sailing vacation.
Activity at the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta starts in low gear with a short-distance tune-up race from North Sound down to the islands renown Baths and back on Day One. This is an easy way for the amateur crews as well as the pros to learn the boats and get to know one another in anticipation of the actual competition. Cayard and his crew showed their mettle this year by winning the tune-up race.
Day Two means the start of the formal competition, with the Masters Division sailing in the morning and the so-called Junior Division rockstars competing in the afternoon. Racing at this event is conducted under a Triple Racing format (see sidebar Did You Say Triple Racing), which means that three competitors at a time go head-to-head on the racecourse while the others view the action from a spectator vessel nearby. Only one point can be scored in each contest, so it becomes an interesting battle to watch as the leader does his or her best to defend against two opponents simultaneously.
"Its kind of like a mini fleet race, but only the winning boat gets a point," explained Tom Leweck after his first taste of Triple Racing on Tuesday. "You learn quickly to hit corners when you're behind." Leweck had the good fortune to get hooked up with Don Zinn, Jr., a BEYC guest and a capable crew who ordinarily races in his hometown of Annapolis, MD. But not all the guest participants are racers, which is O.K. according to Leweck: "Its obvious theyre all having a great time, which is really what this event is about. I mean theres no reason to overdo this racing stuff when you're in paradise."
This year the organizers added a new twist to the proceedings by creating a Team Trophy. By way of a random drawing, they paired Master and Junior competitors, and encouraged them to sail with each other during their respective races. Rod Johnstone was matched with Peter Holmberg, and they bonded from the get-go. Holmberg jumped aboard for every race with Johnstone, and vice versa. As a result, these two built an unassailable lead and took the inaugural honors for the Team Trophy with nine combined victories.
Action in the Masters Division became particularly heated on the final day, with multiple collisions and boats finishing overlapped. Sailing in moderate 10-knot winds, Johnstone managed to maintain his overall lead, and won two of the days four races. In the first race, he was luffed so severely by Lowell North, that the two boats collided. Johnstone survived a 270-degree penalty issued by the umpires and win the race, but Norths infringement was so flagrant that the umpires chose to slap him with a reduction in points. In the last heat of the day, Keith Musto finally jumped onto the scoreboard after he was fouled by North at the finish line, and the latter had to re-finish.
The action in the Junior Division also came down to the wire, but with much different consequences. Holmbergs victory in the final race of the day meant that the organizers were faced with an unbreakable four-way tie. Thats right. With three wins logged by each competitor, and no provision for breaking such a tie, the event ended in a virtual stalemate. "We may decide to give an award to the one who wins the limbo contest tonight," joked organizer John Glynn, shortly after the racing finished. "I hate to sound trite," continued Glynn, but it makes everyone a winner, and it definitely makes the awards ceremony more fun.
Indeed, everyone who participated at the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta was a winner. And the organizers provided a special acknowledgement for Linda Coleman and Mark Fineberg of St. Louis, MO, who have attended this event for 11 yearsthey won the Spirit and Enthusiasm award. Not bad for a fall vacation.
Did You Say Triple Racing?
The action on the water at the SailNet Pro-Am Regatta is conducted under a little-known format called Triple Racing, which is based upon the simple concept of combining the best aspects of three different racing disciplines to produce a superior format for competitionmatch racing, fleet racing, and team racing. Created three years ago by legendary sailor Paul Elvstrom, Triple Racing adds one more player to the match-racing format. The theory is that the suspense is heightened for both competitors and the spectators because the lead boat must cover not one but two competitors.
The First International Elvstrom Triple Race Event was sailed in Alexandria, Egypt, in October, 1998. The organizers at The Bitter End have refined the format, but here are the basics of Triple Racing:
- only three boats race at one time
- a rabbit start is used with gates set by a fourth, non-competing boat traveling in the rabbits wake
- windward and leeward gates are used as turning marks, with the boats going outside in at the top gate and inside out at the bottom gate.
- four legs constitute the course, with the marks set so that no race exceeds 30 minutes
- only one point is available per race
- Good Lanes and Bad Lanes by Brad Read
- Executing a Successful Duck by Dan Dickison
- Making Mark Roundings Work for You by Dan Dickison