The weekend of March 22-26 in the US Virgin Islands marks the 45th year of the St. Thomas International regatta with over 50 boats competing overall.
The fleet is divided into one-design and PHRF classes which means that smaller, 18 boat strong IC24 fleet offers up some of the most competitive one-design sailing in the Caribbean. Teams from the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands come to compete and with a strong legacy of collegiate, All American sailors from the islands plus top one-design competitors chartering boats in advance and bringing their teams along, the one design fleet in St. Thomas has become the largest and most competitive in the Caribbean. These IC24s are competing in Great Bay just around the corner from Cowpet Bay where the St. Thomas Yacht Club is located. At press time, there were five teams from Puerto Rico vying for the top spots, followed in sixth place by Dave Franzel of Cambridge, MA who is also the director of the St. Thomas Yacht Club sailing center.
Equally competitive are the beautiful larger boats that compete in the PHRF format. Some of the top boats again come from Puerto Rico and the US and many of the boats will continue the Caribbean Racing season when the St. Thomas International Regatta wraps up and will move along to race in the British Virgin Islands, St. Barth’s and Antigua. These boats always like to attend the St. Thomas International Regatta because of its reputation for competitiveness and excellent race management. The larger fleets competing are pictured sailing through St. James cut between Great Saint James and Little Saint James islands. Farther to the east and around the corner are dive spots at Coki Point Beach, the resort/vacation club at Margaritaville on Water Bay and the aquarium at Coral World – all worth a look.
Included in this fleet is the spectacular Jim Taylor designed “Blackfish” owned by Ron Zarrella a custom-designed, 49-foot, cold-molded racer/cruiser, Blackfish, maintained a middle of the class position. Zarrella had never raced in the US Virgin Islands and he was not only awed by the competitiveness but by the land and seascapes that make this sailing venue so unique.
“The racing today, off St. John and in Pillsbury Sound, has to be the most scenic courses I’ve ever done,” says Zarrella, who is competing in STIR for his first time. “We usually sail in the classic yacht regattas, so we weren’t necessarily expecting to win. But, we really wanted to experience this (racing in the Caribbean in STIR).”
The courses for the St. Thomas International regatta are near Christmas Cove where a number of yachts are pictured at anchor. This is one of the most popular anchorages in the US VI as it not only offers a front row seat to some spectacular racing, but it is very close to both Red Hook where many of the yachts provision in the US VI and it is also close to the island of Jost Van Dyke and Tortola. Chartering in and around the US VI during the regattas means that not only are sailors enjoying exploring this spectacular region but also they are getting a glimpse of how incredibly competitive and skilled sailboat racing is in this part of the world.