The St. Thomas International Regatta got underway Thursday with the Round the Rocks Race, as 23 boats took their start on a 21-nautical mile course that circumnavigated the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John counter clockwise.
The one-day race is a warm up for the main event, the St. Thomas International Regatta that takes place Friday through Sunday. Thursday’s race offered a full range of exhilarating sailing challenges, from frequent tacks along offshore cays to cross currents and wind shifts around the east end, and slalom-like conditions in the downwind, regatta organizers from the St. Thomas Yacht Club said.
“I enjoy any time we’re racing and to win is all the better,” said St. Thomas’s Peter Corr, whose team aboard his King 40, Blitz, finished first in the CSA Spinnaker Racing Class. “We started off across Pillsbury Sound, fought the current and then the winds changed direction and it was tough. The sail up the south side of the island was nice, but then the wind died by the time we got to Coral Bay. After that, we shot around to Francis Bay, enjoying smooth seas although the winds changed direction often. Then, the ride down the north shore was great straight to the finish. We have a lot of experience on the team and it works in our favor.”
El Ocaso, a J/122, which race charters under Caribbean Yacht Racing based in the British Virgin Islands, finished second class, while TAZ, Antigua’s Bernie Evan-Wong’s RP 37, ended third.
“It was a really good race for us today. There were good conditions and we were able to get in the right place at the right time with the currents,” said Evan-Wong, who has finished ninth out of 41 boats in February’s RORC Caribbean 600 and a third place podium finish earlier this month at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
The team aboard the C&C 30, Don’t Panic, didn’t panic at all about not besting the class today.
“We really looked at this as a tune-up for us,” said navigator, John Bonds, Jr., from San Francisco, CA. “The C&C class is growing quickly and very fun. It’s something that we’ve tried to figure out is a big little boat or a little big boat and I think it’s the former. It handles like a bigger keel boat than a larger dinghy, with a nice smooth transition to a plane and then keeps on accelerating.”
Five large offshore multihulls reveled in the breeze and long reaches that the Round the Rocks Race presented. In the end, Fujin, a Bieker 53 owned and helmed by Greg Slyngstad of Sammamish, WA, won based on the new Multi Rule handicap the class is working to perfect.
“Our first race after launching the boat last year was the Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten. Then, we raced the boat up in Newport and along the East Coast last summer. This year, we raced St. Maarten again and won the class. I’ve never sailed off St. Thomas before and we were glad to do well again today,” Slyngstad said.
Fujin was built by Gold Coast Yachts on St. Croix.
“One of the advantages is that the boat is really light – 13,000 pounds for a boat that big is pretty incredible. That’s just one reason is goes so fast,” said Gold Coast’s Roger Hatfield, who sailed with the Fujin team Thursday.
The St. Thomas International Regatta, which first sailed in 1974, has earned in its four decades the status of the “Crown Jewel of Caribbean Yacht Racing,” the organizers said. Sponsors include Cruzan Rum and Miller Lite, distributed by Southern Glazer’s Wind & Spirits; the USVI Department of Tourism; the Moorings; Sunsail; Cardow; Yacht Haven Grande; VI Centennial Transfer Commission; Innovative-Choice Wireless; K3 Waterproof Gear; FirstBank; Switlik; Crowley; HiHo.
Sailing is scheduled for all three days, with winners announced at a post-race event Sunday.