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GJW Direct 2024 Dinghy

An interview with Pat Bailey about the 50th edition of the St. Thomas International Regatta

by David Schmidt 26 Mar 15:00 GMT March 29-31, 2024
STIR 2023 - Cape 31 Flying Jenny - © STIR / Dean Barnes

While any event that stands for a half century can rightly call itself time-tested, this stands twice as strong in the discerning sailing world, where lesser events find their way to the history’s ash heap as fast a lousy yacht design. This hasn’t been an issue for the St. Thomas International Regatta (established 1974), which will be celebrating its 50th edition on the sparkling waters off St. Thomas’ eastern flank from March 29-31, and which will once again deliver great One Design and handicap racing for boats ranging from Hobie Waves to a Santa Cruz 70.

As with any event that hits its golden anniversary, the regatta has some stories to tell, starting with the IOR days of the 1970s. This is when the event’s reputation as a place to play hard, both on and off the water, began to form, and when the spring commute to St. Thomas started to become a fixture on many calendars.

More importantly, STIR—as it’s now called—also started drawing many of the world’s best sailors, as well as many of the last half century’s most celebrated yachts, and—as a result—the regatta started generating some of the Caribbean’s finest racing.

Having experienced the event myself in 2010, sailing aboard an IC24 that’s competing again this year but under different ownership, I can say that STIR offers fantastic racing, beautiful scenery, and a welcoming YC. The combined experience presents itself wonderful warm-water reprieve for any sailors wishing that early spring had a bit more summer in its step.

I checked in with Pat Bailey, who is the co-director of the 2024 St. Thomas International Regatta and a longtime regatta veteran, via email, to learn more about the 50th edition of this classic Caribbean spring regatta.

Congrats to STIR on reaching its 50th birthday! Can you please tell us about the event’s plans to celebrate this half-century milestone?

We’re publishing a commemorative booklet that highlights the regatta’s 50 years and the 60th anniversary of the St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC).

Additionally, we will honor a few of the esteemed members of STYC and individuals who helped start what was then called the Rolex Cup Regatta in 1974. One is Jill Fischer, wife of the late Walter Fischer. Walter worked for Little Switzerland and worked closely with Rolex as the regatta’s initial sponsor. The Fischer’s daughter Stefanie Sibilly and granddaughter Caroline Sibilly both learned to sail at STYC. Caroline is currently sailing for Boston College, making the family’s sailing legacy at the club three generations.

We will also honor Denny Como of Rolex, and the Paiewonsky Family, who own A.H. Riise, currently the Official Rolex Retailer in St. Thomas. In addition, we’ll have a couple of special events that will unfold during the regatta.

Looking back at the 1974 event, what were the hottest boats gracing the racecourse? Also, in terms of numbers, how do the two events-1974 and 2024—compare?

In those early years, the hot race boats included Jibaro, a Swan 44 sailed by Puerto Rico’s Jaime Torres Sr. They won the overall Rolex Cup for a couple of those early years.

There was Caviar, a Cartier 37 owned and raced by club member Lee Kelbert, who was Walter Fisher’s boss at Little Switzerland and key to getting Rolex as our first sponsor.

Then there was Morningtide, Joel Byerly’s Sparkman & Stevens 34-foot sloop from Antigua. Another race boat was Joker, a Pearson 26, owned by Richard Avery. I crewed on Joker those first years.

Most of the boats at the time were racer-cruisers. There were also cruising boats like Finisterre, a famous 39-foot Sparkman & Stevens that came down to race from Annapolis.

The Caribbean was well-represented, and as the regatta became better-known, there was more participation from boats in the USA and Europe. Through the years, we have had many Maxis including several Kialoas, plus many of Tom Hill’s Reichel-Pugh’s named Titan, Jim Muldoon’s Custom 73, Donnybrook and Bill Alcott’s Andrews 68, Equation.

We had 90 to 100 boats race in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Boats are different today. There tend to be smaller, one-design, light-displacement, and full-on race boats. The IC24s and Cape 31s are among our largest classes this year.

This follows the trend of most large Caribbean regattas. That is, an uptick of light displacement race boats instead of the racer-cruiser orientation of years past.

What were the courses like in 1974? Mostly triangles with reaching legs? Or did the event employ geography (islands) to create courses?

Courses for the first several years accommodated the original heavy displacement cruising boats and were round-the-island races of over 20 miles.

Today, we offer a mix of around-the-island courses for larger classes, and buoy racing, mostly windward-leeward, for the One Design light displacement classes. The format of racing has evolved from one long race a day to multiple shorter races.

As a follow-on to #3, how do the courses in 1974 compare to the ones that STIR plans to administer at this year’s regatta?

This year, courses will reflect the characteristics of boats entered. This includes several races per day using a combination of around-the-buoy racing for One Design classes, and around-the-islands for larger boats.

Where are most boats hailing from in 2024? St. Thomas and nearby islands and other Caribbean nations, or Europe and the mainland USA/Canada? Also, back in 1974, where did most entrants hail from?

We will welcome a concentration of Caribbean boats, augmented with international sailors from the U.S. and Europe.

When you think back on all of the shifts and changes that the regatta has experienced since 1974, which are the ones that you think have had the most impact on today’s regatta? Also, why—out of all the regatta history that’s unfurled on your beautiful waters—are these shifts/changes the important ones?

The most important impact has been the three hurricanes – Hugo in 1989, Marilyn in 1995, and Irma and Maria in 2017, and the strength, resilience, and love of sailing that has kept the regatta alive despite these storms.

The destruction of our racer-cruiser fleet led to the development of the One Design IC24. The yacht club’s racing arm, the St. Thomas Sailing Center, owns our dozen IC24s and they have all been chartered for STIR 2024.

Let’s talk parties and shoreside entertainment—how does the 2024 event stack up compared to the inaugural regatta?

The atmosphere at STYC has always been one of welcoming arms to fellow sailors. This is as strong and healthy today as it was in 1974. Our tagline is ‘We Love It Here! Come Join Us!’

The casual beachside toes-in-the-sand vibe has not changed over the years. In 2024, we’ll be back with hot Caribbean music, toes-in-the-sand dancing, cold beverages, and good food for sailors to enjoy as they relive the day’s racing.

The world’s attitudes have shifted considerably—and considerably for the better—since 1974 when it comes to environmental stewardship. Can you please tell us about some of the ways that the 2024 edition of STIR is a greener event than the 1974 event?

We are environmentally conscious. There is a recycling program at STYC where all aluminum cans are recycled. There has been a water maker installed at the Clubhouse that reduces the use of single-use plastics. As of February, we’ve reduced the use of over 8,000 plastic bottles. STIR 2024 is again a Sailors for the Sea Clean Regatta.

Is there anything else about the 50th anniversary edition of STIR that you would like to add, for the record?

Our 50th Anniversary STIR is not older, but better. I enjoy it and have as much fun as I did when I was 23 that first year. You will still find me on the racecourse and the dance floor.

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