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32nd St. Thomas International Rolex Regatta

All this fun, and maybe a great watch too!

Well known as the Rolex Cup, or now the International Rolex Regatta, St. Thomas' premier regatta is known for friendly, intense competition among top sailors, both local and international.

Each of the Northern Caribbean regattas has its own special flavor and strong point. St. Maarten Heineken is the European monster charter boat bash and super party. St. Croix is the friendly down home get-together. Puerto Rico is the salsa dance festival with huge local turn out on the water and at the parties. BVI blends charter boats and racers from midget to maxi and then sprinkles them over the waters of Drakes passage.

Only at the International Rolex Regatta can you win "The Watch" though, and this brings out a different level of excitement. The winner of every class is presented with a Rolex Submariner, these days engraved with "First in Class" on the back. Just a little something around the wrist to point out that you happen to be one of the best sailors in the Caribbean.

Of course, the International Rolex Regatta has great racing and top racing management, with sailing around some of the most beautiful islands in the world. The shore-side activities, music, dancing, and rum parties will test participants abilities as well rounded sailors.

But a chance to compete for a Rolex, that is for the guys who don't have to ask how much they cost, right? Not really. There are usually ten classes at the International Rolex Regatta and not every class is filled with high-tech, big buck, state of the art racers. There are classes with Hobie Cats and Beach Catamarans, which may not be as expensive as the Rolex Watch you are trying to win!

Class One is usually the Over 50 Foot Class, and sure enough, these are the big boat, big dollar owners that can have a bar tab during the regatta more expensive than the prize. Class Two are generally boats in the higher side of 30 to 50 feet and include the hottest Caribbean and visiting semi-pro racers, a really tough combination of competitors and very well prepared boats.

Now we are down to the classes where mere mortals have a chance, but also where the classes tend to change a bit year-to-year depending on the number of each type of boat entered. These class outlines are based on past years, but don't be surprised if there is only 1 class of X this year instead of two as the Race Committee tries to balance things out.

Class Three are the hot boats around 30 feet, usually the top guys from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Northern Caribbean all coming to show their stuff. You may not have to bring a brand new high tech racer, but this class is for Caribbean hot racer bragging rights and you better bring your best game and a dash of luck.

Class Four and Five have been the Cruiser/Racer classes the last few years. Boats in this class usually have an inboard diesel, bunks, etc. If you have a well-prepared cruiser racer, very good sails including spinnaker and a practiced team, you have a chance at the top three.

Class Six and Seven are non-spinnaker racing or Jib and Main classes usually filled with boats either past their peak of racing glory or cruising boats which have been careful not to peak too soon. These classes offer a great opportunity to take a good boat and crew and compete for one of the top spots. Remember, brand new cruising sails are usually as fast as couple year old racing sails, so if you have just updated, get out and practice and "Have a Go".

Class Eight and Nine are the Beach Cats. The good news is that these boats can be very inexpensive and easy to find, especially Hobie 16s. The bad news is that these are very competitive classes with Enrique Figueroa, a former World Champion Hobie sailor and Olympic Tornado sailor usually present in one of the catamaran classes. Then there are the three or four top crews that foam at the mouth for any chance to beat Figueroa.

There have been years with a J-24 one-design class. If you are a J-24 racing sailor, take your chances against the best in the Caribbean.

Last, but not least is the homegrown IC-24 class. These converted J-24s sail with just a jib and main configuration so complicated crew work is not required and there are IC-24's available for charter in Tortola if you can still find one not booked for the Rolex. But remember that the St. Thomas and Tortola teams get a lot of practice in these boats and they are sailed by some very good sailors.

Desperate for a new Rolex? Just go to A.H. Riise, put a dent in your credit card and buy one. But if you enjoy sailing and good times, enter the International Rolex Regatta and give it your best shot. You'll keep coming back for the fun, watch or not.

The 32nd St Thomas International Rolex Regatta runs from March 25 to 27

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