The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival is celebrating a 50th Anniversary. It’s comea long way since its humble beginnings as a local island regatta hosting 20-foot Squibs to an international sailing event drawing the best in international yacht racers who come with their crews, families, and friends to the spectacular waters of the British Virgin Islands.
The casual two-day racing affair that took place in spring of 1972 quickly grew into a world-class sailing event. The BVI Yacht Club had formed, and members felt it was high time to get a decent yacht race on the club calendar.
The Sir Francis Drake Channel has always served as an important conduit for yachts making passages from island to island, and when Squib and Sunfish fleets started racing locally in the channel in the late 1960s, it was obvious bigger yachts could be accommodated there and beyond. The onslaught of bareboat charter companies during this time meant that larger boats were available for racing, in addition to the fleet of privately owned yachts who patronized the BVI in the winter and early spring months.
Perfect conditions and boats ready to race? Time for a new regatta!
The 1972 Spring Regatta was hosted out of the Careening Hull adjacent to Road Reef with 25 entries, from which Squibs emerged as the first-ever one-design class. The following year, Spring Regatta became a joint effort between the BVI Yacht Club and the BVI Hotel and Tourist Association, and almost doubled in size with 46 entries.
Early courses had the fleet racing back and forth across the channel with island finishes — the two-day event had a course that ended in Virgin Gorda on the first race day, and Peter Island the next. Boats from the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico competed, and a friendly rivalry developed between islanders who knew the waters well and sailed yearround with an enviable understanding of the area’s weather patterns and currents.
Off the water, the Regatta, with the club’s support, began to enjoy support from local businesses who partnered with the event as sponsors, and post-racing celebrations began to take on a life of their own, bringing sailors and non-sailors together at casual post-race festivities.
Moving into the mid-90s, racecourses evolved. What had been destination racing with island finishes now included racing within the channel, with buoy markers set for windward leeward courses. Two races per day were now the norm, and the number of classes increased.
New trends in race management were adopted as different challenges on the racecourse began to surface. New boat designs meant faster boats in the racing class and more big boat entries. For example, the advent of asymmetrical spinnaker boats in the J/boat designs gave an advantage to smaller boats, allowing a 24-foot J/boat sailing downwind to rival a 60-foot boat in speed.
Meanwhile, the race committee was sending every class off on the same start. Typically, this meant that larger boats starting on the same course as smaller boats would finish well ahead of the smaller boats and would have a lot of downtime between races. These challenges necessitated the introduction of new courses and classes for a level playing field, and importantly, rolling starts, allowing for smoother transitions and more races sailed per day.
Early in the new millennium, the Regatta race committee instituted another important improvement: racecourses would be determined on race day depending on conditions. Fortunately, there are many course options. The BVI’s 64 islands and rocks serve as natural marks, making for an amazing playground of possibilities. The Regatta race committee produced a map indicating separate committee boat areas as well as
multiple course options within each area for different conditions. This meant that the race committee could now call the shots on race day from its own boat, and change courses on the run. Many regattas world-wide have since adopted this system.
Bring on the sailing festival
By 2003, the event was beginning to feed from the neighboring St. Thomas Rolex International Regatta, which was scheduled the week prior to Spring Regatta, meaning more boats and more visitors. Expanding the Regatta meant more days of racing for competitors, and more time to enjoy the BVI both on and off the water. The Sailing Festival was born, stretching racing activity and parties to a full week. The venue officially moved to Nanny Cay Marina in 2002, which has since been the permanent host site for the event.
For locals, the social aspect of Spring Regatta is all-important — it’s one time in the year they can wander down to the Village at the end of the day, enjoy a cocktail and catch up with someone they haven’t seen in a while. And Spring Regatta also brings a sense of pride and gratitude for the opportunity to share their beautiful BVI, its incredible waters and world-class sailing.
The BVI Spring Regatta has also been aware from the very beginning of its ability to impact the community, both economically and as a vehicle for environmental awareness and supporting sustainable green practices. It has taken on a mission to give back to the community that supports it. Each year, the BVISR committee designates proceeds to go to a local charity and non-profit organizations.
The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival is now one of the largest single events on the BVI calendar, bringing many visitors to the territory. Some 80-90 percent of competitors who race BVI Spring Regatta are foreigners who may not otherwise have come to the BVI, and many of these competitors return time and time again to race.
The sense of community that the Regatta inspires, and the friendships that are forged, run deep, as Judy Petz, regatta director for more than twenty years, can attest:
“The international community who comes to sail contributes not only to the local economy but also to the intrigue of the Regatta. Walk the docks at any marina, anchor in any bay, tie up in a mooring field, and the number of different languages that can be heard is significant. But more important are the friendships that are formed — the connections are far and wide wherever there is sailing, connections that are valuable and satisfying, and friendships that go on for years. That is what we love about the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival.”
Wherever you may be, raise your glass and toast to 50 fabulous years of racing at the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival!
The 50th edition of the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival runs March 27-April 2, 2023. The seven-day event starts on Monday March 27 with the Sailing Festival opening day festivities and skipper pack collection.
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