Jan 9, 2006 Ten young British sailors are brightening the look and the ambiance of the Charlotte Amalie waterfront's western end aboard handsome 65-foot OnDeckOceanRacing yachts.
The four boats, sporting yellow sail covers, are here to offer a unique option to cruise ship visitors or anyone with an eye to something more challenging than the usual tourist options ocean racing.
Sitting in the Spirit of Isis cockpit on a recent crystal-clear morning, senior skipper Sam Sainsbury obligingly tells sea stories modern day sea stories, that is. His enthusiasm is contagious, as he relates plans for the handsome yachts.
OnDeckOceanRacing is a part of OnDeckSailing, an ambitious young chartering company and sea school operating out of Solent, England. In December 2004, OnDeckSailing purchased a fleet of identical Farr 65-foot ocean racers.
Designed by Bruce Farr and built in 1999, the Farr 65 yachts have raced around the world, crossed the Atlantic several times and competed regularly in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the largest annual transoceanic event, run by World Cruising Club.
The yachts arrived in the Caribbean, in fact, via the 2,700 mile race from Las Palmas, Canary Islands, to St. Lucia, West Indies in the 2005 ARC. The two smaller sailboats, Beneteau 40.7's, the Athena and the Venus, are rafted along side the larger four boats. The smaller boats are headed for St. Martin or Antigua for charter for races down there, Sainsbury says.
All the yachts bear classic Greek names the Spirit of Isis, Spirit of Juno, the Minerva and the Diana.
It would seem, offhand, that cruise ship passengers are older and not of a nature that would lend itself to ocean racing.
"Oh no," Sainsbury says. "There is a market for it. We've been working with Carnival and Princes Cruise lines. It's a challenging option for the passengers."
And he says there's no experience necessary. Just the desire to have a really different experience.
"It's for those who want to do something instead of getting drunk on a snorkeling trip. It's a high energy sport," Sainsbury says, "it really gets your adrenaline pumping."
Safety is a number one priority, he adds. "The boats have the highest MCA, (Maritime and Coast Guard Agency) safety rating."
"The guests can do all the jobs, including being at the helm, but you are right there," Sainsbury says, "Or, if they just want to relax, that's OK, too."
The race course, Sainsbury says, is "just back of Hassel Island."
He says they will take out groups of 12, who will be supervised by two crew members. The introductory price, Sainsbury says, is $100 per person for the three-hour excursion.
None of Sainsburys crew is over 30, but these are not ordinary twenty-somethings. They are serious, healthy, and extremely focused. They are corporate sailors, hired to be able to handle professional responsibilities, Sainsbury says — which is not to say they aren't having lots of fun. The easy camaraderie and bantering going on around us is testimony to that.
Asked about qualifications to be hired aboard the elegant sailing yachts, Sainsbury glances at mate Alex Reilly, who has been kibitzing with us, on and off.
"We start from the bottom up," Sainsbury says with a laugh.
Seriously, Sainsbury says the requirements are strict the ability to handle corporate clients is high on the list.
"Proficiency aboard the boat, of course," Sainsbury says. "They must have the desire to work very hard, and the ability to look out for the clients. They must have their Ocean Yacht Master Offshore Commercial rating."
In England, the company specializes in chartering and provides corporate team building programs with corporate clients.
"It's very hard to find the right people. It's a small sailing world in England. Many of the crew I have already known; we've sailed together before," Sainsbury says.
The crew comprises four skippers, including Sainsbury, and four mates. Two of the skippers are female, Liz Holder and Sarah Rose, both of whom are busy jumping from one boat to the next chalking up what needs yet to be done.
You can see them during the day, hauling out the enormous sail bags, polishing, doing the chores associated with maintaining a sailing yacht. Or, sometimes, they're just enjoying the sun, no doubt relishing the Caribbean climate over that of England's infamous dour, damp weather.
Sainsbury says they hope to start the excursions soon.
"We should be ready in a couple weeks," he says. "Right now we are going through U.S. Coast Guard inspections, which shouldn't take too long from now."
The young skipper (he is the oldest, at 30), talks about his Caribbean plans. You get the feeling he'd like to loose the lines and sail off right now. His confidence is unrelenting.
"I think we are the best qualified sailing company on the water in England," he says, a goal he obviously will stride for in the Caribbean.
Sainsbury says they will have to "spectate," and not enter this year's International Rolex Regatta here in March because their professional racing sails aren't here yet.
He says they will stay in St. Thomas until May when the boats will return to Portsmouth, England, and the crew will get some time off.
"We will return next year, and we hope to remain here permanently, except for hurricane season."
Arriving in the Virgin Islands was an adventure in itself. From Portsmouth, England, they sailed to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where on Nov. 20, they entered in the ARC 2,700 mile race from Las Palmas to St. Lucia, West Indies. After that, they took a more leisurely trip to St. Thomas, arriving mid- December.
They raced with a group making history. The British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association, BLESMA, mounted the first ever all limbless crew to compete in the ARC race. The group chartered OnDeck's Farr 65 Spirit of Juno, which now is docked at the Charlotte Amalie waterfront, with the association's logo on it's side.
"They are pretty amazing," Sainsbury says. "They are all good sailors. They may be missing a leg or an arm, but they can sail."
BLESMA's aim is to show that disabled persons are fully capable of dealing with challenging events and being able to match their able bodied counterparts
Soon, Sainsbury says, an OnDeckSailing retail outlet will open in Havensight at the Port of $ale Mall. It will sell racing hats, shorts, souvenirs and racing equipment. Also, private parties and local companies will be able to get information and sign up for an excursion at the shop.
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