International Rolex Regatta - As it has proven for 38 years, the International Rolex Regatta is a racing getaway that is as much about serious competition as it is about the relaxed Caribbean experience that host St. Thomas Yacht Club has created around it. The three-day event is scheduled this year for Friday, March 25, through Sunday, March 27, and features race courses that accentuate the coastal beauty of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as shore-side gatherings that remind visitors why 'tropical' and 'paradise' go so well together.
Last year, standing on the awards platform – which had been built on Sunday at morning’s low tide and seemed to have risen from the waves by day’s end – was Canada’s Richard Oland (St. John, New Brunswick) and his crew from the Southern Cross 52 Vela Veloce, who were experiencing the event for the first time and had just edged out Austin and Gwen Fragomen’s (Newport, R.I., USA) IRC 52 Interlodge (which returns this year) for first place. 'We had such a good time, but most of all we are coming back this year to defend our IRC class victory,' said Oland, who added that Vela Veloce started its 2011 racing season with class victories in the Pineapple Cup Montego Bay Race and Key West Race Week. 'Our performance at the International Rolex Regatta also counts toward our results in the US-IRC Gulf Stream Series, which we won last year -- we want to defend that, too.'
Just confirming intent to enter and sure to offer up some fine competition for Vela Veloce is Jim Swartz’s (Park City, Utah, USA) IRC 52 Vesper/Team Moneypenny, with a crack crew that includes such recognizable racing names as Gavin Brady, Jamie Gale, Brett Jones, Ken Keefe, and Chris Larson. 'This is a shake-down regatta for the IRC modifications we have made to the boat over the winter,' said Swartz. 'We are looking forward to some ‘fun in the sun time’ and learning how to sail the boat fast.'
In a different IRC class will be the larger, Warwick-designed Aiyana, which has been described as a 'superyacht squeezed into 80 feet' and was launched last May. It is the brainchild of its owner Peter Corr (St. Thomas), who had been shopping for a boat through brokers, but when he couldn’t find one that met his requirements decided to build his own. 'I did not want a 150’ monster,' said Corr, 'I wanted something I could really enjoy, so Aiyana is built in part as an IRC race boat (with a composite hull and carbon fiber rig), but it has more volume (and a lifting keel) for cruising.'
That does not mean Corr has anything but hard-core racing on his mind while at the International Rolex Regatta. Nearly half of his 15-person crew will be professional sailing notables from around the world, including tactician Steve Benjamin (USA), bow man Mark 'Becks' Bartlett (GBR), mast man David Sampson (AUS), crew chief and project manager Silas Noland (AUS), Mal Parker (AUS), and captain and navigator Rosco Monson (GBR).
My approach is to have professionals in key areas, especially for foredeck and in the strategy department,' said Corr. 'It generally saves losing a sail or a piece of expensive equipment, so it’s worth it to me, and I can focus on driving.'
According to Captain Monson, Aiyana will 'warm up' at the Boat International Caribbean Superyacht Regatta a week prior, 'but the International Rolex Regatta is really our racing regatta; there will be some quick race boats coming to the party here, that’s for sure.'
Vela Veloce, Interlodge and Vesper/Team Moneypenny are among the various yachts that will berth at Yacht Haven Grande in downtown Charlotte Amalie, which becomes the center of activity on Friday when the fleet finishes and starts its famous 'town races' there and again Saturday night when the event’s centerpiece reggae music concert lights up the waterfront. Aiyana will prepare at the marina for several days and then re-locate to an anchorage off St. Thomas Yacht Club once racing begins.
'The variety of boats and courses is what’s interesting about the International Rolex Regatta,' said Corr. 'It’s not just chasing each other around; it’s good off-the-line racing with strategy. As we sail two of the days on courses through the islands there are huge changes in wind direction and speed...a lot of anticipation is needed.'
The International Rolex Regatta hosts classes for IRC, CSA (Spinnaker Racing, Spinnaker Racing/Cruising and Non-Spinnaker Racing), One-Design and Beach Cats. It has been hosted by St. Thomas Yacht Club since 1974, making it the oldest regatta in Rolex’s portfolio of international sailing events. Rolex is known for sponsoring famous offshore and grand-prix events such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Rolex Fastnet Race, Giraglia Rolex Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship.
A.H. Riise, Official Retailer of Rolex watches in the U.S. Virgin Islands, takes an active role in sponsorship of the International Rolex Regatta. The St. Thomas shop is one of the largest in the Caribbean and is located on the historic waterfront of downtown Charlotte Amalie. www.rolexcupregatta.com