International Rolex Regatta preview

Class IC 24 off St. Thomas - International Rolex Regatta 2011
St. Thomas Yacht Club/Ingrid Abery
Overcast skies and light showers cooled things down today at St. Thomas Yacht Club in the USVI where hundreds of sailors on 68 teams are preparing for the 39th International Rolex Regatta.

The conditions, however, came with plenty of wind for practicing and did nothing to dampen the excitement building for the next three days of racing.

Right out of the box will be Stephen Murray, Jr.’s Carkeek 40 Decision, which has been designed to the newly developed HPR (High Performance Rule) and will headline in one of two CSA classes here that has no less than six other 40-footers 'raring to compare.'

'There is no rating rule promoting the light (displacement) grand prix racing boats as a continuum between 30 and 70 feet,' said Sean Carkeek, the South African designer who has been working for a year on the rule as part of a technical committee developed specifically to fill this void. According to Carkeek, the HPR will change all that when regattas eventually adopt dual scoring under the widely used IRC rule and HPR in classes where it needs to apply. At the International Rolex Regatta, the likes of Michael Shlens’ (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.,) Blade and Doug Baker’s (Long Beach, Calif.) Magnitude 400, both Farr 400s, are sure to spice up the competition among the 40 footers. In addition, two Class 40 boats, which typically are outfitted for short-handed offshore sailing, are competing with accomplished skippers aboard. Andrew Fisher (Greenwich, Conn.) will take the helm of Icarus, while Berry Lewis (Mill Valley, Calif.) will steer 40 Degrees.

In IRC, it will be a trio of 52 footers-- Lord Irvine Laidlaw of Rothiemay’s (MON) Highland Fling XII, Ashley Wolfe’s (Calgary, AB, CAN) Mayhem, and Peter Cunningham’s (Georgetown, Cay) PowerPlay -- and a Cookson 50, Ron O’Hanley’s (Newport, R.I.) Privateer, that are likely to stand out, while the reborn 65-foot Rosebud, now called Equation, will be out for a first showing since bought by Bill Alcott (St. Clair Shores, Mich.). Among the power names onboard these boats are America’s Cup notables Peter Holmberg, Mike Toppa, Tony Rey, and George Skuodas. As well, Great Britain’s Brian Thompson, who layed to waste previous around-the-world speed records with his recent circumnavigation aboard the 130-foot trimaran Banque Populaire V, will be skippering the Safe Passage company’s Andrews 72 Safara, which is the largest boat competing here.

Willem Wester (Zeeland, The Netherlands), with Volvo Ocean Race veteran Boewe Bekking (NED) calling tactics, will attempt to repeat his IRC class victory from last year, sailing the Grand Soleil 46 Antilope. With tomorrow’s winds expected to be between 15 and 20 knots, Bekking says this may be hard to recreate, however. 'When it’s windy the lighter displacement boats in our class this time should be going better,' said Bekking, 'but if it’s light we can have a pretty fair race.'

International Rolex Regatta fleet
Rolex/ St Thomas Yacht Club/ Ingrid Abery

For the USA’s Olympic medalist Charlie McKee (Seattle, Wash.), who is serving as tactician aboard Mayhem, it is mostly about the experience of being here for the first time that has him 'expecting crazy, wild, mixed up racing that’s super fun!'

The International Rolex Regatta is a cornerstone of the spring Caribbean racing schedule, and as such attracts top programs from around the world for its mix of buoy and point-to-point races. It also distinguishes itself by having multiple races a day for all classes. 'It’s all part of a unique mix of island-style fun and hard-core IRC, CSA and one design racing,' said Regatta Co-chair Bill Canfield, pointing out a massive, specially-constructed stage rising out of the water on the St. Thomas Yacht Club’s own beach. It is where a band will play on Friday and Saturday nights and where the Rolex Awards will wrap up the event on Sunday, when winners in select classes win coveted Rolex watches.

Spectators will get a treat tomorrow when all classes sail to Charlotte Amalie Harbor for their first race, then return to St. Thomas Yacht Club for their second (and some classes may have a third race). On Saturday, spectators can watch IC 24s and Beach Cats sail as many as eight buoy races in Great Bay, while other classes sail longer courses on the south side of St. John. On Sunday, while the IC 24s sail up to six races in Jersey Bay, all other classes will sail two 'Pillsbury Sound' races.

International Rolex Regatta website