Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   March 2009


Event Three:
The Inaugural Tobago Carnival Regatta

by Sally Erdle

There’s nothing else quite like it in the Caribbean. True, a few miles northwest, both the Grenada Sailing Festival and the Bequia Easter Regatta famously race yachts and indigenous sailboats. And farther to the west, the Heineken Regatta Curaçao includes kiteboards, yachts and more. But at what other regional regatta do you have events for yachts, indigenous sailing craft, windsurfers and kiteboarders, plus two afternoons of beach games for the kids and any crew with energy to spare? What other venue offers offshore courses for the keelboats and a reef-protected “lake” for the board sailors, set off a preposterous sweep of white sand beach backed by soaring palms, with beach bars, shops, picnic tables and clean public toilets and showers? Not to mention a top-notch race committee including elegant ladies dressed in different matching swimsuits and wraps every day. Only in Tobago, the farthest southeastern island of the Lesser Antilles chain.
Tobago has hosted a well-respected annual international yacht regatta since 1982, first known as the Angostura Yachting World Regatta, then Angostura Tobago Sailing Week. But the organizers, the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association and Regatta Promoters Ltd., definitely got the “27 year itch” and February 10th through 14th, 2009, saw the event broadened in scope, rescheduled, relocated and rebranded as the Tobago Carnival Regatta, the final regatta of the new Southern Caribbean Circuit.

The wind gods were listening when the event’s motto was changed from “The Friendliest Regatta in the Caribbean” to “A Festival of Wind”. Typically in Tobago the wind starts light in the morning, picks up to a good breeze during the day, and eases back by dark. During the former May dates, racers could usually expect some 15 to 20 knots. But on February 12th, it was a solid 20 to 25 knows with higher gusts in squalls, forcing cancellation of that afternoon’s “bumboat” race in deteriorating conditions. (The next morning, rough seas disrupted the fast ferry service from Trinidad.) But the show went on.

The Yacht Races 2009
A fleet of 23 yachts raced under the CSA rating rule in five classes: Maxis, Racer/Cruiser, Cruiser, J/24 and Melges. The fleet would no doubt have been larger but for this winter’s ongoing blustery weather, which had taken its toll on some of the boats and crews that raced in Grenada not long before, and deterred others from leaving snug havens. The proposed Racing and Cruiser/Racer Classes were combined as Racer/Cruiser Class.
There were four race days, with the Cruising and Maxi Classes sailing five races in all and the Racer/Cruisers and one-designs a total of eight. The J/24s and “Melgii” (four of each) started together and were scored separately. There was a menu of numbered courses for the Race Committee to choose from. For some races the course was posted in advance, and for others the number of the course was displayed from the committee boat just prior to the start.
According to TTSA official and veteran racer Jerome McQuilkin, “The courses have evolved over the last five years, but we found they were becoming a bit predictable. We have moved the new course further north, where the shifts of wind are out of this world, where there will be winds on either side of the course and it makes the racing much more balanced, in a much more competitive and keen atmosphere.”

Officiating over the races were Dave Brennan, a veteran racer and Florida Sailing Association judge who has served as a race officer in the Caribbean at the Rolex in St. Thomas and the BVI Spring Regatta, as well as top-notch events in the US; and James Benoit of the Grenada Yacht Club, who is Vice Chairman of the Grenada Yachting Association and has served as a race officer at the Bequia Easter Regatta and the Carriacou Regatta Festival, as well as numerous events in Grenada. They were ably assisted aboard the start boat by Karen, Pauline, Ruth, Megan and Indra.
The racing was as hotly contested as ever, with high winds and current (full moon had been on the 9th) adding to the challenges posed by other keen competitors, many previous veterans of Tobago regattas.

Rawle Barrow, one of the originators of the event back in 1982, was asked one day how the racing was going. “I think we’re doing okay,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. He captured a first in Cruising Class with five bullets aboard the indomitable Petit Careme. Another long-time participant, Paul Solomon, also aced his class, Racer/Cruiser, with eight firsts on bMobile Enzyme. And in the Maxis, Spirit of Isis won every race.
In the one-designs, results were more mixed. In the Melges Class, Synergy won her first and last races, but the rest were swept up by Drunken Monkey. And among the four J/24s, every boat won at least one race, with Ambushe and Jabulani both ending up with 14 points.
A sad note was struck when a guest crewmember, Jim McLean, died of a heart attack aboard the coincidentally named J/24 Die Hard, despite the heroic efforts of CPR-trained crew aboard and EMTs who responded swiftly ashore.

On the subject of having some races’ courses only made known by showing a number from the committee boat immediately prior to the start of the race, one experienced skipper said, “I don’t like it. It doesn’t give you time to prepare properly”. And on the ultra-windy Thursday, a weary one-design racer said, “They should have chosen the shorter courses, but instead we were out there wet and cold from morning until afternoon”. And despite the excellent efforts of Captain Ellis at the throttles, holding it in place as well as possible, nobody was very pleased about the start boat dragging. (Remedies, such as a better mooring, are already being considered.)

But CSA judge and racer Jeffrey Chen noted with a grin, “When it was billed as ‘The Friendliest Regatta in the Caribbean’ there were protests, but this year, with a new motto, there were none.”

The Other Craft
The races for the open local sailing boats that are called bumboats in Tobago and two-bows or double-enders in the Grenadines are a whole story in themselves — we’ll bring that to you in next month’s Compass.
The windsurfers and kiteboards enjoyed the big breezes. In the windsurfing races, Stefan Oest from Germany won Fun Race Class and Overall First Place. Masters Class winner was Skeene Howle and Veterans Class victor was Ulrich Seidl. The Ladies’ Class top place winner was Jackie Kempson.
Pigeon Point offers excellent conditions for kiteboarding — relatively flat water and lots of wind — and the kite guys not only enjoyed themselves but also put on a great “air show” for everyone else. (As one local boat sailor expressed it, “Watch man fly!”)

