Over more than a decade, the editors of Sailing World and our teammates at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta have learned one thing while hosting the Caribbean NOOD Championship: It might just be the most difficult regatta to win. That is, of course, unless you’re Dr. Jim Sears, the three-time defending champion Viper sailor from California, who has somehow managed to figure out how to swiftly get a charter monohull around the British Virgin Islands racetrack while also winning the party.
The two distinct victories may go hand-in-hand, but the only way for someone to really learn the secrets of his British Virgin Island success is to challenge Sears and his band of merrymakers and quiz him over a generously poured painkiller or two. Thanks to Sunsail, longtime sponsors of our Caribbean NOOD Championship, the opportunity will come this October. How do you win? Sign up, show up, and beat the young doctor to the anchorage every day.
And, oh yes, get this: Sunsail Ambassadors Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, fresh off their recent lap of the planet with Vestas 11th Hour Racing, will be herding the fleet from the comfort of their cushy charter cat. Give one of them an offer they can’t refuse, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll jump onboard for a leg and get you to the finish line first.
OK, so what exactly is the Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship?
It’s simple: one overall winner from each NOOD Regatta earns a 47-foot Sunsail charter yacht to race inter-island in the BVIs for the week. The winner after many races is the NOOD Overall Champion. A few years ago, to boost the fleet size as well as the fun factor, we opened the championship to anyone who wanted to come race against the best of the best. Which, of course, makes it better, right?
It’s an unrivaled week of island hopping and racing. It’s warm. It’s epic, and it’s challenging in many ways, requiring not only a steel liver but serious mental toughness. It is, as professional sailor Scott Dickson once proclaimed at our awards ceremony atop the legendary and now scuttled Willy T’s, “The most fun I’ve ever had at a regatta.”
And he did, in fact, have his clothes on.
The Sunsail-provided charter yachts make for a one-design fleet to test every ounce of your sailing skill set. Yes, they’re not exactly equal (but what one-design really is?) but therein lies the true test of skill: how to sail your vacation home to its targets. To do so, we do recommend a few packing essentials: an extra winch handle, a few feet of Spectra, and a snatch block. We leave the rig tools at home because turnbuckles are off limits.
Sunsail typically dives on each of the boats before competitors arrive because it’s the start of their high season. A bottom scrubber is a good idea, however, should a fair bottom be a requisite. Those who’ve toiled over their keels in the past, however, eventually admitted such efforts merely cut into their camaraderie hours. Competitors are allowed to stow the dodger and the stack pack should they prefer aerodynamics over sun protection—but the boat must be returned in the same state as it was delivered.
OK, enough about boat prep. Onto the racing and the good stuff. The itinerary is tweaked from year to year, and with the lingering impacts of Hurricane Irma, this year’s regatta will touch a few new destinations and explore those being rebuilt as the BVI’s rebuilding efforts continue apace.
SATURDAY (Oct. 20): Arriving competitors can board raceboats in the evening for an overnight stay. Those traveling from afar and arriving early can stash bags in the office, hangout poolside, and commence their decompression, welcomed by the NOOD and Sunsail staffs with a nice cold beverage or two. Mark and Charlie will join racers poolside to regale with stories of the Volvo and more.
SUNDAY (Oct. 21): After the mandatory morning skippers meeting, PRO, Sue Reilly, will set a course around a few nearby islands with a finish at Cooper Island. Here, on this first day of racing, heavy-displacement, short-tacking skills are critical (tack wisely, my friends). Racing will be completed early enough to allow the first of the week’s many snorkeling excursions, sundowners, and cockpit barbeques.
MONDAY (Oct. 22): For the following morning, the race committee will aim for a rise-and-shine departure. Each team will put their most able-bodied on the helm, letting the rest of the crew sleep during the short motorsail to The Baths. It’s the BVI’s most popular natural wonder for good reason. There will be plenty of time to check it out and strategize the upcoming leg. From The Baths we’ll send you the first big race to Virgin Gorda Sound. Go inshore for shift or offshore for pressure? Winning tactics change every year. Ask Charlie or Mark…perhaps they’ll know.
TUESDAY (Oct. 23): Proper wind conditions provided, the race committee intends to get morning juices flowing with a set of buoy races staged inside magical Gorda Sound. With intense, tactical flat-water battles, anchor jousting, and creative jib-pole techniques, those who minimize their maneuvers will be rewarded. The action will then be followed by a leisurely afternoon race to the spectacular remote island of Anegada.
WEDNESDAY (Oct. 24): From Anegada it’s a sprint to a new, secret stop on the NOOD Caribbean Championship tour (location withheld from the Doctor to ensure he can’t not conduct any pre-regatta recon).
THURSDAY (Oct. 25): The following morning, the fleet will point bows through a few islands and ultimately toward Jost Van Dyke with a finish off the iconic Sandy Cay. From here, competitors can detour to one of many harbors to find their preferred party spot. Foxy’s is up and running in Great Harbor, with the dance floor awaiting.
FRIDAY (Oct. 26): The final leg takes us through Great Thatch, and onto Norman Island. After racing, a snorkel stopover at the fish-rich reefs surrounding the Indians would be in order, followed by a trip to the Caves at Norman. We’ll leave plenty of time in the schedule for it all. The final awards party will be onshore at the Pirates Bight, with the afterhours continuing in the mooring field.
SATURDAY (Oct. 27): This day is reserved for re-entry: To the charter base, to the real world, and for planning for the next Caribbean NOOD defense.