After pulling off miracles to keep the Caribbean yachting circuit not just on the road post-pandemic, but positively thriving, it’s no holds barred once again in 2023 for another round of racing in the world’s greatest venues.
Organisers ticked the box on hosting every major Caribbean regatta in 2022, a welcome feat after most events experienced a two-year pause due to the pandemic. Sailors from both sides of the pond and beyond responded favourably. Jeanne Kleene, event manager for the St Barths Bucket sums up the positive reaction to her event, which echoed regionally: ‘The energy and enthusiasm were fantastic! Following recent cancellations, lockdowns and travel restrictions the pent-up demand was evident, producing a robust, competitive fleet. We had 30 superyachts that enjoyed great racing in breathtaking conditions.’
Weather is the quintessential carrot that entices sailors to travel thousands of miles by air or sea to the Caribbean. Sunny skies. Steady trade winds. Celsius degrees averaging 27. This is certainly true in winter and early spring when cold in northern climates means the racing calendar in those destinations is empty. However, weather isn’t the only decider for sailors to race in the Caribbean.
‘The well-promoted calendar and variety of regattas throughout the Caribbean mean racing boats have a fantastic number of events to attend, each with its own flavour,’ says Michele Korteweg, president of the Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA), director of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta and general manager of the St Maarten Yacht Club. ‘This makes it worthwhile for people to bring their boats here from Europe and the USA or fly down and charter. Many participants return year after year. The regattas play a big role in this but the individual islands also bring in required elements to support logistics, accommodation, culinary delights and set the complete atmosphere.’
Momentous birthdays in January 2019 enticed Dave Christopher of Vancouver BC, Canada and his friends to race charter the J/121 Wings for Barbados Sailing Week. ‘From that point on it was decided to do one Caribbean regatta a year. We were very lucky in 2020 in St Maarten. The last of us arrived back in Canada 24 hours before the border lockdown. In 2022 it was the BVI Spring Regatta. In 2023 we are considering Antigua Sailing Week,’ says Christopher.
The 2022-launched IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge proved an incentive for maxi yachts to sail at least four regattas a season. The RORC Caribbean 600, St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Les Voiles de St Barths Richard Mille, and Antigua Sailing Week were Challenge events. Some 30 maxis accepted including the Farr 100 Leopard; George David’s Rambler 88; Wendy Schmidt’s new Botín 85 Deep Blue; and Hap Fauth and Jim Swartz’s Maxi 72, Belle Mente. I love Poland, a Volvo 70, took the Challenge’s inaugural trophy. The 2023 Challenge will include three events: RORC Caribbean 600, St Maarten Heineken Regatta and Les Voiles de St Barths Richard Mille.
The islands’ idyllic laidback vibe is outfitted today by contemporary infrastructure. For example, ‘most of the islands now have decent docking facilities and amenities and this has played a major part in increasing regatta participation for the modern day racers,’ says Chris Worme, vice commodore of the Barbados Cruising Club, which hosts Barbados Sailing Week.
Free dockage is a differentiator for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta according to press officer Ginny Field. ‘This creates a friendly social atmosphere.’
The region also has a solid handicap rating rule. Peter Lewis of the new NexEnergy Windward 500, a lower carbon footprint race focused on the spirit of offshore racing says: ‘sailors do appreciate its simplicity while providing remarkably competitive racing.’
‘The CSA rule includes all sailing from monohull racing yachts, multihulls, cruising and club racing around the cans, to offshore with the Caribbean 600’, explains Bastien Pouthier, a Trinidad-based naval architect and the CSA’s chief measurer. ‘We are now liaising with kitesurfing, windsurfing and wing foiling events as well as cruiser rallies. Beyond this, I strongly emphasise the rule’s effectiveness and specificity for the Caribbean. I get several comments from competitors comparing different rating rules’ correction factors, especially before events and when they are new to the Caribbean. Our rule is specifically intended for our waters and conditions when other rules may have broader conditions affecting their calculations.’
Previews and what’s new
Round-the-islands courses and distance racing, ever-evolving classes, more opportunities for women, green initiatives and a return to social events are strong themes among Caribbean regattas for 2023.
