Tucked into the south side of charming Tortola, the restful Nanny Cay Marina gently stirred today to the buzz of Oyster’s 35th own class regatta, the sixth Oyster event here in the British Virgin Islands. It’s registration day and as the final arrivals in the fleet of 15 found their berths, others here earlier popped back out for practice or more leisurely patrolled the dock peppered with sails and kit out for inspection and repacking ready for the start of racing tomorrow.
Divided between two classes for the four days of racing ahead, the fleet here as always expresses well the diversity in Oyster ownership from the 2000-built Holman & Pye Oyster 45 Taboo of St Helier to the very recent Humphreys Oyster 825 Reina. From family only to fusion of friends and fast trackers, or should that be fast tackers and strategists, every level of skill is here, and though a challenge for the home grown handicapping, this mixing is a true mark of keen shared experience. The Oyster regatta brings something for everyone… sensational sailing and socialising!
The bulk of fleet comprises regular Oyster regattistes joined this year by four first timers, Peter Blackmore’s Oyster 49 Pied Piper, David and Leslie Joyce’s 575 Ayesha II, Stephen Lambert’s Atalanta of London, also a 575, and Ken and Diana Randall’s 72 Infiniti of Cowes. At the opposite end of attendance, is Oyster 82 Starry Night of the Caribbean with 19 race pennants to her credit, while Richard Smith, a close second, has a tally of 15 aboard his 655 Sotto Vento with remarkably the only possible missed regattas a result of his being away sailing the Oyster World Rally! Ian Galbraith on Oyster 53 Jigsaw also flies a fine line of battle flags, keenly contesting here in the Caribbean and also with friends in the Med.
Familiar faces on different, newly bought boats include John McMonigall who’s scaled up to Oyster 82 Zig Zag from his 575 Zaybo which he retains currently in Turkey, and Alan Parker similarly moves on to an 82, Dama de Noche, from his Oyster 54 Oyster Reach, currently on brokerage.
The fleet divides between two classes with the Oyster 82s, which include also Bill Dockser’s Ravenous II, at the heart of Class 1, joined by 825 Reina, mentioned above, the 625 Lady Mariposa, skippered by Dan Hardy, and David & Joanne Furby’s Vamos.
Though bigger, Oyster 655 iSNL joins Sotto Vento, fellow 655, in the wider ranging Class 2 which spans Paul and Diane May’s Oyster 45 Taboo through to Ken and Diana Randall’s 72 Infiniti of Cowes. It’s a broad church but this division provides a split that brings better balance and reduced risk to the mixed ability and boat speed fleet, and comes only after a reappraisal of the handicapping system in conjunction with Humphreys Yacht Design. Together analysing all past results and actual performance, new VPPs (velocity prediction program) were created to uncover anomalies now ironed out by stretching the percentage separation within the fleet.
So, that’s the line up, but what does the racing look like? First, all things permitting, and it has to be said that the prevailing, constant 15-20 knot Trade Winds tend to help here, it’s four races with one discard. But there’s added interest. The BVI regatta is a rolling event racing from one island base to another. Tortola’s Nanny Cay first, with tomorrow’s Race One a wriggly course to Norman Island, before Race Two’s long beat up to Virgin Gorda and the Bitter End Yacht Club for a lay day followed by two more days’ racing with a night between at the YCCS.
And, of course, at every stop there’s a good deal of partying. This Day One, it was a welcoming cocktail party at the beach bar before a fine Caribbean flavoured buffet for the 120 Oyster crew, chatting and supping the night away. But tomorrow after dark be warned if on Norman Island. There be pirates on the way… it’s fancy dress night, but only after some fancy course work, too.
Sail hard, play hard, the Oyster BVI Regatta 2015 has begun!
Written by Mike Owen
Images by Mike Jones
In the warm morning breeze, in feisty spirits with battle flags flying, the 15-strong fleet tail-chased out of Nanny Cay Marina for Race Day One of the Oyster Regatta BVI 2015. Ahead lay a challenging course circling the sun-silhouetted Peter, Cooper and Ginger islands away across Drake Channel, finishing just off the privately owned Norman Island. Then an evening of piracy, aka apt fancy dress for a great evening's dining at the new Pirate's Bight beach restaurant, before a night's quiet anchorage in this secluded bay. Fair reward for a day's fair racing.
