|Downwind Fun. Photo by Peter Marshall|
I grew up in the PNW, I've sailed here most of my life, and have competed in almost all of the big events in this area on multiple occasions. I've also lived in other areas of North America, and have participated in some of the more iconic events around including San Francisco Big Boat Series, StFYC NOOD Regatta, and Key West Race Week (KWRW).
Over the last few years, I started to think about what special event or trip I would like to take to celebrate my 50th birthday. Since my birthday is in January, my thoughts turned to regattas that take place in the warm climes of the Caribbean at that time of year. Having raced KWRW a couple of times in it's hey-day of the early '90's, I have fond memories of the event, and that was my first choice of events to mark the occasion of my 50th. Of course, logistics was a big concern, and the prospect of getting Occam's to Key West, with 14 crew, and all else that would entail seemed a bridge too far. For KWRW 2017, a company from Ontario set up a deal where they trucked a fleet of 10 Flying Tiger 7.5's to Key West, and chartered out the fleet for the week of racing. This seemed like a good opportunity for us, as the fleet would be levelled out by the fact that almost all of the teams would be as new to the boats as us. So, I started putting out feelers for crew, and incubated the idea. Unfortunately, in mid-2017, the organizers of KWRW pulled the plug for the 2018, and while they promised to be back for 2019, the odds seemed against that, and early in 2018 all hope was lost for the return of KWRW in 2019.
So, I started to look at other events that we could take on in January 2019. Fortunately, my monthly Seahorse Magazine always has numerous ads from the various regattas that make up the Caribbean racing season from January through April. The immediate front-runner option was Barbados Sailing Week (http://www.barbadossailingweek.com/). The dates for the event coincided exactly with my birthday, the programme involved a series of day races with social events every evening, and the costs seemed reasonable. The only downside to the event was that the big boat fleet was not large. Certainly not the size of KWRW in the '90's, and not even what we usually see at Whidbey Island Race Week in the summers here in the PNW. There is also a J/24 fleet at Barbados Sailing Week, and I did contemplate that option, but those boats are just not that comfortable to race in, and I wanted to enjoy the experience.
So, with the idea taking shape, it was time to recruit crew for the big adventure. Naturally, I started with the Occam's regulars, and Grandpa Sprinkles immediately jumped on the idea, and offered to take the lead on looking at charter boat and housing options. Graeme, Mark and Karen quickly also joined in. Steven, Brian, and Renne were soon also on board and became part of the Occam's family. The final team member to sign on was lawyer Mike, who kept us hanging for a while, but finally agreed to grace us with his presence.
|December racing. We're smiling because we know that next time we race, we will be in shorts|
With the crew sorted, the next key ingredients to arrange were of course the boat and the lodgings.
Brian and Mike had previous experience in chartering a boat for Caribbean racing, and put Dave in touch with excellent contacts. We quickly homed in on a Beneteau First 40, chartered by Nemesis Yacht Charters in the UK (http://nemesisyachtracing.com/). The boat was scheduled to make the trip from Europe to the Caribbean in November as part of the annual charter boat migration, and then be in the Caribbean for the spring regatta season.
The boat was the ideal size, being large enough to be comfortable in the big winds but only needing 8 to 10 crew to race comfortably. With symmetric masthead kites, a large main and non-overlapping jibs, the setup is a mix of Occam’s and KISS, so the crew was well suited to the boat.
For accommodations, we researched several options, ranging from renting several suites in hotels to renting a house. We had 13 people in total, 9 crew and 4 spouses, so we needed a fair bit of room. We found the perfect house for our group, located just ten minutes north of Bridgetown, right on the beach, with its own beach access, a pool, hot-tub, and lots of room for gathering and socializing.
Act 1 – The arrival
Getting from Vancouver to Barbados is a two-day affair, involving an overnight stop in Toronto, and an early morning flight to Barbados. The bulk of the crew were on the same flight Sunday morning, arriving mid-afternoon.
Next came the trick of fitting 6 people, their luggage, and a sail into a small van that “seats 7”. Once that was accomplished, the next surprise was that the cars drive on the left side of the road! The first drive was a little eventful, but we made it unscathed and found our house in paradise without too much trouble.
Fortunately, Graeme, Leah, Steven and Mary had arrived the day before, and stocked the house with food and rum, so the party quickly got started!
|The view from the upstairs room|
|Lots of room for lounging around|
|The view from the private beach|
Act 2 – We meet Rocket Dog II
Monday morning the crew loaded into our matching white vans and headed to the Bridgetown inner basin to meet up with Rocket Dog II and her owner, Alison. Having just crossed the Atlantic, and delivered to Barbados, Rocket Dog was well equipped, but had on board all the equipment needed to cross oceans. Since we were planning only to compete in a handful of coastal races, much of the equipment (and leftover food) was extraneous to our mission so we set about off-loading a couple of thousand pounds of sails, safety equipment and food that we didn’t need.
|Rocket Dog II|
The next morning, we returned to Rocket Dog and headed out for a practice sail with Alison along to speed up the familiarisation process on the new boat. The sail went quite well, with the crew gelling quickly (and I think Alison was impressed with our crew work right out of the gate).
|Returning from our first day of sailing|
|Dave jumps right into concentration mode|
|Post-sailing birthday pops|
Act 3 - The Coastal SeriesThe Barbados Sailing Week Coastal Series consists of three days of day racing, with one race per day, in the 15 to 22 mile range. The courses changed each day, but generally included a short beat from the start, around a windward mark, then off the wind to marks 2 to 7 miles away, and from there around one or two other marks before heading for the finish off the host club.
|The Occam's Dragon ready for action|
Our strategy going into the first day was to search for space on the line to get a clean start, free from the big wind shadows of the three larger boats in our fleet. Throughout the three days, the pattern that emerged was that the wind clocked through 15 degree shifts on a five minute interval, so the favoured side of the first beat (and the favoured tack off the line) changed regularly, so we needed to be prepared for the next shift off the start.
