International Rolex Regatta - 2012 edition the most diverse yet?

Class IC 24 off St. Thomas - International Rolex Regatta 2011
St. Thomas Yacht Club/Ingrid Abery
The International Rolex Regatta reflects in its name a tradition of attracting sailing teams from around the world. From this perspective, its 2012 edition will prove to be the most diverse ever, with entries from the USA, Russia, Sweden, The Netherlands, Monaco and beyond. The 2012 edition is set to get underway on 23 March and will be hosted by the St. Thomas Yacht Club.

The three-day event, scheduled for March 23-25, is hosted by St. Thomas Yacht Club, which for 39 years has devoted itself to producing this regatta’s famed offerings: three days of high-quality racing and serious fun in an inspiringly scenic island atmosphere.

The International Rolex Regatta is one of only two in a line-up of several springtime Caribbean regattas to host dedicated racing under the internationally recognized IRC handicap system, which results in some of the world’s best sailors and grand-prix racing machines finding their way to the starting line.

Among them this year will be Lord Irvine Laidlaw of Monaco and his new 52-foot Reichel/Pugh designed Highland Fling. Sailing with him will be America’s Cup notables Peter Holmberg, who is serving as tactician and also is renowned as St. Thomas’s homegrown Olympic medalist, and the USA’s Matt Wachowicz and Mike Toppa, serving as navigator and trimmer, respectively. The remainder of the crew hails from Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa, with most counting this as their first time competing at the International Rolex Regatta.

Fleet start, class IRC 1 - International Rolex Regatta 2011
St. Thomas Yacht Club/Ingrid Abery
'We are a brand new boat, and a good result would be a bonus,' said Holmberg, confirming that his team is looking forward to racing around the islands with the other 52-footers entered, including Ashley Wolfe’s (CAN) Mayhem and Peter Cunningham’s (Cayman Islands) PowerPlay.

'The other 52s are more refined and sorted, so I expect them to have the advantage. That being said, some smart ideas were put into our design, and hopefully they will start showing their merit.'

Also racing under IRC will be International Rolex Regatta veteran Bill Alcott, who will be sailing his newly acquired Farr 65 Equation (formerly Rosebud, the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner).

'We are still basically an amateur-sailed boat,' said Alcott, who thinks his new Equation is a 'bucking bronco' compared to the Andrews 68 Equation he owned prior to this, 'but necessarily, there are a few more professionals onboard to supplement the same gang I’ve been sailing with for years. Racing the world’s best 52 footers is going to be tough, but it’s hard to call; more than likely, the game is going to go to who makes fewer mistakes.'

Also in IRC, an international team from Russia will be led by Alexander Markarov aboard the chartered X-65 Karuba 5. 'We have some very experienced sailors, but we have intermediate and beginners, too,' said Markarov. 'We’re looking forward to joining the permanent crew on Karuba 5 and hope she will perform well in competition with the other very serious crews and great boats.'

One of Karuba 5’s main competitors will be Bob Erixon’s (SWE) 81-foot Maxi Rothmans. Originally built to compete in the 89-90 Whitbread Round the World race, the legendary yacht has been restored to its original form and will be skippered by Sweden’s Klabbe Nylöf, with navigator Torsten Ulfeld and tactician Patrik Salén joining Erixon in the afterguard.

GREEN BOAT - International Rolex Regatta 2011
St. Thomas Yacht Club/Ingrid Abery

'The expectations of this regatta are to get in some fun and interesting races, with great winds in nice weather conditions,' said Veronica Widell, a spokesperson for the team. 'What attracted the team to this event was that they have heard a lot of good things about the regatta. The event has a great reputation, and Klabbe Nylöf has participated in the Rolex Regatta before; he had a great time and wanted to do it again.'

Currently, the St Thomas Yacht Club anticipate dividing the fleet into two IRC classes, four classes for CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) handicap racing and one each for IC-24s and Beach Cats. There is an 1100 AST start time for each day, beginning with Friday’s picturesque and traditional distance races from the east end of St. Thomas to Charlotte Amalie Harbour and back.

The tactically demanding Pillsbury Sound Race in and among the cays of St. Thomas and St. John is Sunday’s highlight. This 'Sunday drive' has decided final standing in most classes in each of the last five years. The culmination of the International Rolex Regatta’s lively competition is a presentation on Sunday of coveted Rolex timepieces to winners in select classes.

International Rolex Regatta website