Bareboating it all at the BVI Spring Regatta

The 2010 BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival, as it’s more properly called, falls in the height of the Caribbean racing season, a couple of weeks after the Heineken regatta in St Maarten and a couple of weeks before Antigua Sailing Week. Plenty of serious racers do all three regattas, and probably also the Rolex regatta in St Thomas and the Heineken regatta in Puerto Rico, which are also squeezed into that hectic two-month time period.

Like every other regatta, the BVISR was hit last year by the recession, but the organizers approached 2010, the 39th running of the event, with their customary vigor. The eventual field of 98 boats was well down on the peak years of the Nineties and Oughties, but, given the economic turmoil of the last couple of years, this was hardly surprising.

It is really two regattas in one, taking up the week leading up to the first weekend in April. The Sailing Festival portion consists of a race from Nanny Cay marina up to the Bitter End resort on Virgin Gorda on the Tuesday, and a race back to Nanny Cay on the Thursday. Wednesday you can spend racing Hobies and Lasers at the Bitter End, or just hanging out in the sunshine recovering from Tuesday night’s party. The Spring Regatta itself takes up the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

You can see that this agenda gets you plenty of time on the water and, with the races only being two to three hours long, there’s plenty of time to kick back and enjoy just being in the BVI.

There are 14 classes in the Spring Regatta, and entries run the gamut from Tom Hill’s all-conquering Titan XV in Racing A down to boardsailors in the Windsurfing class. Traditionally, the two bareboat classes have been heavily subscribed and hotly contested. Team SAIL, consisting of yours truly, Charlie Garrard, Tim Sheehy and Scott Alexander from Marblehead, Massachusetts, along with Peter Cook (Annapolis) and Christian McMahan (Fairfield, Connecticut), were determined to get on the podium this year after disappointing finishes at Antigua in 2008 and St Maarten in 2009.

This year we had entered the inaugural International Yacht Club Challenge, which was to be sailed in identical Sunsail Jeanneau 42i’s. A bunch of us sail on helmsman Charlie Garrard’s J/105, and we liked the one-design flavor of the IYCC.

Up against us was a crew of hotshot sailors from Club Nautico de San Juan in Puerto Rico, and a boatload of canny local sailors from the BVI Yacht Club. We would have our own race-within-a-race in the Bareboat B class.

What followed was a fascinating and entertaining week, which culminated in us waking up on the last morning of the regatta in first place in Bareboat B, and finishing the day third. Our chief competition was the hard-sailing Puerto Ricans, whom we had decisively beaten a couple of times only to see them outsmart us in the final race, in which we finished a distant 7th. At the end, a well sailed Beneteau 36 just beat us into second place overall. Still, we were on the podium for the first time in three regattas, and we celebrated long and hard.

Having experienced most of the big-name Caribbean regattas, I think that the BVI Spring Regatta is my new favorite. Not only is it fast and easy to get to from the US, but the islands themselves are beautiful, and racing around and among them was a sublime experience.

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