Cedric Lewis, his J/105 co-skipper Fredrik Salvesen, and their band of blue-shirted merrymakers from Annapolis, arrived early to the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Caribbean Championship in the BVI with a master plan. As holders of the title from a year earlier, they had more than enough time to plot their defense, and plot they did. They locked in their ace crew, chartered a mothership catamaran to cargo their provisions, people and potable water, and then set up their Sunsail 41 to be as slippery as possible. Over five days of racing, they were virtually untouchable.
With Hurricane Tammy churning menacingly close to the Leeward Islands last week, most competitors arrived mere hours before regional airports and ferries closed. Some crews never made it off the continental US, and while it looked as if the fleet would be grounded in base for a few days, Tammy gracefully departed and the first of five distance races got underway on a tropical Sunday afternoon off Cooper Island. For the week’s first challenge, dubbed “The Islands Race” because it encircles Cooper, Ginger and Salt islands, the hurricane flipped the traditional easterly trades so the fleet was sent counterclockwise around Salt and Cooper in a light northwesterly.
In the expected chaos of six teams, five new to the 41-foot charter boats, the start was a frantic affair with a few boats on or near the line but a few others caught off guard while trying to figure out how to work the mechanics of their crowded cockpits. From the melee, Team Mirage promptly broke away and led comfortably around the western corner of Salt before turning upwind and into the heaving hurricane swells. Nearly two hours and many tacks later, Team Mirage crossed the finish line to put its first win on the scoreboard.
Hot on their transom was the talented squad from Holland, Michigan, led by Tom and Mary Bryant, winners of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in St. Petersburg with their S27.9 Matros. Due to an unexpected twist of inventory at Sunsail’s Tortola base, Team Matros found itself on a 46-footer, much more substantial than the 41s allocated across the fleet. While benefiting from the extra waterline length, Team Matros’ longer steed was, however, laden with a generator, air conditioning and other accessories that would theoretically even things out over the course of the week. And while there was some quiet consternation from others in the fleet, it was the opinion of regatta PRO Dick Neville—with decades of experience running the charter boat fleet races at the popular BVI Spring Regatta—that the Matros syndicate would enjoy their AC, but across a variety of conditions over the week all would comparable in the end.
Third across the Cooper Island finish line were the California Space Cadets of the same named VX One that earned its Caribbean Championship berth at the San Diego regatta in March. Lead skipper Charlie Welsh arrived in the BVI on a hot streak having just won US Sailing’s Mallory Cup (Adult Championship). With a young six pack of friends and teammates the Cadets were new to charter bareboat racing but it didn’t take them long to figure out the nuances of their laden vessel.
Finishing mere feet behind the Cadets were the New England sailors of Carolyn Corbet’s Team Elektra, IOD sailors that won the Marblehead edition of the Regatta Series in August. In the moments before The Islands Race, they unfurled their jib for the first time and quickly realized it was massively oversized and darn near impossible to trim correctly. To either tack the boat or sheet the sail home properly, Corbet reported, they had to partial furl it. But as engineers and young critical thinkers, the Elektrans got to work immediately after the race to solve the challenge—rum undoubtedly fueling the innovation.
Next to finish was Team Exile, a late entry to the regatta when Jeff Davis’ Chicago-winning J/111 team surrendered their berth. Team Exile, led by Andy Graff on the big wheel, was short two crewmembers who were unable to reach the regatta because of Hurricane-induced travel snafus. Graff, an accomplished doublehanded racer on his J/88 with teammate Scott Eisenhardt, was nonplussed, other than what to do with all the extra provisions. They each had their partners to assist with the trimming, so all was good onboard (until their water tanks eventually ran dry).
Last to the Cooper Island finish line was the young and enthusiastic crew of Bruce Irving’s Team Shamrock, which put in maximum effort despite being handicapped with a mainsail that was a good few feet short of full hoist. Suffice to say, they drew the slow boat, but Irvin’s fun-loving crew quickly accepted their fate…the revelry to come would more than make up for the unlucky boat draw.
The mainsail on Shamrock’s boat, clearly pilfered from something much smaller, could not be replaced overnight, so for the following day’s leg from the Baths to Bitter End Yacht Club in magical Virgin Gorda Sound, Neville spotted them a one-minute jump on the fleet. But even that wasn’t enough as, one by one, teams cruised past. Team Mirage was, again, first to the Bitter End, making quick work of the course that took the fleet from The Baths, through the Dog Islands and into Virgin Gorda. The Space Cadets scored a second, finishing ahead of Team Matros by a few lengths. Team Elektra grabbed fourth, Exile was fifth, and Shamrock rocked in a few minutes later.
