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IC24 Column: Rolex Regatta Marks Debut of Largest IC24 Fleet

Four years ago, six IC/24s debuted on the start line at the International Rolex Regatta. This is where St. Thomas sailors introduced the class to fellow Caribbean competitors. This year, over triple this number of ICs – 19 – took to the racecourse making Rolex history as the largest one-design class.

“We took a boat where there are only about 500 actively racing in regattas, yet some 5,000-plus worldwide, and made it competitive and assessable to a wide variety of sailors,” says St. Thomas’ Chris Rosenberg, who innovated the design with fellow islander and boat builder, Morgan Avery.

St. Thomas’ Bruce Merced is a new convert to the class. “The beach cat class in St. Thomas is dead. I’m looking forward to sailing as part of the IC/24 class,” he said before the Rolex Regatta started. “This is all new to me, learning a new boat, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of room for improvement.”

Looking back from that first Rolex where the IC/24 debuted, 2003 class winner and St. Thomas sailor, Carlos Aguilar says, “The competition level is higher as well as the number of boats competing.”

Fred Ruebeck, tactician on the BVI-based IC, Fiona, agrees. “The sheer number of boats makes it more exciting at the start, it’s always crowded at the mark and it’s anybody’s game by the finish.”

Likewise, St. Thomas’ Chris Curreri, who won the class in the 2004 Rolex, says, “It’s getting harder to do well, and as a result, there’s better racing. This year we not only had BVI sailors who were really good, but Fraito Lugo from Puerto Rico was right there in front of us and frighteningly fast.”

This year, as a clue to the level of competition, Curreri sailed with an all-star crew – boat builder Morgan Avery, Yngling World Champion Lee Icyda, and America’s Cup sailor Ben Beer – and finished 7 th.

Similarly, Puerto Rico’s Fraito Lugo, who has won six Rolex watches while skippering a J/24 and Melges 24, ended the regatta fourth in class.

The BVI’s Robbie Hirst, aboard Sea Hawk, scored this year’s win in the class, a position he defended from 2005.

Though St. Thomas sailors innovated the IC/24 design, St. Thomas’ John Holmberg, who placed third this year says, “The BVI is catching up. They are excellent sailors. It’s like the cream rising to the top.”

In spite of the record-setting turnout at Rolex, there are rumblings of growing pains as the fleet of IC/24s expands. BVI sailors have been miffed that a good representation of St. Thomas sailors have not attended and supported their events, in spite of the Brits sailing across to St. Thomas for a reciprocal show of support on numerous occasions.

Some in the class, who were drawn in by the easy sail design, feel pressured to up the ante by others who want to fly spinnakers.

Talk is also that cutthroat competition has led to declining interest in the St. Thomas fleet. In fact, sailors both from the BVI and St. Thomas who were angered by a ‘protest to win’ attitude, banded together at this year’s Rolex to petition the race committee to kick out a redress granted to one boat, which allegedly did not sail the correct course the first day.

“Tensions are a bummer,” says Avery. “It could kill the class if we’re not careful. We can’t lose the fun and we need to bring converts into the class who will make a commitment to compete. People find time to do what they really want to.”

Rosenberg views the crowded start line at this year’s Rolex as not a culmination of his original vision, but as a stepping-stone. “Effort and development goes in cycles, but we’ve almost had a new yacht club come on almost every year – St. Thomas, the BVI and now Puerto Rico.”

He adds, “Combined with the Rhodes 19s on St. Croix and the Jeanneau Sunfast 20s in St. Maarten, my vision is still of a regional platform for racing and re-invigorating one-design racing in the Caribbean in a user-friendly, fun and economical way. To do this, class participation is essential.”

Class cooperation and commitment as well.

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