The new year is in full swing and racing sailors are bustling about finalizing plans to compete in the St. Thomas Yacht Club’s 39th annual International Rolex Regatta. The IRR is the oldest regatta in Rolex’s yachting portfolio and the most venerable of Caribbean spring events.
A quick look at the roster of entries shows several hot new boats and first-time entries signed up for the three-day event, which begins Friday, March 23, and mixes island-style fun with hard-core IRC, CSA and one-design racing on courses that showcase the breathtaking coastlines of St. Thomas and nearby St. John.
Stephen Murray, Jr.’s New Orleans entry, the recently launched Carkeek 40 Decision, will be one of the many intriguing boats competing. It is one of the first designed to the High Performance Rule (HPR). Decision’s Program Manager William Gammell (Newport, R.I.) describes the rule as a 'purely race-driven rating platform' that promotes building the fastest boats possible for owners who want an all-out racer. He further explained that the HPR, as a pure measurement rule, allows owners and designers to determine their ratings as they design the boats, without the variability of subjective 'black box' components of other rules.
'We are very excited about this new rating concept and the idea of a small, fast, seaworthy boat that can compete at the highest echelons of the sport and is relatively easy to transport to premier events around the world,' said Gammell, adding that the team will be sailing in the RORC Caribbean 600 and the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta before arriving in St. Thomas for the International Rolex Regatta and then capping off the season with the Les Voiles de Saint Barth.
'The Murrays have decided to make the most of their time in the Caribbean by choosing the premier regattas in the region,' said Gammell. 'The International Rolex Regatta was chosen due to the gorgeous surroundings on sea and land as well as the perfect wind conditions. And of course there is the possibility of winning a Rolex, which provides its own incentive!'
Calling tactics for the Decision team will be Steve Benjamin (Norwalk, Conn.), the chairman of the HPR Handicap Rules Committee who owns one of Decision’s two sister ships currently being built in China. The team will round out with many of the same sailors—including father Stephen Murray, Sr.; the USA’s 2012 Olympic (Laser class) representative Rob Crane; and Olympic Silver Medalist (Tornado class) Johnny Lovell-- who have been regulars on Murray’s previously owned TP52, also named Decision.
'The crew has changed over the years as the program has developed, but we always strive to keep the New Orleans roots,' said Gammell. 'The crew has become more nationally and internationally diverse, yet we proudly maintain our Corinthian roots and spirit.'
Aquarius in action International Rolex Regatta - Rolex/ St Thomas Yacht Club/ Ingrid Abery
Across the board, IRC competition will remain strong this year with the return of last year’s respective winners of class 1 and 2: Jim Swartz (Park City, Utah) and Willem Wester (Zeeland, The Netherlands). Swartz will sail his famously fast IRC 52 Vesper with a seasoned crew that includes past America’s Cup helmsman and tactician Gavin Brady (Annapolis, Md./New Zealand), while Wester has traded up on his Grand Soleil 43 Antilope to a 46 footer of the same make and name.
'It’s a stock standard design, with lots of emphasis on the appendages and rig,' said Antilope’s tactician and veteran Volvo Ocean Race skipper Bouwe Bekking (The Netherlands), adding that the team has also entered Quantum Key West 2012, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and the BVI Regatta.
'Last year, we had a good year in all the events we did, always finishing on the podium. We made some changes in the autumn and we think we have made another good step performance-wise, but only time will tell. We’re coming back to the International Rolex Regatta because we thought it was, by far, the best-organized event in the Caribbean. On top of that, it has fantastic race courses and a great race committee that provides superb racing.'
Entering his newly acquired Farr STP 65 Equation (formerly Rosebud, the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner) into the IRC competition will be International Rolex Regatta veteran Bill Alcott (St. Clair Shores, Mich.), who last year chartered a Swan for the event but for many years prior steered his Andrews 68 'sled'--brought down from the Great Lakes—in the competition.
Highland Fling XII, an IRC 52 owned by Lord Irvine Laidlaw of Rothiemay (Monaco) and launched late last year, is another of the high profile new entries that all eyes will be watching. Designed by Reichel/Pugh and built using advanced carbon pre-preg sandwich construction, it is expected to live up to legendary Highland Fling performances most recently perpetuated by Lord Laidlaw’s 82-foot Wally Highland Fling XI.
The St. Thomas Yacht Club is the Storm Trysail Club's Caribbean station, and the International Rolex Regatta has a stellar reputation for race management, offering a variety of courses ideally configured to test a sailor's skills while showcasing the stunning shoreline.
Included are the first day's 'harbor races' from the club to Charlotte Amalie Harbor and back, testing everyone's focus; the second day's 'island race,' testing navigational nerve by sending competitors short tacking the length of St. John's south shore; and the final day's 'sound race,' testing one's determination on complex courses around the cays of Pillsbury Sound. Or for testing one's mettle, there are up to 18 windward/leeward races on the one-design circle. Like the IC-24s, a one-design class can be established with a minimum of six boats.
International Rolex Regatta website