Barely There

Racing a charter boat is very different from campaigning your Sonar or Etchells or, as in our helmsman Charlie Garrard’s case, your J/105. Some bareboats are pretty tired, and sails can have a short lifespan in boisterous Caribbean conditions. Some of the bigger, heavier boats are cumbersome and slow to tack and trying to sail them well can be a frustrating exercise. Local knowledge of winds and
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Racing a charter boat is very different from campaigning your Sonar or Etchells or, as in our helmsman Charlie Garrard’s case, your J/105. Some bareboats are pretty tired, and sails can have a short lifespan in boisterous Caribbean conditions. Some of the bigger, heavier boats are cumbersome and slow to tack and trying to sail them well can be a frustrating exercise. Local knowledge of winds and currents also helps immeasurably, and it is notoriously hard to win a bareboat race on your first attempt at a new venue. Many European bareboat racers return year after year and are intimately familiar with the waters around the islands, and they are hard to beat.

We learned all this the hard way at Antigua Sailing Week in 2008, when we raced a big Beneteau 515 and got our behinds handed to us by a bunch of hard-sailing Germans and Dutchmen. In 2009 we had a crack at the wild and windy Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten, this time aboard a Sunsail Jeanneau 39i, and had tremendous fun battling it out with some sharp Dutchmen aboard a trio of sisterships. We finished fourth out of 18 boats, just a point away from the podium. We could almost taste the champagne, but consoled ourselves instead with liberal doses of the sponsor’s product.

As one-design racers, it is obvious to us that there are few better ways to race than as part of a fleet of similar boats. News of the inaugural International Yacht Club Challenge (IYCC), to be sailed in identical Sunsail Jeanneau 42i’s, sounded to us like a stroke of genius—what better grudge match could there be than between a bunch of rival yacht clubs with old scores to settle? Since Garrard and our fellow Marbleheader Tim Sheehy are members of the Boston Yacht Club, we had no choice but to sign up.

Too bad about the recession…We arrived in Tortola on the morning of Monday, March 29, to find that just two other club teams had entered: one from the Royal BVI Yacht Club, another from Puerto Rico’s Club Nautico de San Juan. But hey, you only need two boats for a race! We were a subset of the Bareboat B class, which numbered another 10 boats ranging from 36 to 44 feet, so we’d be going for two prizes; the IYCC and the Bareboat B trophy.

The real title of this event is the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival, the latter part of which consists of a race from Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola to the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda, and another race back to Nanny Cay two days later. The intervening day is spent lounging around the Bitter End or tucked away in one of the surrounding anchorages.

It proved a fine way to dial in the boat and ourselves. The Jeanneau 42i’s are about perfect for this concept; big enough to hold a good-sized crew in comfort, small enough to be fun to sail, and responsive to proper tuning. After a fairly dismal first race in which we watched glumly as boat after boat passed us, we tweaked the rig and the sails and went over the side to scrub the bottom—a procedure that the merciless Garrard had us repeat every morning thereafter. We did much better on the race back to Tortola, and, since we had the marketing manager for Heineken on board, celebrated with a case of Amsterdam’s finest while holed up in a small bay on Peter Island. We wisely decided not to appear at the opening night party in Nanny Cay. Snorkeling on the reef and firing up the grill on the boat was about as much action as we could handle.

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