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An interview with Karen Stiell on the 2022 Grenada Sailing Week

by David Schmidt 25 Jan 2022 08:00 PST January 27-30, 2022
2020 Grenada Sailing Week © Tim Wright

The old adage goes: "It's Five O'clock somewhere". As a longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest of the USA, my optimistic thought during those long, dark, and gloomy days of winter (read: right now) modifies this cliche: "It's sunny somewhere". And few places are as sunny or sailor-friendly as the Caribbean, which is home to some truly wonderful multi-day regattas, including Grenada Sailing Week (January 27-30, 2022), which is traditionally one of the first of these events to appear on the international racing calendar.

Depending on who you ask, A., yes, it's definitely Five O'clock somewhere (especially in the Caribbean!), and B., yes, it's also probably sunny and beautiful in Grenada right about now (or, time of day depending, will be soon).

This year's event has attracted a diverse fleet that includes monohulls ranging from J/24s to a classic Alfred Mylne 65, with everything from a trifecta of Carriacou Sloops, to modern hardware including a Reichel/Pugh 37, a J/121, and a J/122 in between.

Like many regattas across the Caribbean and the USA, Grenada Sailing Week has felt more than a few big square waves courtesy of the still-churning pandemic. Fortunately, the event has found a clear lane to proceed this year, giving rain- and snow-socked sailors an early-season opportunity to enjoy some great Caribbean racing and ample Vitamin D.

I checked in with Karen Stiell, regatta manager of the 2022 Grenada Sailing Week, to learn more about this exciting warm-water regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Grenada Sailing Week, it's history and culture, and the kinds of teams and sailors that one can expect to find here?

Grenada Sailing Week used to be part of Grenada Sailing Festival, which was both a workboat and keelboat regatta until 2012, when the event split into Grenada Sailing Festival, dedicated to the workboats, and Grenada Sailing Week, dedicated to the keelboats.

The event as whole has been running for around 25-30 years. It's positioned at the start of the CSA Caribbean regatta season and is what is known on the circuit as a traditional 'West Indian Regatta'. This essentially means serious racing with lots of rum and camaraderie between competing teams in the bar after the races. It's incredibly friendly and welcoming, with the Regatta Organizing Committee often going the extra mile to solve problems and make participants feel at home.

The sailors often use Grenada [Sailing Week] as an opportunity to dust off the cobwebs and put the equipment and teams through their paces for the rest of the season.

GSW was cancelled unfortunately in 2021, but [it] is coming back in a reduced format in 2022 as a combined event with Petite Calivigny Yacht Club (PCYC; (pcycgrenada.com), one of the popular yacht clubs on Grenada.

Instead of the week-long format of six nights of parties [and] four days of sailing with a lay day, the event in 2022 will be the traditional PCYC island destination race usually held in August, plus a round island race, so this means Day 1 will be Grenada to Carriacou, Day 2 will be around Carriacou with Day 3 being Carriacou to Grenada. We are excited that this year the event gets to include Carriacou, the sister island to Grenada, and our usual participants get a change of scenery.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Grenada in late January? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Grenada Sailing Week traditionally has two days of sailing off the [Island's] West Coast, which has calmer waters and sometimes very light winds, followed by two days of sailing off the south coast, which has more challenging waters and stronger winds.

This always changes up the results and makes for interesting sailing [that tests] all skill levels.

Sailing up to Carriacou is a longer sail than our usual round-the-mark races, and once the yachts leave the Lea of Grenada, passing the northern tip of Grenada, there can be large swells with unpredictable waters. The strong currents of the Atlantic Ocean meet the gentler Caribbean Sea and can combine with currents created from Kick 'em Jenny, the underwater volcano positioned in between Grenada and Carriacou, to make for clever and skillful sailing [for] all.

The best-case scenario is calm waters all the way with excellent prevailing winds, the worst-case is unpredictable currents and waters.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Our local sailors love the regatta. Their local knowledge of the seas and wind patterns can often give them an advantage, however it must be recognized that many of the overseas participants have a great knowledge of Grenada as they visit year on year and so are also familiar with the local seascape and know what to expect.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors/teams, what would it be?

Be prepared to race seriously but have fun at the same time. GSW likes to keep things casual but professional. 'Be prepared to fall in love with Grenada' is what we tell everyone. The GSW motto is 'Spice it up in Grenada'. The PCYC motto is 'Be prepared to get wet.' We all think it's a perfect combination.

How many sailors/teams are you expecting? Do you have any teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

This year we are expecting less teams than in previous years, so maybe around 20-25 teams.

The regatta is so different this year so we don't want to make any predictions, only that everyone will have a fantastic time.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a still-churning pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you've had to clear to make this happen?

Our biggest hurdles are ensuring everyone understands and follows the regulations put in place by Government of Grenada, especially as these are changing on a weekly basis.

We have a link on our website to the latest government regulations so we advise all sailors to check the Useful Links on the Island Info page: grenadasailingweek.com/island-info

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

We are members of Sailors for the Sea and in previous years have attained [their] Silver status. Grenada is one of the leading islands in sustainable island practices in many areas, with St. George's being positioned as one of the first Climate Smart Cities in the world. We have recycling centers at our venues, and all vendors have to use cardboard takeout containers for food and drinks. This year we only have one committee boat, which will do the starts and finishes, and our 'chase the race' boat, Jambalya, is a beautiful old schooner traveling under sail rather than engine power. sailjambalaya.com

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

This year we are excited to have new sponsors on board, supporting the regatta, especially in Carriacou. Joining our long-time premier supporters, Island Water World, Grenada Tourism Authority, Mount Gay Rum, Camper & Nicholson's Port Louis Marina, we are welcoming Tyrell Bay Marina Carriacou and Cassada Bay Resort in Carriacou.

Day Two's prize-giving will be an all-inclusive event at Cassada Bay Resort, overlooking the islands to the south of Carriacou where participants can enjoy an after-race rum punch watching the sunset. Finally, a big welcome to Le Phare Bleu Marina in Grenada, who are hosting the finish of the regatta and our final prize-giving.

Registration for the event is open on our website and all sailors are welcome. grenadasailingweek.com/registration

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