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A Q&A with Bill Canfield about the 2018 St. Thomas International Regatta

by David Schmidt 19 Mar 2018 08:05 PDT March 23, 2018
Bring your own boat or charter! Pictured, IC24s sailing in the 2017 STIR © Dean Barnes / STIR

In February of 2010 I received a phone call from a young skipper from St. Thomas who was calling to talk about my participation as part of his crew aboard a borrowed IC24 in the upcoming Rolex St. Thomas International Regatta for an article I was writing for SAIL Magazine, where I was working at the time as the publication’s racing editor. While I initially thought the conversation would center around tactics, crew positions and the regatta’s overall flow, my new friend wanted to talk numbers, namely those that describe my body weight. The IC24 class has a strict weight limit and, given the number of would-be bodies aboard (five) and the fact that two of us (the owner and myself) had graduated high school ages ago and weren’t hitting the same BMI metrics as our young guns, we would be exploring the outer edges of that restriction.

While I’m a longtime runner, reformed rock climber, and mountaineer, in addition to being a lifelong sailor, I half-jokingly conceded that I could likely shed 10 pounds by adopting an all-water diet for the next two weeks. To my horror-cum-surprise, my new friend eagerly agreed that this was both a great idea and a great starting point. So, I started fasting.

Two weeks later I was in St. Thomas, aboard an IC24 (junkyard J/24s that have been rescued and refit with new, Melges-inspired decks), my SPF-rated shirt hanging looser on my frame than I would have preferred but surrounded with great people intent on sailing fast.

While many moons have passed since that regatta, I have fond memories of four days of racing that included point-to-point races, some windward-leeward racing, and possibly even a triangle or two that put our crew through the motions. We were disjointed at first, but by the final races we were smoothly throwing aggressive moves at our fellow IC24 competitors and even enjoyed a few bullets.

Much has changed since 2010. My three young friends have now all graduated college and are engaging in their careers and sailing different kinds of boats, I no longer exist on an all-water diet, and Rolex has moved on to sponsor different regattas, however the same great racing is still on offer at the re-branded St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR).

Tragically, autumn of 2017 saw two powerful hurricanes, Irma and Maria, batter the U.S. Virgin Islands in quick succession, delivering serious blows to the islands’ fragile infrastructure and the lives of countless residents. Fortunately, St. Thomas is home to many hard-working, industrious, and dedicated residents who have lent their shoulders to the task of rebuilding and recreating life as normal, and this year’s STIR is scheduled to unfurl from March 23-25.

I caught up with Bill Canfield, who serves as the regatta’s (highly qualified) race director, via email, to learn more about the island’s recovery efforts and about the great racing that awaits the lucky sailors competing in this year’s STIR.

Can you give us a big-picture update on STIR, both in terms of this year’s registration and in terms of the levels of competition that you’re expecting for the 2018 event?

Well, as always, STIR has never catered to charters and cruising boats as most Caribbean Regattas do. This creates exciting, competitive racing in all classes.

In general housing is a huge problem after our two Category 5 storms [in 2017], so numbers throughout the area are down but our homegrown IC 24 class will have a record 20 boats battling it out.

How is the island and the club doing as far as hurricane recovery? Also, will 201’s awful storms have any a big impact on this year’s racing?

It has been tough with power and internet still not totally restored on the island. Almost all hotels remain closed on the islands north of Antigua.

We are recovering, but the wind and sun will continue to provide competitive racing as always.

[The] St Thomas Yacht Club is in the process of replacing our masthead and dock but the spirit remains strong.

How would you describe STIR to first-time participants? What kind of racing and partying can they expect?

I think most of us are trying to recreate an event you would have found in the early days of Caribbean racing, with competitors sailing hard and partying late. Fewer crew dinners etc., [but having] fun at the local yacht clubs [is our] intent this year.

Have you and the other STIR organizers added any new elements to this year’s racing? What about off-the-water events? Anything new and exciting?

We will keep all that on hold this year but the future remains bright for our events.

Can you tell us a bit about the Round the Rocks Race?

[The] Round the Rock [Race] will be run as an informal race this year as again housing was an issue, but it is probably prettiest distance race [of] 25 miles anywhere in world

More than most events we listen to the customer and [there] is a desire for point-to-point, round-the-rocks racing more than traditional Windward/Leeward [courses].

Our bigger boats get to do a circumnavigation of St. John, which is one of our most popular courses.

Has STIR taken any steps in recent years to reduce its environmental footprint or otherwise green-up?

I believe all events are starting to do the basics. Sailors for the Sea supplied us with a great water system that reduces plastic at all our events. Straws are not offered but we all have to do more.

The islands are far behind in cleaning up their environmental footprint but in many cases the local regattas are leading the way.

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