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Craftinsure 2021 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Dave Franzel on the 2021 St. Thomas International Regatta

by David Schmidt 23 Mar 15:00 GMT March 26-28, 2021
Off-the-wind action at STIR © Dean Barnes

As winter drones on and on in North America and Europe, it's beyond tempting to daydream about sailing on bathtub-warm waters under sunny skies, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sailing shorts. For most sailors, the annual Caribbean circuit provides a much-needed escape hatch from the cold and delivers a strong shot of saline-infused sanity after months of shoveling driveways or watching it rain.

Sadly, in addition to costing countless lives and causing extreme economic hardship, the still-raging coronavirus has also disrupted many of these amazing regattas for the 2021 season.

However, the St. Thomas International Regatta (March 26-28) is still set to take place as scheduled, giving those lucky enough to attend a taste of wonderful Caribbean weather after a tough winter.

I checked in with Dave Franzel, director of the St. Thomas Sailing Center, which is the sailing arm of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, via email, to learn more about this exciting warm-water regatta.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the regatta?

We anticipate having about 15 to 20 IC-24s, 10 to 15 CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association handicap) and PHRF boats, and nine to ten Hobie Waves.

In 2019, we had 18 IC-24s, 18 big boats and nine Hobies. There is a strong desire these days to attend a regatta and have fun and at the same time concern about COVID - potential exposure as well as a cancellation of events by local governments, which has happened in several Caribbean regattas so far this year.

To enter, sailors can go to www.stthomasinternationalregatta.com

Weather-wise, what kind of conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters off St. Thomas in late March? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

The beauty of sailing in St. Thomas is that we have a higher probability of the weather being perfect for racing than anyplace else I've ever raced.

Most of the time we get 10-20 knots out of an easterly direction. Perhaps 15 percent of the time you may see eight to 12 for a while and perhaps ten percent of the time we might see 20-25.

Occasionally it rains for a few minutes, which is refreshing.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score during the regatta? Also, how many races do you plan to run per day?

IC-24s and Hobie Waves will have between 12 and 15 races. Big boats will have a maximum of seven.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a global pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you and the other event organizers have had to clear to make this happen?

We have done a lot of planning work with the USVI Department of Health to decide on appropriate COVID protocols for land and water activities. We also feel quite fortunate that the USVI government and populace have been very diligent about keeping the infection rate here lower than any state in the U.S. through most of the pandemic.

We will focus mainly on racing and use techniques to plan some post-race activities that keep attendance below 100 people at a time. Most importantly, for current information on COVID-19 protocols for travellers to the U.S. Virgin Islands, visit: usvitravelportal.com, usviupdate.com, and covid19usvi.com

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Also, what kind of shoreside COVID-19 precautions will the St. Thomas Yacht Club employ?

Our plans include limiting attendance at STYC to no more than 100 people at a time by promoting discounts at nearby restaurants as one way to spread racers out in the evenings as well as requiring reservations with staggered seating times at STYC.

We are also likely to stagger finishing times of the One Design and Big Boat classes, especially on the last day to have two awards ceremonies.

I noticed that the NOR stipulates that IC24s will be sailed doublehanded, rather than with standard crews of four or five sailors. What's the thinking behind this? Also, will this class still fly spinnakers with just two sailors aboard each boat?

Since you read that we have added an amendment to increase the number of crew to three. The thinking behind sailing with a reduced crew is to be able to maintain more distance between crew members to minimize chances of viral exposure.

We are not using spinnakers because many IC sailors are not used to flying spinnakers with less than four or five crew.

Building on the last question, why was the IC24 class singled out for crew size limitations when there is no maximum or minimum crew requirements for the ICSA and ORC classes?

It is possible to race an IC-24 with two or three people and still have a very good regatta. The larger CSA boats cannot really be raced effectively without a full crew component, but those teams want to race as well. Each big boat team must work out team protocols that everyone is comfortable with and expect to live in a "bubble" relative to the other competitors.

Lots of other big regattas have had to cancel their events due to COVID-19. How confident are you that you and the other organizers will be able to successfully hold this regatta, given the size and severity of the pandemic?

As I mentioned, we have several COVID-safety protocols in place on sea and shore. The USVI Department of Tourism has been and continues to be very supportive of STYC holding major events like this and the Department of Health has been supportive in helping us figure out how to best navigate the pandemic.

We held our first annual St. Thomas Yacht Club Invitational Regatta in June 2020, in IC-24s with 13 teams from five Caribbean Islands and two countries. We sailed double-handed in that event, everyone wore masks while at the club except when seated for drinks or meals.

Everyone had a great time, thought it was a very successful event and it proved a COVID-safe event.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

The big boat line will be using islands and navigational aids as course marks, so we won't need as many mark boats to set and move course marks. Also, we will be racing sailboats instead of motorboats which lowers the environmental footprint.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Yes, stay tuned for our second annual St. Thomas Yacht Club Invitational Regatta, May 14 to 16. This event will consist primarily of short course college-style racing with three crew per boat and no spinnaker.

The beauty of the STYC Invitational is that teams can fly in, jump on a race-ready one-design IC-24 and compete in extremely tight racing. We hope to have up to 20 teams representing yacht clubs from around the Caribbean and the world. For more information visit www.stthomassailingcenter.com, www.facebook.com/STYCSailingCenter

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