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An interview with Hugh Piggin about the 2019 Pineapple Cup

by David Schmidt 22 Jan 08:00 PST January 27, 2019
Sin Duda! Santa Cruz 52 - Pineapple Cup © Event Media

When it comes to distance racing, the Pineapple Cup-Montego Bay Race, which is sponsored by the Storm Trysail Club, the Montego Bay Yacht Club, the Jamaican Yachting Association and the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, is tough to beat. The 811 nautical mile race begins near Miami, Floridas Government Cut on Sunday, January 27, and immediately takes the fleet across the Gulf Stream. After negotiating the Northwest Providence Channel, teams aim for the tip of Cuba before (ideally) enjoying a final 240-mile run from the Windward Passage (read: Cubas easternmost appendage) to the Montego Bay, Jamaica finishing line.

While the course record of two days, ten hours, 24 minutes and 42 seconds, set by Tom Hills Titan 12 in 2005, is impressive, so to is a glance at other former Pineapple Cup winners, including Ted Turners Vamoose (1963), Lightnin (1973), and Tenacious (1979); John Kilroys Kialoa (1975, 1977); Robert Bells Condor (1983); Scott Pipers Pipe Dream, (1993) and George Sakellaris Shockwave (2013, 2015).

But, given that 14 years and a lot of design development have unfurled since Titan 12s proud, record-setting run, one has to think that this course record is ripe for the taking, especially given that this years fleet includes a MOD 70 trimaran, a Volvo Open 70 and a TP52-not to mention the K3 Foundations classic S&S 78 Kialoa III.

I checked in with Hugh Piggin, the co-founder and CEO of Manuka Sports Event Management, one of the Pineapple Cups organizing authorities, via email, to learn more this classic offshore event , which is open to monohulls and multihulls 30-feet and up and challenges sailors with Gulf Stream and tradewind conditions.

How many boats are you expecting at the 2019 Pineapple Cup? Also, how does this compare to the numbers and the competition levels that you have seen in recent years?

Were expecting about 18- 20 entries this year, which is a big increase over the fleet we had in 2017. We have a very robust IRC and PHRF fleets and three multihulls, so were expecting the competition to be tight.

We have been actively working to take this historic ocean race and make it easier both in terms of time and logistics and just as fun and rewarding for participants as it ever was.

While the Gulf Stream is always a roll of the dice, how much of a role does local knowledge play at the the Pineapple Cup?

I think familiarity with the course plays a big part in the race. With the Pineapple Cup course being 811 nautical miles and taking the fleet through confined waters, close to several islands and across open ocean, there are plenty of tactical decisions to be made.

For any given change in wind angle, different routing options will open up and skippers that have experience with these options and their outcomes will have an advantage.

That being said, the last 230 miles from rounding Cuba to Montego Bay have traditionally been pivotal in the final results.

In your mind, what are the toughest parts of the racecourse?

The racecourse definitely has some tactical challenges and will test crews as many maneuvers and sail changes are required at short intervals as the course arcs east and then south through the Bahamas. So there will be a lot of activity and little rest for the first 48 hours before hopefully settling into a downwind run to Montego Bay.

I think the great thing about this race is that it is in warm, tropical waters and the majority of the sailing is (touch wood) off the wind.

In that same vein, typically, what are the most enjoyable miles on the course and what (typically) helps generate the all-important grin factor for skippers and crews during this stretch of the racecourse?

I would have to say running downwind to the finish line in warm weather and tropical waters and receiving the famous welcome and hospitality from the Montego Bay Yacht Club!

However, in my experience, the whole race is great, you leave a warm place to sail to race to a warmer place past tropical islands in turquoise blue water and arrive at one of the friendliest yacht clubs in the world all within a two-hour flight of the U.S. mainland. Its a fantastic reprieve from the northern winter.

What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios in terms of weather? Also, what is it about these conditions (wind direction, wind speed, wave height, wave period, etc.) relative to the course that inspires your answers?

As [a] general overview, the race starts in the local weather pattern present in the south Florida area at the time and that obviously is changeable.

As the race proceeds south you transition into more of the dominant easterly trade-wind weather, which provides the great downwind conditions. So I think a worst-case scenario would be to start the race in a weather pattern that brings breeze with an easterly component, making the passage across the Gulf Stream and through the North Providence channel an upwind slog.

Having a breeze from anywhere west of north to southwest for the start would allow the fleet a clean getaway and [would deliver] reaching/ running conditions until making the transition in to the trade-wind pattern. A northerly of any strength will cause an increased sea state in the Gulf Stream but with reaching angles [this] would hopefully not have to be endured for long.

Looking at the entry list, are there any teams that you have shortlisted for podium finishes? Also, any dark horses that have caught your eye?

Im not sure I want to make too many predictions on this, [as] all the fleets are competitive but we will obviously [be] watching the MOD 70 trimaran [Argo], which is expected to set a now multihull record and Wizard will be hunting for the monohull record.

What are the odds that we will see a new course record established this year? Jason Carrolls MOD70 Argo is plenty quick in the multi-hull division, and, amongst the monohulls, David and Peter Askews Volvo Open 70 Wizard looks like she could pose a threat to the existing record...

Records are very condition dependent, but as I mentioned above, I think for Argo not to set a multihull record would be a surprise. It will be a good race to watch as there are yachts in both Multihull and Monohull divisions that are capable of breaking the records.

While we understands that the Pineapple Cup is an offshore event, can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise reduce its environmental footprint?

We will of course be recycling at the kick-off party in Miami and doing our part to promote recycling, reusable water bottles and alternative energy for the teams.

Unfortunately recycling is not widely available in Jamaica, however it has improved somewhat from 2017. We are working on efforts to-at minimum-recycle glass bottles and plastic from the events at the [Montego Bay] YC. All of the parties hosted by the Montego Bay Yacht Club use glassware, plates and silverware, thus minimizing any single-use [plastic] serving or dinnerware.

[Also,] our signage is all fabric based and the hardware for the signage is being reused from the prior event.

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