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BVI Spring Regatta Greets Fleet of 103 in April 2010

Thousands of sailors and visitors were drawn to the week-long 39th BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival at Nanny Cay on Tortola from March 29 to April 4 this year. The regatta had 103 participating boats that competed in 14 classes on courses in the Sir Francis Drake Channel that consisted of island racing and windward/leeward marks.

Organizers were happy with the high standard sailing that took place. "It was down a little from last year, but there was higher quality in the racing classes," BVISR Chairman Bob Phillips said, adding that more than 20 countries were represented at the event which generated about $3 million for the local economy.

Kevin Rowlette's Rushin Rowlette won the Racing D Class and was awarded Best BVI Boat. However, Rowlette presented the award to the crew of Luxury Girl whose captain, Guy Eldridge, died from a fall after competing in the first day of the Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas. Before the start of the regatta, the race committee boat called for a moment of silence over the VHF radio in his honor.

"I felt the award was for the best performance," Rowlette said. "And I felt performing under those circumstances was the most worthy." Luxury Girl would finish fifth in its class and was awarded the Spirit and Enthusiasm award, renamed in Mr. Eldridge's honor. The wooden plaque will be recreated with a replica of Luxury Girl for next year's event.

"Guy left us last week prematurely," Chris Haycraft said during the award ceremony. "He was a great competitor. He was an outstanding sailor ... Guy will be missed, but will not be forgotten." Haycraft introduced the Luxury Girl crew on stage, which included Eldridge's wife, Sue-Ellyn, who competed during the first day of the BVISR.

In the Multi Hull Division, Team Nanny Cay edged out the smaller boat Piglet in the four race series. Winning skipper Richard Wooldridge said the victory was due to his regular crew. "That pays dividends, when you sail with the same crew year in and year out."

"On the first two days, we weren't very good," said Piglet's skipper Joe San Martin from St. Croix. Piglet had trouble with its spinnaker and locating marks on the courses. Next year the two sailors have agreed that they will swap boats for at least one race. "No more Mister Nice Guy," said San Martin.

The regatta added windsurfing and an International Yacht Club Challenge to this year's lineup. Three clubs participated in the challenge, including the BVI, Puerto Rico and Boston. The Puerto Rico team won both the challenge and its class. PR skipper Gustavo Pinto said, "We'll be back to defend our title next year. This is definitely the start of something good and has really raised the standard of the bareboat class."

In the IC24 Class, first place would be decided in the last race when Fraito Lugo's Orion pulled ahead of Colin Rathbun's Team Lime, which was leading by three points. Rathbun would have to settle for second place after finishing sixth.

After the award ceremony, Titan 15's grinder Mark Strube was at the Regatta Village celebrating his team's victory in Racing A Class. "As a team we came together really well," he said. "Things went smoothly." Titan15 replaced Titan 14, which was sold in Italy.

"This boat is way better," Strube said. "This boat is like a rocket ship - it's unbelievable." The Titan 15 crew of 24 were staying at Sopers Hole, but made an effort to come to the Regatta Village each night by power boat. "The parties have been great; the people have been great; the racing has been great," Strube said.

The team headed to Antigua and then to the US East Coast to compete in several other regattas. "We reached our expectations," Strube said. "Vela Veloce was a tough competitor. They gave us a run for our money."

Todd O'Neil on Three Harkoms said he, "trims the jib and is the floor guy" on the boat, which took first place in the Racing E Division. O'Neil credits "good starts" for the crew's success. "The breeze wasn't the most favorable for us, but we did a good job with rig and kept the boat powered up."

It was O'Neil's first BVISR, as well as the crew's first time competing together at the regatta. However, they sailed in the Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas the week before and finished second, which he said provided valuable practice for the team.

O'Neil was impressed with how well the regatta was run. "The courses favor the bigger boats," he said. "But I guess it didn't affect us too negatively. We went crazy getting things done. We had jibs, reachers, spinnakers and we used them twice in one race - whatever it took."

The boat's crew was in bed by 11 p.m. on most nights. "We didn't really stay out too late," O'Neil said, "as winning teams usually don't. We all listened to the band from bed."

Each night the Regatta Village had live music by local musicians. On the last night, hundreds of people danced in the sand to a techno beat as the event came to a close.

This year's regatta fell on Eas-ter Sunday, however, organizers planned appropriate activities. "When I realized the regatta was going to fall over Easter, I knew that this day is very important to many people of various religions and it would be very hard for them not to have a chance to give thanks and go to church if they were out sailing," BVISR Director Judy Petz said.

Patty Varga of St. Thomas, who was part of the mothership support boat for Saga I, attended the service along with more than 20 people on the beach at Nanny Cay. "I think it was a wonderful thing planned," Varga said. Later that day, about two dozen children scurried around the village looking for hidden plastic Easter eggs.

Organizers have already started planning for the 40th anniversary and hope to have a high-profile musician and twice as many boats. "It is going to be bigger and better," said Bob Phillips.

Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.

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