Caribbean yachting at its best took place this past weekend when eight teams participated in 16 rugged races over three days through variable currents, strong winds and Olympic-level competition at the second annual St. Thomas Yacht Club Invitational Regatta. The event showcased the level of skill, stamina and strategy that is characteristic of the top sailors in this region. Two-time Olympian Cy Thompson took first place with 34 points, followed by Dave Franzel of the United States with 39 points and Mike Finley of the USVI with 43 points. This nascent event offered a taste of what is to come with plans to invite up to 20 international yacht clubs from the US, Europe and the Caribbean for next year’s planned event.
Covid protocols dictated just three people on board and therefore competing without spinnakers. It was a college-style format with boat changes every two races. “The format was great and going into the last day, we did not match race but just decided to sail our own race. What made this regatta really fair was that the teams rotated boats after every two races,” Thompson said.
Second place finisher Franzel, who is also the St. Thomas Yacht Club’s director, agreed that changing boats will be a key component to the invitational racing event going forward as well as having a fleet of boats available at the St. Thomas Sailing Center to race on. “Being able to invite other top yacht clubs to race is key,” Franzel said. “We really think this regatta is going to grow and people will come to race here for the competition and for different reasons. One of those reasons is the location.”
Finley, who placed third overall, agreed that it was all about the location. "This club has a long history of great races, and it is a great racing venue. There is always a lot of breeze. There is no better place in the world to sail in my opinion.” Notably, on board with Finley was Morgan Avery who is credited, along with Chris Rosenberg, for the IC-24 design.
In an emotional awards ceremony, second and third-generation club members honored its three founders—the late Rudy Thompson and Dick Avery, and octogenarian John Foster who helmed his team over the three days and placed sixth overall. A perpetual trophy in their honor will remind competitors of their vision to bring highly competitive sailing to the island back in 1964. This vision continues with children and grandchildren of the founders—Cy Thompson and Morgan Avery included.
“We had no idea when we started this club how much fun it would be and how we would all raise our children, and now grandchildren, to sail here,” said Foster. “As one of the founders, I still think I can beat any of you to the windward mark!”
The event also highlighted the accomplishments of the five-year-old St. Thomas Sailing Center located at the yacht club which has focused on outreach into the wider St. Thomas community and introduced many locals to sailing through instruction and access. It also offers advanced racing courses and charter yacht instruction for aspiring captains.
Additionally, the recent Covid-19 pandemic brought an influx of people moving to St. Thomas from the United States and elsewhere, with the draw of the sailing center and yacht club bringing over 125 new members since the pandemic began. In an effort to preserve and perpetuate sailing here, the club has formed the St. Thomas Sailing Foundation.
Dave Franzel will be retiring from his position as the sailing center’s director this year, but he leaves it in good hands with new director Dave Walker. Franzel will stay on to help grow this invitational event for next year and beyond.
“I never expected when we started the center five years ago that in 2017 two hurricanes would destroy all of the IC-24s we had,” Franzel noted. The boats were rebuilt and the IC24 fleet has grown since then. “Over time the sailing center has become a great model for other clubs, and it is a way for the community to get more access to boats. It also means we have the fleet of boats we need to grow this invitational regatta in coming years.”
Dennis Nixon is an American who recently retired in St. Thomas; he competed on the Swedish team skippered by Peter Sernhede placing fourth overall. “I sailed in St. Thomas in 1989 and told myself if I can ever retire, I will move here. Well, I worked for 30 more years, but I finally did retire here this year, and this is my first big sailing event since moving here. What I enjoy is not having to own a boat but being able to have access to the IC-24s. I find that the club and the center have really reached out to the region’s youth to get them into sailing. It is one of the most inclusive yacht clubs I have ever been to.” Nixon says he hopes to volunteer his time to help continue that vision which includes the now established presence of the Boys and Girls Club of St. Thomas who have the island youth come to the club every Saturday for sailing with instruction.
“I feel we have demonstrated that we have the race management and some of the best sailors in the world to take this event to the next level,” Foster said. “This event has real potential, and we predict strong teams will be eager to accept the invitation and come here and compete.”
The 2021 STYC Invitational Regatta was sponsored by the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism and Michelob Ultra, Stoli, Milagro, and Bacardi Rum, distributed by the West Indies Company.