On the last day of the 2013 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, a crew of eight spirited Dutch women invited me aboard Tiger Pause, a Beneteau 50.5, to race bareboat with them and their hired French skipper, Chantal Medrinal.
Of the nine women aboard, only four had sailing experience, and that had been mostly on dinghies. But that wasn’t about to stop them from showing that an all-women underdog team can not only race, but can be competitive in a major Caribbean regatta.
“We’re all dentists,” said Joyce Lucardie, a dinghy sailor crewing on Tiger Pause. “This is something completely different for us, but we love improving and we’re having fun.” This year marked their first time chartering together, and they chose a Moorings 50.5 for its user-friendliness, performance capabilities and comfortable living space.
Pre-race rituals on Tiger Pause included lathering up with sunblock while laughing over baguettes and jam. The crew debated which pair of pink shorts to fly as the spare protest flag and cast off with the song “Eye of the Tiger” blaring.
Then they went into race mode. The women plotted their course, tested the start line and practiced their tacks. The third day’s race began off Marigot, on the French side of the island, and ended in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side. With 11 bareboats on the start line, wind gusting up to 20 knots and the crew giving commands in a variety of languages, the start was chaotic, but Tiger Pause rounded the windward mark toward the front of the fleet. Throughout, the crew worked the boat surprisingly well, considering they’d only practiced for two days prior to the start of the first race. “We have to work as a team and accept each other’s mistakes. We, especially as women, give each other a lot of learning space,” said Lucardie.
In the end, the ladies of Tiger Pause placed 7th out of the 12 boats in their class and celebrated their success at a boat-hopping party with their fellow bareboaters. The regatta had barely ended before they were planning their next charter.
In all, this year’s Heineken included five bareboat classes with 12-17 boats each. Tiger Pause’s designated captain, Ingrid Pol, said she believes bareboats appeal to sailors looking for an access point to regatta sailing. “It’s easy,” she says, “You don’t have to bring the boats. They’re just here!”
SAIL’s Peter Nielsen agrees, having chartered bareboats in several BVI Spring Regattas, most recently in 2013, when his crew came in first in the Bareboat 2 class on board a Sunsail Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 (see page 20 in Racecourse for details).
For many sailors, racing a bareboat is a means of sampling something bigger, nicer and newer than their boat at home. Like the sailors on Tiger Pause, they can hire a pro skipper to help sharpen their skills, or they can sail the regatta entirely on their own. Tiger Pause’s crew consisted of coworkers and clients, while other bareboat crews at the Heineken formed through LinkedIn, Craigslist or from groups of good old-fashioned long-time sailing buddies.
To book a bareboat at the Heineken or BVI Spring Regatta, contact the regatta board or a charter company like The Moorings or Sunsail. Be sure to book early. “We recommend reserving a boat at least six months in advance, especially because repeat racers book for the following year immediately after a regatta finishes,” said Sunsail’s Gillian Hegner.
The cost of bareboat racing varies based on number of crew and whether or not you get a captain, but many packages include meals, race support, entry fee and a dinghy valet. In addition, you will need to put down a deposit in the $6,500 range to cover the costs of damage, collisions and runaway dinghies that may occur in a regatta.
If you can’t get enough and you want to keep chartering after the regatta, simply book with your charter company and when you cross that final finish line, just keep on sailing.
As for the crew of Tiger Pause, they plan to race bareboat again soon but without a hired skipper. “I believe that if you give the crew responsibility, they’ll take it and become more passionate about it, and I saw that happening,” said Pol.
The crew seems to agree. While cranking a winch, crewmember Jelly Vanderbruoge said, “I came here never having sailed before. I didn’t know what to expect, and I spent the first two days being seasick. I’m still learning and I rely on my ladies, but this has been quite the experience.”
Photos courtesy of Joyce Lucardie