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Come Race, Come Cruise

Bareboat chartering and racing in the British Virgin Islandsabout as good as it gets for vacationing sailors.
Imagine jockeying for room on the starting line, acing tactically, challenging mark roundings in light wind and heavy traffic, and then ultimately finishing first in a highly competitive, 17-boat class—all with an amateur crew aboard a boat best suited to cruising. That is the adrenaline rush that Tennessee sailor Metcalf Crump and his wife Madeleine were seeking—and found—when they entered their Moorings 463, Sam McGee, in the Bareboat Racing Class at this year’s BVI Spring Regatta in early April.

"We've heard this was a fun regatta and I have a competitive spirit in me," Crump explained, just after receiving a congratulatory handshake from BVI Chief Minister, Ralph T. O'Neal. "It was great," said Crump, "everything we expected and more."

Crump and his crew are part of a growing population of Caribbean charter guests who favor sailing vacations that feature an added dimension—racing. Of the three categories of Caribbean-based charter boats that indulge in this kind of competition—private cruisers, crewed charter yachts, and bareboats—bareboats have seen the most dramatic increase in activity during the last decade as witnessed by their burgeoning participation in Eastern Caribbean regattas. At last year's Antigua Sailing Week, 43 percent of the 256 participants were bareboats, while 40 percent of the 300 entries at the 2002 St. Maarten/St. Martin Heineken Regatta raced in bareboats. At other regattas too—Martinique's Regates de Juin, the Angostura/Yachting World Regatta in Tobago, and BVI Spring Regatta, bareboat classes figure prominently.

While bigger might seem better, it is the relatively smaller number of bareboats, anywhere from 20 a decade ago to 32 in 2002, that is the draw for some charter guests regarding events like the BVI Spring Regatta. "We chose this regatta because it's not so large and daunting like Antigua," said Dan Lockyer, the skipper of Raphael, a Sunsail First 42s7 that Peter Cockburn of the UK had chartered for the event. "The start line has just enough boats to be competitive, but not overwhelming," explained Lockyer. "Plus, it's a friendly regatta. Everything is at one marina. You can walk to the parties."

The crew aboard Sam McGee, including Metcalf Crump in the white floppy hat and his wife Madeleine in the black shirt. Legendary BVI charter skipper Pressley King stands behind them in his ever-present straw hat.
Graham Talbot, technical director at The Moorings base in Road Town, Tortola says of the BVI Spring Regatta: "We get competitors who've sailed in Antigua and St. Maarten. They've done the big, long races and late nights, and now they're looking for something different, so they come to us."

Talbot said bookings as of early April are 40 percent ahead of the same time last year for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, but "we've stayed constant at about a dozen yachts for this regatta over the years." The reasons he explained are twofold. One is a lack of direct flights from the US mainland or Europe, which Antigua and St. Maarten both have, and secondly, there have been limited funds for international advertising on the part of the regatta organization.

The promotion of bareboat racing in this British territory received a boost this year when the BVI Tourist Board came aboard as a sponsor. "The Tourist Board brought in Olympians from each of the European countries where they have offices. Each of them competed against one another with tourism staff as crew to give a real idea what a racing charter is all about and hopefully sell it back home," said regatta chairman, Robert Phillips. Gold medallist Shirley Robertson represented Team UK, while top match racer Markus Weiser took the helm for Team Germany, and past F18 Dutch National Champion, Gerard Loos, drove for Team Scand-Holland; Pierre Yves Chatelin led Team France and Angelo Costa skippered Team Italy.

Tapping into the European market, says Phillips, is key for recruiting racing sailors and potentially growing the bareboat fleets at the BVI Spring Regatta. "For The Moorings, about 75 percent of clients from the US mainland cruise and only 25 percent race. But Europeans like to race," says Talbot. "Seventy-five percent of our racing charterers are Europeans," he said, adding that the BVI currently has about 500 to 600 bareboats available at any one time, with the ability to bring in more from bases on surrounding islands if needed.

"The BVI currently has about 500 to 600 bareboats available at any one time, with the ability to bring in more if needed."
Most of the charter sailors entered the event this year aboard bareboats, but not all. Formula 1 Events, Ltd, in Southampton, UK, purchased four Farr 65s built in 1999 for the Millennium Round the World Race and made three of the four vessels available for racing charters in five Caribbean regattas this season—St. Maarten, Puerto Rico's Heineken Cup, the International Rolex Regatta, BVI Spring Regatta, and Antigua.

Ross Daniel, Formula 1 Events skipper aboard Spirit of Diana explained: "We had mainly UK charter guests when we started, but for this regatta we have three Frenchmen, one Dutch, and a few Americans." Charter racers, up to 17 per vessel, come for a week and each pay US$1,300, which includes half their board, but not the airfare. "Three days are for training, where we sort out each person's job, and three days are regatta racing," Daniel said. Spirit of Diana won the Big Boat Racer-Cruiser Class with its enthusiastic, but amateur, crew. "It was awesome not only to win, but for our charter guests just to be on the same course with the likes of boats such as Roy Disney's Pyewacket," Daniel added. Disney, nephew of the entertainment legend Walt Disney, sailed the BVI Spring Regatta aboard his sleek Reichel Pugh 75 as part of a first-time trip to the region to compete in the Caribbean Big Boat Series, which began with the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and ends with Antigua Sailing Week.