As plans go, this one went, and with under a minute to go before the start of the first race, we were on the layline for the committee boat, with the Open 40, Juno, and Ambersail all above us and reaching down to the boat. This meant that we were in a perfect position to close the door on all of them and force them to be late for the start. But, knowing that they all had the ability to roll over (or through!) us, and put us in their dirt, we opted to reach off a bit, and put some separation between us and the crowd at the boat. The strategy paid off, as things got very crowded, and Ambersail actually hit the committee boat! (Later discussion with Juno who were between us and Ambersail revealed that they had no idea we were below them (with rights) becasue they were focused on Ambersail. So, while we could have taken them up, they would not have heard our call, and would have run us over).
|30 seconds to the Race 1 start. We have Concise 8, Juno, and Ambersail pinned, but decode to reach off for clear air. Photo by Peter Marshall|
|Leading Ambersail 2 to the offset mark. Photo by Peter Marshall|
The Race 2 start was a little more confused than Race 1, with all the boats being bunched up in the middle of the line at the start. Unfortunately for us, this left us with a lot of dirty air to deal with, and spit out the back early on. Selene and Concise again took the top two spots, and Ambersail corrected on us too.
|It takes a fair bit of nerve to hold on starboard against a boat twice your size. Photo by Peter Marshall|
|Race 3 start. Photo by Peter Marshall.|
|Working upwind. Photo by Peter Marshall.|
|Downwind to the finish|
|Rocket Dog at the inner basin moorage|
|What's a Polo game without champagne?|
|Third place crew|
Act 4 - 'Round the Island we goThe big event of the Barbados Sailing Week is the 'Round the Island Race. The fleet was basically the same as we had faced all week, with a couple of additional players in the mix. The winners of the race win the Skipper's weight in Mt. Gay rum, so there is a lot on the line!
|Rocket Dog II and crew ready for the big race|
There were three boats in our start, including previous race winner Whistler (J/105). Unlike the previous races, there was no windward mark after the start, so it was a downwind start, and we hoisted the kite at the gun. Unfortunately, the run lasted only as far as the cruise ship terminal just north of Bridgetown, when we had to harden up to a white sail reach. The asymmetric boats tried to keep their kites up, but our experience from the last coastal race indicated that they would not be able to do that for long, and we were correct.
|Reaching up the East shore of the island|
|Holding off the J/105 who struggled to keep the kite working|
Once around the pier at the cement terminal, just south of Hangsman Bay, the reach became a full beat as we neared the north end of the island. At the north end we exited the lee of the island and the wind freshened and the seas grew significantly. Using the boats that started before us as a gauge, we tacked when we were able to lay the north-east point of the island. The beat across the top of the island was a little uncomfortable in the cross seas, but soon we were around the top, and heading down the east coast of the island slightly cracked off.
With the wind consistently strong and steady, the reach down the east side was a rhumbline affair, heading to Ragged Point and Deebles Point, after which we were able to crack off enough to hoist the big masthead kite with the waves on our transom.
At the southern-most point of the island, we prepared to execute our only gybe of the race. Unfortunately, a poorly timed wave, and a poor response by the helm (cough, cough), resulted in the kite wrapping around the forestay, slowing us down for a few minutes until it could be cleared. Once we cleared the mess and completed the gybe, we were outside of the nearest boats, but actually had a nice angle up the south-west side of the island.
|Around the South-East corner and heading for home|
|The crowd approaching the finish|
The video of our finish is at this link. Concise finished 2 boats behind us.
In the end, we came second on uncorrected time for boats 40' and under, behind Concise, who set a new course record. We actually only missed the old record by 25 minutes ourselves. On CSA corrected, we came 5 out of 9 boats, which is not too bad, as the boats who beat us were locals (who had done the race several times before) or professionally sailed boats.
Results are here:
Ultimately, what matters is that we had a fantastic day (week!) of racing, sailing, sunning, relaxing, and generally enjoying ourselves!
After we all got back to the house, we gathered for drinks and food, and celebration.
|Post Race relaxation - Red Mt. Gay hats are cool when you go to Barbados to get them!|
As is tradition with the Occam's Team, after each big event, I make it a point to nominate one team member as the "Player of the Game" in recognition of their extraordinary effort. This time, there were two very deserving nominees. The first being Dave C (aka Grandpa Sprinkles) for all of his effort in coordinating the trip, specifically in arranging the housing and the boat charter, and handling the finances for both. The second nominee, and the winner of the Player of the Game award was Brian, our bow guy, who took on the job that no one really wanted to do, did it without complaining, and sacrificed his body (I'll spare you the pictures) to do it. For his effort, he was awarded the bottle of Mt. Gay Rum from the Skipper's package for the race.
|Brian earned his rest!|
The day after the Round the Island Race, the official prize giving was held at the Mt. Gay Distillery. While several of us had already departed for the cold north, Brian, Graeme, Dave, Steven, and Renee represented us well at the party, and accepted our prize (another bottle of rum) for 2nd in the 40' and under class.
|Celebrating at the Mt. Gay Distillery|
So, that's it. That's the story of our visit to the tropical paradise of Barbados. I think everyone had a wonderful time, and I want to once again thank the entire team for making the trip such a memorable and enjoyable one!