Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mount Gay Round Barbados Sailing Series

J/24s sailing under colorful spinnakers off Barbados 
J/24s Lovin’ It, J/105 Surfs It!
(Bridgetown, Barbados) – Billed as “Barbados’ Ultimate Sailing Challenge”, the new format Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series was deemed a huge success; it incorporated a series of coastal races as well as the iconic Mount Gay Round Barbados Race, and a final 300-mile sprint to Antigua to tie-up with the Superyacht Cup.

Organized by the Barbados Cruising Club in association with the Barbados Tourism Authority and Mount Gay, this annual event (January 15-24), played its part in kick-starting the Caribbean racing season, and looks set to become an annual favourite.

J/24 sailing off BarbadosWith nearly 50 boats from all around the world (Great Britain, USA, Canada and New Zealand plus a strong Caribbean contingent from BVI, St Lucia, Antigua, Barbados) close competition prevailed throughout the week.

One of the strongest classes was the J/24 with 10 boats racing neck and neck throughout the series. Big winds and big seas really put crews through their paces but the impressive standard of sailing, made it extremely spectator-friendly.

Competitors couldn’t have hoped for better conditions for the opening day of the regatta. A warm east-north-east breeze reaching 28kts at times made for an exciting day for all with the potential of plenty of thrills and spills to keep crews on their toes right from the start.

First off at 1000 was the 10-strong, and highly competitive J/24 fleet. Both races were close with the fleet enjoying some thrilling downwind racing along the west coast. Although the racing was neck and neck particularly at the front of the fleet, it was consistency that really paid off today with two local Barbadian teams – Impulse (Neil Burke) and Banks Esperanza (Ian Mayer) – who had the slight edge with two firsts and two seconds respectively, leaving them in equal first place.

J/24 flying off Barbados in Mt Gay SeriesMayer and team, all in their 30s, who have been racing Banks Esperanza successfully over the last five years including finishing second at the 2013 J/24 national championship, said today’s racing couldn’t have been better: “We led both races but Impulse sailed well too. It seems that consistency is going to be important so that is what we as a team are going to work on this week. It was very exciting in the breeze on the plane, under spinnaker. The courses were great too with the race committee setting a 50-minute opening race, then a two-hour race which worked well.”

Day two of the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series produced big winds and big waves, which made for spectacular sailing. The biggest excitement of the day was in the first race for J/24s when gusts up to 30kts hit racecourse causing half the fleet to fall like dominos. Thankfully there was no serious damage and most of the fleet was soon on track again to complete a second race in slightly less gusty conditions.

After the first short beat in Carlisle Bay in race one, the fleet sailed round Needhams Point on a two mile beat to a mark along the south coast. Initial leader Team Sugar Beach Attitude from St Lucia sailed a good couple of legs but on the shifty beat to Tapas, Banks Esperanza (Ian Mayers and team) sailed well, improving their position from sixth to first at the windward mark.

J/24 sailing off Barbados
Swift mark roundings and kite hoists saw the fleet head off on a sleigh ride downwind in the constantly building breeze. Team Banks Esperanza continued to sail well and took advantage of their position in clear air at the front of the fleet while behind, fun and games were in full flow with boats broaching all over the course.

J/24 St Lucia Team sailing off BarbadosFortunately for one of the J/24s that broached, Yearwood and company aboard DIE HARD ISLAND WATER WORLD, made it back ashore and the entire crew all went back sailing the next day, none the worse for wear & tear.  “We were doing 13 knots of boat speed in over 25 kts of breeze, sailing by the lee towards the mark,” reported Yearwood about his J/24 experience. “There was another boat to leeward of us also sailing by the lee so we had to sail above the mark to avoid a collision. Consequently, we were forced to gybe and because I pointed up too high after the gybe we broached. She took ages to right because the spinnaker got tangled in the shroud.”

As for the sailors aboard other boats, Day Two's breezy conditions made for some spectacular racing conditions. “We had excellent conditions and we sailed well as a team,” said Peter Lewis, skipper of the J/105 WHISTLER. “We touched about 14 knots of boat speed in 25 knots of wind so our spinnaker runs added excitement to an already great day.”

Sailing conditions on the third and final day of Coastal racing at the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series was spot on once again with a good breeze, sparkling sunshine and courses set on the vibrant, turquoise waters of the south coast.

J/105 Whistler sailing Barbados Mt Gay Rum seriesThe J/24 fleet continued to produce some of the closest racing with plenty of swapping and changing of positions to keep the racing interesting throughout the day. Robert Povey and team on Hawkeye sailed a good first race and managed to beat Team Impulse across the line with, the consistently well-sailed Sugar Beach Attitude team from St Lucia, taking third place.

However, in the second and final race of the series, on a marathon of a leg along the south coast, it was overnight leaders Ian Mayers and team on Banks Esperanza who pulled ahead and led the fleet across the line at the finish, which was enough to secure an overall series win with 13pts. In second place overall was Neil Burke on Impulse, while Team Hawkeye had to settle for third. The Mount Gay-sponsored boat– BUNGA BUNGA– with Cyril Lecrenay at the helm started to improve their results as the series progressed and concluded with a final race win, which placed them in fourth overall.

Ian Mayers commenting on his overall: “We had a worrying long last run in the final race because of our broken boom. It failed just before the windward mark and it was a marathon of a run. However, we did it and held our position to the finish. The racing throughout the series was great and extremely competitive so we hope to encourage more J/24s from other islands next year. If we could have a charter fleet for the best sailors from American and Europe to use in the future, too, that would be amazing!”

J/105 Whistler sailing offshore from Barbados
After three days of intense Coastal racing in the new format Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series, crews were happy to take time out and enjoy Mount Gay hospitality once again. This time is was in the form of a visit to the Mount Gay Rum Distillery for a spot of tasting, and a trip to the Barbados Polo Club for an exhibition match – the Mount Gay Surf & Turf Lay Day Polo Challenge. Competitors were able enjoy a fine colonial afternoon sitting under the terraces with tea and sandwiches while watching the fierce battles emerge on the pitch.

The next day, the fleet was off again on the Round Barbados Race of 60nm.  No J/24s sailing, but Lewis’s WHISTLER took the 35 and Under Class honors with an elapsed time of 7:37:06. WHISTLER also took second in CSA Racing Class during the three-day regatta held earlier— not bad for a weekend’s work to grab two “pickle-dishes” for the trophy cabinet!  For more Mount Gay Rum Around Barbados Race and Series sailing information