Nov. 14, 2004 Great starts, keen crew work and straightforward sailing when it most counted led Tortola Olympic skipper Robbie Hirst and his Team HIHO to a first-place win at the secnd annual North Sails IC-24 Invitational Regatta, held Nov. 13 and 14, out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club.
"We took the lead in the first two races today. We were comfortable with our lead after that and just tried to sail conservatively. A lot of the strategy is all in your head," said Hirst, recapping the road to his team's win. Hirst sailed with longtime crew and wife, Sandra, brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sayula, and Chris Simpson.
Twenty-five teams from St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Tortola, St. Maarten and St. Lucia gathered to compete in the IC-24, a 2001-launched design that fits a used J/24 hull with a Melges 24-style deck mold that is wider, has no traveler and is capable of carrying up to five sailors.
The format for this regatta called for racers to compete in two sets of round-robin eliminations. Results after the first day's five sprint-style races were used to divide the competitors into a Silver Fleet and Gold Fleet that moved into the four-race Petite-Finals and Finals, respectively. Squally conditions prevailed over both days with winds gusting near 30 knots.
Hirst's Team HIHO topped the Gold Fleet, winning a set of the latest design of class legal sails from sponsor, North Sails. "The nice thing about this event is the great venue. While we did have rain and winds, the seas were relatively calm where we raced. Waves would have made it much tougher," he said,
Puerto Rico's Efrain "Fraito" Lugo wasn't able to successfully defend his champion title from last year, but he did enjoy the close competition: "We had a bad start in the second race today and that did it. We ended 11th in that race and couldn't recover points enough to beat Robbie [Hirst]."
In the Silver Fleet, St. Thomas' Chris Rosenberg took tops with a series of first-place bullets. "We would have loved to have made the Gold Fleet, but we had a terrible first day. Bad starts. Poor boat speed. Bad crew work. Impossible tactics. You name it. Today, the crew came together after learning from our mistakes," Rosenberg said.
Tortola's Chris Haycraft finished second in the Silver Fleet, which was a not too shabby placement considering the trials and tribulations he encountered when traveling to the regatta. "We lost the boat. It went up on the rocks and we weren't able to retrieve it," Haycraft said.
Haycraft and his crew were in the process of towing his IC24, Latitude 18, to St. Thomas from Nanny Cay Marina in Tortola, when just off the beach by Caneel Bay, St. John, they encountered a 10- to 12-foot north swell. At one point, the towed IC-24 crested a wave, surfed down at an odd angle and snapped the towline. Surfing at some 15 to 18 knots of speed, the boat crashed into partially submerged rocks, lost its keel and was holed. The IC turtled, then righted itself and then sank. The crew looked for the craft for over an hour without success. Thus, Haycraft and his crew sailed the weekend in a borrowed IC-24. For his resilience in not giving up, Haycraft earned the Island Marine Outfitters Perpetual Trophy.
One aspect of the rules for this regatta led to a significant participation of junior sailors. There were several teams made up of four adults who looked for someone at or under 100 pounds to make up, but not exceed, the specified crew weight of 700 to 800 pounds.
St. Thomas' Chris Cilliers was one of these lucky juniors.
"I've never competed on an IC-24, but Chris [Curreri] picked me to crew. It was great," 10-year-old Cilliers said. He added, "The second day was easier once I knew what to do and when to do it."
The regatta proved a platform for advancing IC-24 competition in the Caribbean.
"We're going to look at trying to build six ICs in St. Lucia,"Michael Green, an Olympic sailor and commodore of the St. Lucia Yacht Club who competed in the Gold Fleet, said.
Rosenberg, who with St. Thomas boat builder Morgan Avery innovated the IC-24 design, said Puerto Rico is looking at building 10 ICs over the next year. "Together, that will make about 30 ICs in the Caribbean," Rosenberg said.
The leap from building an IC-24 class to having the class internationally recognized by the International Sailing A Federation is a big one.
Dobbs Davis, an Annapolis, Maryland-based visiting international racer, sailing editor, course instructor for North-U and former class coordinator for the ID 35s, commented, "Good reasons for striving for class recognition include the promotional value and the structure and organization it would bring via a class constitution and rules. On the other hand, too much structure now may arrest the development of the class. I think sailors for now may want to remain flexible."
RESULTS – GOLD FLEET
1. Robbie Hirst, Tortola (13)
2. Efrain "Fraito" Lugo, Puerto Rico (15)
3. Matt Allen, St. Thomas (20)
4. John Holmberg, St. Thomas (20)
5. Chris Curreri, St. Thomas (23)
6. Mark Plaxton, Tortola (28)
7. Frits Bus, St. Maarten (29)
8. Phillip Shannon, St. Thomas (31)
9. Tim Pitts, St. Croix (32)
10. Mike Williams, St. Thomas (34)
11. Mike Green, St. Lucia (37)
12. Frank Barnes, St. Thomas (40)
13. Andrew Walters, Tortola (42)
RESULTS – SILVER FLEET
1. Chris Rosenberg, St. Thomas (4)
2. Chris Haycraft, Tortola (14)
3. Guy Eldridge, Tortola (15)
4. Mike Master, Tortola (22)
5. Geoff Miles, St. Thomas (23)
6. George Lane, Tortola (26)
7. Beecher Higby, St. Croix (29)
8. Richard Wooldridge, Tortola (32)
9. Sandra Dillon, St. Thomas (36)
10. Emily Newbold, St. Thomas (36)
11. Tito Casellas, Puerto Rico (36)
12. Jackson Roberts, St. Thomas (40)