With a Bitter End Yacht Club lay day to relax and jump into the official BEYC Wave Beer Can Series, the racers convened the next morning at the watersports shop and after a short briefing, hit the Sound in the colorful cats for some spirited buoy racing. The two divisions of Hobie Waves and Getaways raced together and the Cadets, through all means possible, took advantage of the no-rules racing scheme and won both classes. They followed up with a narrow victory later that evening at the Mount Gay Rum Cocktail Contest with a tasty concoction called “Astro Punch.” (The recipe will soon be shared to the world once trademarked).
The following morning, the fleet set off to a new destination on the traditional Championship route: Scrub Island Resort and Spa and Marina Cay. Team Shamrock got its jump start and was first to short tack its way out of the channel while the rest of the fleet lay chase, bouncing each other from side to side until out in the open ocean and into some loose reaching. Team Mirage found itself looking at a fleet of transoms as they exited the Sound, but later pounced at Scrub Island when the frontrunners attempted to cut the corner.
“The wind shadows on this course were significant and those guys were moving along before they hit the wall,” Lewis says. “We steered clear of the shoreline, and to be honest, we got lucky.”
Such fortune in the final mile netted them a horizon job into the Scrub Island finish. Team Elektra, meanwhile, having engineered a better jib lead with borrowed blocks and spare dock lines, had remarkably better pace and handling. They put a second-place to their scoreline, proving all along that it had been the boat, not the sailors, holding them back. The Cadets were third, Matros fourth, Exile fifth, and Shamrock in familiar territory.
The Scrub Island pitstop was a welcome respite after a few hours of hot sailing. While some teams napped, swam or snorkeled, other teams scrambled ashore to the resort for a complimentary rum punch, a pool swim and a luxury lunch in the air-conditioned dining room.
With many more miles to go to reach Jost Van Dyke, the race committee hailed all teams back to their boats for the 2 pm start of the day’s second leg, which was moved to the vicinity of nearby Monkey Point on Guana Island.
Irvin’s pleas to the race committee to allow his team to start with the fleet was granted and the Shamrock squad promptly engaged with Mirage in a pre-start duel that found both of them OCS. Despite the outcome, it was a highlight of the regatta for Irving. The two were once rivals from back in their junior sailing days and Irvin was thrilled to be able to square up against his one-time rival. Team Matros, however, got a clean getaway and quickly established a lead they would never relinquish as boats slowly made their way to a finish line set off the picturesque anchorage of Sandy Cay. Here, too, the Elektrans notched another second-place finish to inch ever closer to Team Mirage in the standings. Mirage was third to the island, the Space Cadets fourth, Shamrock fifth (their best finish yet) and Exile cruising in across the finish not far behind.
The Soggy Dollar Beach Bar and later Foxy’s Bar and Restaurant served as natural post-race gatherings. Well into the early hours.
The Championship’s notorious Leg 5, which includes a clockwise loop around Sandy Cay and its surrounding reefs before leading the fleet through Great Thatch Cut at the Western end of Tortola, started off with a slow and clean start. The morning’s promising wind went light just as the boats tried to navigate past Sandy Cay’s reefs. Crews held their breaths as they held impossibly thin lanes, creeping past the submerged rocks. Heaving swells pushed boats ever closer, eventually creating a frantic scene of calls for water, and engines in reverse. When it was all eventually sorted, Team Mirage was first to reach Great Thatch Cut and the finish of the shortened course, notching another win before proceeding under power to Norman Island for the afternoon’s buoy races.
With a weather mark tethered to a mooring deep inside the bight, PRO Dick Neville pondered the sanity of a half-mile weather leg in small anchorage, but proceeded with the plan for two windward-leeward contests. Team Mirage nailed the first race and then the second, even with a second-row start—putting a big ‘ol Willy-T style tattoo on the rear end of their win.
Lewis, Fred and Missy Salvesen, Greg Larcher, Vernon Sheen, Lilla Salvesen, Vince Yannelli, Kaila Lewis and Molly Hughes Wilmer had once again conquered the BVI and the Championship (with the help of their mothership skippers Tina Lewis and Debbie Larcher) and while their defense plans are not yet in motion, Lewis says, they will come after some much needed recovery.