A corporate incentive, letting the office pay to play, is how Holland's Dirk Stolp and his crew came to enter the BVI regatta. "Our company, Amsterdam Trust, has offices in Holland and the Caribbean," explained crew member Robert Govaerts. "Each year, a memo is passed around the office to assess interest. Those people who are interested are contacted. Some have sailing experience, and of those who do, it's small boat racing and bigger boat cruising. We do have a core team from the Curacao office, but the rest basically learn on the job." Standing on the dock at the host Nanny Cay Marina next to Pliedes, a Moorings 403, that the Dutchmen had chartered, Govaerts added: "This is a good venue for sailing. It's relaxing. You're on the water racing for a few hours, then it's party time."

Two of the big 65-foot crewed charter vessels chase each other around the course in Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Making a leap from bareboat cruising to racing is what led Rapheal's Cockburn and Sam McGee's Crump to enter the regatta. Says Cockburn: "I've done a lot of bareboating before— to Australia, the Mediterranean, Thailand, St. Maarten, Antigua, and the BVI—and now I wanted to try racing." His chartered Sunsail First 42s7 cost him and his friends US$3945 for the week.

Crump, who had bought a friend's half ownership of a Moorings 463 in the Tortola charter fleet, got hooked on racing during a 12-day flotilla sail from Martinique to Grenada in 2000 when Moorings lead skipper, Pressley King, organized an informal three-hour race down the west coast of Grenada. Crump was on the boat that won that race. "We beat a bigger boat and won the race. Boy, we were psyched," he recalled. After the cruise, King and Crump stayed in touch. "I'm a neophyte to this sport and Pressley is a great skipper. So when we decided to come down and race in the Spring Regatta, I knew I had to get him on my side or he'd be racing against me," Crump joked.

The crew aboard Pliedes and Raphael were made up of co-workers and friends and family members, respectively; however, the Crumps were in need of a team. "We needed at least seven other people and Pressley helped us find them, right up to the morning before the first race," Crump explained. "And we proved to be a motley crew," Madeleine added. In addition to the Crumps and King, who is a manager at The Mooring's Tortola base, there was a 40-something British man who was en route on a two-year circumnavigation, a Tortola-based couple who were between jobs and living aboard their chartered day-sail catamaran, a US woman and former Moorings employee who happened to be on the island, and three local men who enjoyed the chance for a weekend sail. "We obviously had never sailed together before, but it just goes to show you what a good skipper can do," Crump said.

Before and after the BVI Spring Regatta, bareboaters can explore the inviting waters of this idyllic region.
The good times out on the bareboat racecourse, adjacent the Spinnaker Racing fleet in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, came almost immediately. "We didn't practice and just tacked once or twice on our way out to the course, but we won the first start," Crump said. "It was so exciting, the jockeying for position, it was such a rush getting started," Madeleine added. The first day's racing brought 10 to 12 knots of wind in the morning, gradually diminishing to five to eight knots by afternoon over the nine-leg course. "We kept in the lead most of the day in actual time, but the light winds were difficult. Ultimately, we lost second place by two seconds on corrected time," Crump described.

Winds on the second day were even lighter and the course longer—12 legs. "We did OK on the downwind leg, but by the last windward leg, the wind was dying, there were big holes, and the mark roundings were incredible because everyone came in at the same time and no one had any power to maneuver," Crump said. Ultimately, King applied some hometown knowledge, caught a shift, and rode the boat up to a first-place finish on actual and corrected time. That tactic, plus a cancelled third and last day of racing due to lack of winds, was just enough to give team Sam McGee a 3-1 score and win the tie-breaker over Lofoten I, a Moorings 445 helmed by fellow Moorings skipper, Kenneth Powell and a charter crew from the UK.

For those who are considering a bareboat racing charter to the BVI, here's some advice:

Crump says: "Have fun, but take the racing seriously. It's very competitive. Everyone prepares their boat beforehand, like packing away the bimini and moving the anchor to the center. Then while racing, it's important to concentrate."

Adds Lockyer: "Don't let the racing spoil the fun. Come for two weeks, not one, and stay on to go cruising."

Govaerts concludes: "Definitely leave time for cruising. The islands are so close that they're easy to explore."

Even racing devotee, Roy Disney, chartered a sailboat for a cruise to Peter Island after racing was cancelled during the regatta's final day. That's having your cake and eating too. So what's not to like about charterboat racing?

Suggested Reading:

Charterboat Preparation by Tania Aebi

Chartering Experience by Dan Dickison

The BBS Rides Again by Dan Dickison

SailNet Store Section: Duffles and Gear Bags

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