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An interview with Bill Canfield about the 2019 St. Thomas International Regatta

by David Schmidt 19 Mar 08:00 PDT March 22-24, 2019
2018 St. Thomas International Regatta - Day 3 © STIR / Dean Barnes

When it comes to consistently delivering tradewind sailing on crystal-clear Caribbean water, the St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR), now about to begin its 46th annual edition, has long proven itself popular with sailors from different island nations, Europe and North and South America. And for excellent reason: STIR (March 22-24, 2019) unfurls on a beautiful patch of sun-kissed brine and is administered by seasoned and experienced race officials and a professional race committee who know how to deliver engaging One Design and fleet racing on a wide variety of courses.

Better still, the regatta’s organizers also know how to deliver the kind of onshore entertainment that keeps boats and crews coming back for years.

Once the starting guns begin to sound, visiting racers can expect spirited competition in all classes, from modest Hobie Waves, to the Caribbean-grown IC24 fleet, to the keelboats sailing in CSA handicap divisions that have always been the regatta’s beating heart.

While Windward-Leewward courses test crew work, boatspeed, and racecourse smarts, so too do short distance courses that wend past nearby islands and give crews a chance to stretch their legs a bit, and STIR has historically done a great job of offering an engaging blend of both styles of racing.

Additionally, the 4th annual Round the Rocks Race (March 21, 2019) serves as a warm-up for STIR and gives teams a great chance to circumnavigate St. Thomas while enjoying fantastic views (weather permitting) of nearby St. John and the smaller surrounding islands.

I checked in with Bill Canfield, regatta director, ahead of the 2019 St. Thomas International Regatta (March 22-24) to learn more about this classic warm-water, bright-sun regatta.

How are your 2019 registration numbers looking and how do they compare to recent, non-hurricane-affected years?

I think we’re in good shape this year, especially with the quality of boats we have registered so far. For example, Belgium’s Philippe Moortgat is back with his Swan 45, Samantaga. They won the CSA 1 Racing class last year followed closely by our own Peter Corr and his Australian crew on Corr’s King 40, Blitz.

Canadian Rob Butler won the CSA 2 Racing class last year on his Reflex 38, Touch2Play. He’ll be back this year for some lower-key racing without flying a kite in CSA Non-Spinnaker.

From Europe, Sir Richard Matthews has registered his ST37, Holding Pattern, while the USA’s Sandy Askew will be back on her C&C 30, Flying Jenny. From the Caribbean, we’ll expect some high-caliber racing from Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Lipuscek’s MC38, Dark Star; Antigua’s Bernie Wong’s RP 37 Taz, and Barbados’ Peter Lewis’ J/105, Whistler.

Of course, our home-grown IC24 Class, likely the largest one-design class in the Caribbean, will be red-hot with over 20 entries.

Beyond that, as hard it is for many to believe 21 months after the storms (Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017), we are still in recovery mode as far as hotels are concerned. The good news is we have become a favored destination for Airbnb’s, which is helping out.

Also good is our air lift. It’s possible to fly here direct from major U.S, cities such as Boston, New York, Atlanta and Miami, which also makes it easy for our European sailors to fly to and in from these gateway cities.

Can you describe the overall competition level at STIR? Also, what classes do you think will offer the tightest racing this year?

We’re not an event that encourages a large charter boat fleet. Our tradition has always been racing boats with spinnakers and that continues today.

We operate out of a yacht club rather than a marina. This limits fleet size and type of boat, but we’re very happy with our positioning.

Is it fair to say that the IC24 class effectively began on St. Thomas (with Chris Rosenberg and Morgan Avery) and at STIR? Also, is the racing in this class as tight as always, or has the class seen its share of ebbs and flows in terms of talent and participation?

Chris and Morgan have done a great job developing this class. But, giving credit where credit is due, Dan Neri from North Sails had the original concept and St Thomas ran with it.

Currently about 25 boats compete in very tight fleet racing. The class is now at a high point and is extremely competitive. We also have boats for charter from the St. Thomas Sailing Center (https://stsc.styc.club/) with great sails and fair prices for those that don’t want to bring a boat sout.

In the ideal world, how many races will the RC conduct per class per day? Also, is there a target total number of races (per class) for the regatta?

In our bigger boat fleets, we try and do two races a day. However, the One Design classes might do five or six races each day. Our emphasis is now more ‘round the rocks’ racing. This gives sailors a much better feel for our islands, winds and waters. It’s beautiful, with great sailing conditions, and we want to show it off.

This is especially true with the one-day, warm-up Round the Rocks Race. It’s been a hit and we’re running it for the fourth time this year. The course is a circumnavigation of our neighboring island of St. John, home of the Virgin Islands National Park.

What kind of shoreside entertainment can racers expect, once the finishing guns have fallen silent each day?

Cowpet Bay, home of St Thomas Yacht Club, has always been considered one of the great venues in the world to finish a race. Sailors are greeted with island music and rum drinks when they come ashore, and our beach and patio are available for laughs, chatter and dancing into the evening. All meals are available at the club so there’s no urgency to leave once you hit the beach.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help lower the regatta’s environmental wake?

We work with Sailors for the Sea and do the best we can in this regard. For example, we have a filtered-water system available to fill re-usable water bottles.

I’m proud to say as our junior sailors have moved up to bigger boats and competed around the world, they have brought great environmental habits back with them. I think we all are thinking far more about the environment now and how to preserve this natural resource for future generations of sailors.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

It’s a wonderful event and we’re a very friendly regatta full of island-style hospitality. Just ask, and we’ll try and help you get what you need. And always, we supply professional race officers and judges, competitive race courses that rival any in the world, and warm weather with constant trade winds.

As we like to say, ‘We love it here!’ [and] you will too!

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