The Changes
Why were such drastic changes made to the old Tobago Regatta formula, and how did they pan out this first time around? Mainly, the changes were made to reverse the trend of dwindling numbers of entries — in its heyday this was one of the largest regattas in the area, and as recently as ten years ago there were 57 entries.
First, the date change. Jerome McQuilkin says, “A Southern Caribbean Circuit has been a long-held dream. The Southern Caribbean has something unique to offer.” Bringing the date forward, right after the annual Grenada Sailing Festival, not only made it part of a circuit but was also intended to address the fact that by May, many visiting yachts are headed back to North America or Europe, or bound for hurricane season destinations. The date change didn’t work for a few racers, notably those who work in tourism or (ironically) yachting businesses, for whom February is the busy season. But for most it was fine. The possibility is being looked at of a feeder race from St. Lucia to the Grenadines to lead ARC participants into the SoCa Circuit next year.
By the way, only two boats finished the entire Southern Caribbean Circuit in its inaugural year, due to a conspiracy no doubt between the weather and the economy. The first prize went to Jerome McQuilkin’s Beneteau Oceanis 430, Wayward, of Trinidad & Tobago, and a well-deserved second to Robbie Yearwood’s J/24, Die Hard, of Grenada.

Tobago Regatta regulars Phyllis Serrao and Nancy Yen Chong still run the Race Office. About the broadened scope of the event, Nancy says, “This regatta has been a new experience for somebody who’s been doing it for eleven years. The combination of the yachts with the bumboats, windsurfers and kitesurfers puts everything on a larger scale — but I’m having a ball!” Where some saw “distractions”, most found the additions interesting. Niki Borde of Regatta Promoters says, “The yacht races are a given, but we hope that the kites and windsurfers will bring a new energy and attract younger people who might then become interested in yacht racing. We saw that relationship blooming when the yachties and kitesurfers got together at the beach games. And holding the regatta at Pigeon Point, a national park, is a natural for getting more Tobagonians involved.”

And what about the new venue? Phyllis says, “Just being on the beach is a different experience.” Previously, the regatta’s shore base was always the Crown Point Hotel, a couple of miles down the coast. The more enclosed atmosphere there made for great camaraderie among the racers, but was by definition — being on private hotel grounds — somewhat exclusive. Of the move to Pigeon Point Heritage Park, a national park, Niki says, “We want to make sure Tobago Regatta doesn’t ever become like some of the ‘elitist’ events farther north — it’s not for millionaires only; everybody belongs. It’s not about champagne on air-conditioned boats; it’s about beer on the beach. And it’s more than just a yacht regatta; it’s for all wind lovers, young and old, visitors and locals.”
The Tobago House of Assembly’s Secretary of Tourism and Transportation, Oswald Williams, endorses this spirit. “I am pleased at the renewed vigor shown for sailing in Tobago,” he said at the Carnival Regatta’s prizegiving, “and pleased at the widened scope of this event. We would like to see a greater level of local participation and see more of our young people embrace their maritime heritage.” The Tobago House of Assembly is now the “title” sponsor of the event, joining the Tourism Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago, bMobile, Carib, Peakes, Tobago Water, Dynamite Yacht management, OnDeck, Budget Marine and many local and international businesses in supporting the event.
Getting a “new” regatta is like getting a new boat. You might have had everything precisely the way you wanted it on the old one, but eventually you knew it was time for a change. So you get something you hope will perform even better. Then the shakedown cruise: “Dang! Who led the halyard this way?!? Why aren’t the sheet blocks over here? Where the heck are the extra snapshackles?” Frustrating at first, but then you work the bugs out and grow to love the new boat as you make it your own.

The Tobago Carnival Regatta — and the Southern Caribbean Circuit — have been well and truly launched. Well done, all!
For full results visit

Many thanks to the TDC, THA, Regatta Promoters Ltd., Le Grand Courlan Resort, Sherma McDougall-Williams, Hugh Brown, Andrew Llanos & Intrepid,
Harris “Jungleman” McDonald, David Fogley, the Arnos Vale Hotel, Gabriele de Gaetano and all the other Trinbagonians and regatta-goers who made Compass’s attendance at the Tobago Carnival Regatta 2009 possible — and lots of fun!

Tobago Carnival Regatta 2009 Winners

Racer/Cruiser Class
1)    bMobile Enzyme, Henderson 35, Paul Solomon, Trinidad & Tobago (8)
2) Bruggadung II, Beneteau First Class 10, Ralph Johnson, Barbados (26)
3)    Jaguar, Frers 43, Peter Morris, Trinidad & Tobago (29)

Cruising Class
1) Petit Careme, Beneteau First 38, Rawle Barrow, Trinidad & Tobago (5)
2)    Carnival, Frers 38, Phillipe Agostini, Trinidad & Tobago (10)
3)    Beex, Beneteau Oceanis 440, Paul Hatch, Trinidad & Tobago (15)

1)    Spirit of Isis, Farr 65, Formula Events, UK (5)
2)    Spirit of Juno, Farr 65, OnDeck Charters, UK (10)
3)    Challenger IV, Bob Humphries, Graham Bond, UK (19)

Melges 24
1)    Drunken Monkey, Paul Amon, Trinidad & Tobago (10)
2)    Synergy, Jeffrey Chen, Trinidad & Tobago (22)
3)    Mojo, Adam Rostant, Trinidad & Tobago (24)

1) Ambushe, Stephen Bushe, Trinidad & Tobago (14)
2) Jabulani, Peter “Wipers” Hoad, Barbados (14)
3) Die Hard, Robbie Yearwood, Grenada (23)

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