March 20, 2004 – Only a few days remain before the start of the 31st Annual International Rolex Regatta on Friday in the waters off St. Thomas.
V.I. hospitality has combined with stiff competition to become trademarks of the event. While other Caribbean regattas cater to charter boats, the International Rolex Regatta tends to draw more from the hard-core racing teams. To that end, the professional race committee is headed up by Peter Reggio, who served as head principal race officer for the America's Cup Challenger Series for the Louis Vuitton Cup.
The lure of a Rolex Submariner watch as the first-place prize in each class is another reason top sailors from around the Caribbean compete in this regatta. This year the prize has added unique value. The watches each winner will receive are special anniversary editions, not yet available for sale in St. Thomas at any price. A green bezel on the Rolex Submariner indicates the watch is a 50th anniversary edition.
Rolex launched the first Submariner, waterproof to 100 meters, in 1953. The engraved winners' watches are now waterproof to 300 meters, a far deeper dunking than most sailors will want to try.
Up to 10 classes will be participating in the regatta, from the largest 76-foot racers to 16-foot Beach Cats. This means the value of that top prize can be equal to the spare parts for the boat — or even more valuable than the boat itself.
Bruce Merced of Independent Boat Yard said local racers have kept the boatyard busy in the last few weeks. At least eight of the IC-24 class racers have been in the yard polishing the topsides and applying new bottom paint. Geoff Miles, well-dusted in black paint formerly on the bottom of the boat, said, "I've been working on the boat for four days, and the regatta is only three days long."
One of the least expensive classes to participate is the Beach Cats. The main hurdle to overcome is the presence of Enrique Figueroa of Puerto Rico. Not only is Figueroa an eight-time winner in the class, he is in full time-training as the catamaran class representative at this summer's Olympics for Puerto Rico.
The next step up the expense ladder in the racing boats in the recently developed IC-24 one-design class. A combination of inexpensive, well-used J-24 class hulls and a new deck made in the Virgin Islands, organizers expect IC-24 class to have 15 to 20 boats on the starting line. Most of the boats are expected to be from St. Thomas and the BVI. But even this used boat "Beginner Class" is not a cakewalk to a Rolex. BVI Olympic sailor Robbie Hirst, already wearing a Rolex for his contributions to other winners, will challenge the strong St. Thomas Yacht Club fleet. This class sails so closely it is not unusual to gain or lose three to five positions in 1000 yards, and last year's winner was determined by a tie-breaker.
The other end of the size and money range is the 50- to 75-foot class. No Big Boat class at Rolex would seem complete without James Muldoon's Donnybrook and Bill Alcott's Equation.
Joining in the big racer fun this year is four-time winner Tom Hill and his new 75-footer Titan XII. A wrench thrown into the 70-footer group is the new 52-foot racer Rosebud, which has shown good speed at St. Maarten and has a topnotch crew ready to mix it up with the big boys.
Spectators can call the St. Thomas Yacht Club for suggestions for the best shore-side viewing locations, as the selection of the racing areas is chosen depending on the winds of the day. Pat Kosik of Ike Witt Charters (771-2600) said most of the Red Hook-based day charter boats would be happy to arrange trips for groups of four to six to watch the racing. The classic schooner True Love is offering trips on all three days of racing; contact 513-0655 for arrangements.
Music and after-racing parties will be starting at 3 p.m. Friday through March 28 at the St. Thomas Yacht Club. Parking and a shuttle service will be available at the Elysian Beach Resort for all who want to join in the fun or just pick up a souvenir shirt or hat from the Regatta Shop during the quiet midday hours.
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