Mars 26, 2010 @ 21:09:40   Foto Ingrid Abery


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There are always good reasons to get away to the Caribbean but none as good as participating in the three-day International Rolex Regatta, which is due to begin tomorrow, making it the 37th time this annual classic has been hosted by the St. Thomas Yacht Club in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mike Williamson (London, UK/New Castle, NH) bought his Mills 40 White Heat last year and won his IRC division at last fall's 2009 IRC East Coast Championships and this winter's Key West Race Week before recruiting a half-and-half mixture of Brits and Americans for his crew here. “We're here more to have fun than to win,” he said. And based on what he knows about his boat, he declared, “we'll be very competitive on the windward and leeward courses.”

That bodes well for tomorrow's “town races” in which no reaching legs are expected as the regatta's entire 69-boat fleet beats along the coast to Charlotte Amalie, where they will be finished in the harbor and then started again for the return trip to St. Thomas Yacht Club on the island's east end. (Saturday and Sunday will serve up courses that snake between and around islands, except that the IC 24 one-designs will sail on windward-leeward courses close to shore for easy spectating.)

The IRC class in which Williamson is sailing pits him best against two other boats of like size: Richard Matthews' (Ipswich, Suffold, GBR) Humphreys 42 Oystercatcher XXVI, which just won its class at the Heineken Regatta and is a past winner here, and William Coates' (Bellaire, Texas) 40-foot J/122 Otra Vez. “We'll struggle against the bigger boats,” added Williamson, noting the two 52-footers, Austin and Gwen Fragomen's (Newport, R.I.) Interlodge and Richard Oland's (Rothesay, NB, Canada) Vela Veloce, and two of the biggest boats in the regatta, Jim Muldoon's (Washington, D.C.) 72-foot Donnybrook, and Bill Alcott's (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) Andrews 68 Equation. “The big boats can power through the waves, go faster, and be in an entirely different breeze.”

As for Alcott aboard Equation, he has a new bowsprit that has optimized his boat for IRC racing, and he hopes to do well even though his boat has more years of mileage on it than some others. “I sail Equation on the Great Lakes with 15 people, but here I have 23,” he said with a sly grin. “How can you say 'no' to all the people who want to come and sail with you in a place like this?”

For Steve Suddath (Jacksonville, Fla.), who will co-skipper in the CSA Spinnaker Racing 2 class with Marc Durlach (Charleston, S.C.) on the chartered Santa Cruz 37 Team Ondeck-Mt. Gay, St. Thomas was as good a place as any to re-unite a slew of sailing friends from different parts of the Continental U.S. “We used to sail one-designs against each other, and then when we got into bigger boats, we all started sailing together whenever we could,“ said Suddath, whose crew also includes three from Atlanta, Ga., who are brothers - Steve, Shawn and Andy Burke - as well as the event's co-chair John Sweeney for a bit of local knowledge. “These guys are as good as it gets,” said Suddath, who clearly hopes to live by the Santa Cruz 37 class's motto “fast is fun.”

Sure to give Suddath and team a run for their money is John Foster, skippering his Kirby 25 Good, Bad & Ugly. Foster, always finishing impressively if not winning, has never missed an International Rolex Regatta in its nearly four decades of existence, and the exceptionally fit septuagenarian is as enthusiastic now about his racing as when he first started. “I can't stop now,” he said, adding with a facetious twist, “I'm just starting to have fun!”

With 69 teams competing in four divisions (IRC, CSA, One-Design IC 24s and Beach Cats), a forecast of 12-17 knots over the next three sunny days, and plenty of Caribbean parties, music and cuisine to fill any time not used up by racing, it seems this year's International Rolex Regatta is sure to deliver a getaway to remember.


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