March 26, 2004 — With racing at the 31st annual International Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas starting today and continuing through the weekend, hundreds of sailors registered on 91 boats have prepared for the regatta's traditional mix of tough competition, warm Caribbean breezes and blue-water courses.
Crew rosters are sprinkled with high-profile names from the America's Cup and Olympic arenas, as well as those famous in these Caribbean parts for their own notable accomplishments.
"I've sailed all over the world," said Geordie Shaver, the bowman on BMW Oracle Racing during the last America's Cup, "but I've never raced here, so it's going to be a real treat." Shaver, from Newport, R.I., is taking his turn as bowman on the Farr 65 Team Atlantic, skippered by Bill Dockser of Bethesda, Md. The boat is entered in the Spinnaker Racer/Cruiser Class 1 and will compete against eight others, including Igoodia, which won its class at the recent Heineken Regatta and was named most worthy boat in that event's 'round-the-island race.
Another America's Cup notable, Josh Belsky of Hood River, Ore., will also transfer his skills — as pit man for Alinghi — to the position of pit man for Tom Hill's Puerto Rican entry, Titan XII, in the Spinnaker Racing Class.
The Reichel/Pugh 75 also will have onboard Peter Holmberg, the Commodore of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, who is not only an America's Cup veteran, but also an Olympic medalist and past Rolex Regatta winner.
Headlining in the Beach Cat division is Puerto Rico's designated 2004 Olympic Tornado team and defending champions Enrique Figueroa and Jorge Hernandez. The duo, known as Team Movistar/Suzuki/Red Bull, decided to sail a Hobie Tiger, an 18-footer that is popular in Europe and which Figueroa, the Hobie dealer in Puerto Rico, is trying to promote in the islands. "It is very much faster than a regular Hobie 18 and more like our Olympic Tornado."
The fun is not all reserved for the top-end racers. Plenty of cruising boats are signed up. One of them, a J/30 named Zing, is owned by native St. Thomian Chris Thompson, whose father, Rudy Thompson, represented the U.S.V.I. in the Flying Dutchman class at the 1967 Olympics.
According to Chris, who has sailed in the event for 20 years and wears one of the three Rolexes he and his father have won here, the regatta isn't necessarily about racing with hot equipment. "It's about sailing with friends and doing the best you can with what you've got." Chris just took ownership of Zing and will sail in the Non-Spinnaker Racing division with his father, now 75 years old, as one of his crew. Zing's class will sail separate courses from the Spinnaker Racing divisions.
Having their own race circle for the first time will be the IC24s, which have grown exponentially in the Caribbean. Introduced to the regatta in 2001, the boat is a hybrid design, constructed from an old J/24 hull with a new deck mold similar to the Melges 24. The result is a yacht that is relatively high-performance, very inexpensive and more comfortable to sail than a J/24. The IC24 class will be packed with local talent, including the class's founder and four-time Rolex winner in the Melges 24 class, Chris Rosenberg aboard Old and Gray.
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