Round the Islands
The Caribbean is one of the best playgrounds on the planet. It’s the multitude of islands that make it so. Several regattas capitalise on this. Witness the success of the RORC Caribbean 600, where this year 74 teams with over 700 sailors from 32 nations raced on a course around 11 islands. Hot yachts included Jason Carroll’s MOD70, the new multihull record holder; the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, monohull line honours winner; and Christopher Sheehan’s Pac52 Warrior Won, which scored the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy for best corrected time under IRC.
Beyond this, the Round the Island Race is a favourite of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta, as is the Round the Rocks Race, a circumnavigation of the neighbouring US Virgin Island of St John, which prefaces St Thomas International Regatta. The BVI Spring Regatta’s warm-up Sailing Festival makes particularly good use of its multitude of islands, plus its three bodies of water – the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea – with its one-day races from Tortola to Scrub Island and Tortola to Jost Van Dyke.
The Round Antigua Race that started last year will happen again in 2023. Held the day before the Superyacht Challenge Antigua, this 52-mile race offers a huge range of conditions for the superyachts and gives the owners, guests, and crew superb views of Antigua. Tying in with this, there’s a new Round The Island race record challenge for 2023 with the trophy going to the fastest boat in a trio of events. These are the Round Antigua Race, the Antigua 360, which is the tuneup race for the RORC Caribbean 600, and the Round the Island Race that kicks off Antigua Sailing Week.
Grenada Sailing Week will continue with its bi-island experience, says Carol Corvette, regatta manager and commodore of the Petite Calivigny Yacht Club. ‘We had a reduced format this year due to Covid with racing to and around Carriacou, Grenada’s sister island, before sailing south to Grenada. For 2023, we will return to our weeklong format and after the positive response to Carriacou we will start there with a round-the-island race.’
On the heels of the Caribbean Multihull Challenge’s (CMC) inaugural 60 Mile Multihull Sprint past St Maarten/St Martin, St Barths, and Anguilla this year, organisers will launch the Around Saba Dash in 2023, says Stephen Burzon, director of marketing. ‘This is a 52-mile power reach in both directions for CSA 1 boats.’
New classes and opportunities
Island configurations create course opportunities galore that invite all types of classes. Korteweg, who is working to grow classes like the Class 40s, TP52s and Diam 24s, describes it best using St Maarten as an example: ‘The variety of the courses around the island is a big plus for racers as we can offer longdistance racing for the big racing boats, windward-leewards for the sport boats and of course everything in between to accommodate the multihulls, bareboats and island time class.’
One-design classes like the IC24s at the St Thomas International Regatta, an event that has also hosted Melges 24s, C&C 30s, and VX One, are growing. This opportunity has sparked the interest of other classes such as the Cape 31s.
The St Barths Bucket successfully debuted its “90-foot class”, for those who didn’t meet the 100-foot LOA eligibility criteria. Entries included the 2020-built Swan 98, Drifter Cube, which finished second to class winner, the Swan 90 Freya.
Antigua Sailing Week launched its Sport Boat Class for lightweight race boats under 30 feet with lots of sail area like Melges 24s, J/70s, and Mini 650s. Barbados Sailing Week is working to promote a Club Class for those who live on their yachts while racing.
Women on board
The St Maarten Heineken Regatta introduced a new trophy to recognise women in sailing, while Antigua Sailing Week established its Women’s Race Day to inspire more women to participate. These two moves come on the heels of the CSA promoting World Sailing’s Steering the Course women’s global sailing festival for the last two years. The British Virgin Islands, St Maarten, Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent, and Grenada all hosted events.
Many major Caribbean regattas are members of Newport, RI, USA-based non-profit Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas initiative. The BVI Spring Regatta, having attained Gold Level, has banned the use of plastic straws, distributed oil spill pads to participants and formed a “Green Ranger” team of young volunteers to pick up trash during the event. This year, recycling stations and the use of repurposed wood were integral to the St Maarten Heineken Regatta.
Shoreside parties return
Caribbean regatta organisers, like many globally during the pandemic, concentrated on offshore sailing rather than onshore parties. More rum and reggae parties are planned for next season.
‘This year’s onshore events were kept at a smaller scale. More specifically, they focused on the sailors with daily prizegiving, live music, a food court and bar stations around the docks of Port de Plaisance. Easily accessible and with the boats in the background, it was the perfect atmosphere for that post-sailing get-together. This was so well received by the sailors that we will look at expanding on that concept,’ says Korteweg.
CMC organisers will debut the new CMC Rally in 2023, held concurrently with the CMC. Cruising class multihulls will depart from Simpson Bay, St Maarten with overnight stops at Anse Marcel in St Martin and Road Bay, Anguilla. Afternoon beach games, fine dining and late-night revelry are planned in each location, with prizegiving back in St Maarten. As Burzon aptly describes, this multihull-only event is now two-dimensional with a red-hot regatta presented simultaneously alongside a cool and sophisticated cruising rally.
‘Celebrations on and off the water are planned for the BVI Spring Regatta’s 50th anniversary next season’, says Judy Petz, the event’s director. ‘When celebrating a milestone anniversary, birthday or special occasion, you pull out all the stops. New racecourses, our sponsors are excited and looking to up their game and support, and of course the shoreside will be busting with more activities, parties and closing the show. There will be fireworks for sure.’
Fly in and race
Some teams prefer to race their own hulls. Yacht transport companies offer robust delivery schedules between Europe, the USA and the Caribbean. Rallies like the ARC, in which more than 300 yachts sail from Europe to St Lucia in November and the RORC Transatlantic, which departs from Las Palmas in early January en route to Grenada, are fun ways to BYOB (bring your own boat). Add to this the Antigua to Bermuda Race, which resumes in May 2023 and adds excitement for yachts leaving the Caribbean for New England in the USA and Europe in late spring.
Flying in and jumping on a race ready chartered yacht for an event is becoming even more popular. It has proven a perfect fit for Bernie Girod, who chartered the Lombard 46 Pata Negra from UK-based LV Yachting for both the 2019 and 2022 Les Voiles de S. Barth Richard Mille and intends to do the same next year.
‘I live in California so for me it’s much easier to charter a boat. It avoids the wear and tear on my boat and it greatly simplifies the logistics,’ says Girod.
Demand is especially hot for grand prix-style race charter yachts.
‘Teams are becoming aware of the high calibre of yachts now available to charter in the Caribbean,’ says Lucy Jackson, director of LV Yachting. ‘We specialise in performance racing yachts, and we are seeing high levels of interest. There was still a lot of uncertainty at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 and there was hesitancy in booking, but we are getting lots of inquiries and booking already for 2023. I think it will be a massive season for chartering.’
The company’s nearly dozen race charters include Way of Life (Reichel Pugh 86), Hypr (Volvo 70), Defiance (Swan 68), Lorina (Swan 601), Yagiza (First 53), Pata Negra (Marc Lombard 46), El Ocaso (J122) and Adrenaline (Cape 31).
Open Ocean Management, which is based in St Petersburg, FL and Newport, RI, USA will offer grand prix yachts in the 50 to 70-foot range for events from the US to St Barths in 2023 according to Jesse Fielding who co-founded the company with Nick Dovbniak. ‘The majority of our racing platforms are based in the mid-Atlantic USA; therefore, we have reasonable transport to the Caribbean.’
‘There are opportunities to further grow this class’, says Korteweg. Race charter boats fit nicely in the racing fleets at most Caribbean regattas and offer an opportunity for teams and individuals with lots of racing experience to participate without having to own a boat. Of course there are the large highly competitive bareboat fleets at the St Maarten Heineken Regatta, BVI Spring Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week as well. However there is a good group out there that wants to charter something faster and sexier to race. The USA market is where the growth will be, as they are becoming more aware of the concept of race charters. Most race charters offer a complete package and make this a more convenient way for sailors to plan their regatta.’
How to enter
Teams are encouraged to express interest or register for 2023 as early as possible to enable organisers to best plan. The CSA provides a five-year calendar of dates for major regattas and a calendar for all Caribbean regattas year-round under its Events button. The CSA site also provides a link to many race charter companies. Book charters early too. Here too is information about applying and paying for CSA Handicap measurements. Covid restrictions have been lifted on most islands as of mid-2022. However, event organisers on each island are the best source for up-to-date information.