It might be said the quickest way to round an island is the shortest but as the fleet rounded the far side layline tactics and number of tacks for the turning points shaped winning or losing. In Class 2 Ken and Diana Randall's Infiniti of Cowes called it right. They'd started last but came in 3rd on the water and 1st corrected. Skipper Tim MacIntosh says, "We had two really good laylines, and were bang on Cooper Island, a bit of luck, a bit of judgement".
With the majority of the fleet opting for downwind sails, the final twist for all was a fine, time essential call before the last short leg: fight to keep or lose the kite. Infiniti again called it right, early, and countered the time loss others suffered in a delayed drop further slowed by then excessive upwind loading. Shaved seconds counted, saved minutes won. Infiniti took first spot. Later in dapper pirate guise and private parly, owners Ken and Diana joshed, "All right, we lucked out, the island moved over and the others didn't realise!"
Second corrected behind Infiniti went to Peter Blackmore's family-sailed Oyster 49 Pied Piper where attention clearly paid off. We could see the bigger boats in front, what's happening, and took advantage of that. It was also the first time the family had flown the kite since a midnight spinnaker incident while racing four years ago. So a pleasing result today, "The team did great. We had a blast!"
Third meanwhile went to Richard Smith's Oyster 655 Sotto Vento and 4th to Ian Galbraithís 53 Jigsaw.
Staggered small group starts within both Classes 1 and 2 saw keen battling but none more so than between Class 1's Oyster 825 Reina and Oyster 82 Starry Night of the Caribbean. In early manouevres Starry Night appeared to block Reina out on the committee boat end, then just on the gun Reina instead squirted through the tiniest slot higher and ahead to chase the smaller, earlier starting 625s, David and Joanne Furby's Vamos and Lady Mariposa skippered by Dan Hardy.
Starting through the whole class has been sharp with all seven boats crossing within 18 seconds of the gun. Indeed, Alan Parker's new ride, brokerage Oyster 82 Dama de Noche, took the line just one second after the gun, later receiving one of the two daily Pantaenius awarded Best Start prizes. In Class 2 that champagne went to Peter Blackmore's Oyster 49 Pied Piper.
Back to the Class 1 action, in the 12-15 knot breeze of leg one, while Reina sprinted away from Starry Night, Mariposa ahead with a small blade jib against Vamos' larger genoa, though pointing considerably higher, took some while to overcome Vamos' matching boat speed. Then the wind hardened a knot or two and Mariposa pulled away. Meanwhile the three 82s, Dama de Noche (new owner Alan Parker), Zig Zag (also new owner John McMonigall) and Ravenous II (Bill Dockser) trailed each other looking on as the fully race crewed 82 Starry Night accelerated through from her later staggered start.
Out the back of the islands the game played out along tacking angles and laying the turning points before the long downwind leg home where gybe angles and duration down Drake Channel had equal import and effect. Some sailed just one long gybe back in toward Tortola and out, others played more. The leaders all sailed tight, with only 2m 27sec between the first three home: Mariposa, Starry Night and Reina. Indeed Reina played it so cleanly she was the single one boat in the fleet to cross the line with kite still flying. But a couple of calls had cost those minutes that define win or lose, Mariposa instead taking the well earned 1st and Starry Night in 2nd just 59 secs ahead of Reina's 3rd. Vamos notched a good 4th followed by Dama de Noche 5th, and Zig Zag 6th. Ravenous II showing great sportsmanship in 7th, racing whilst saddled with the unassailable handicap of a temporary, substitute propeller: a massive, fixed four-bladed affair acting as unfortunate brake.
Aboard Mariposa victory was especially sweet. Two years old and with this her owner's fourth regatta aboard, today's the first time he's helmed a race. And before Mariposa he'd never sailed, so a fine achievement.
As Race Officer Oyster CEO David Tydeman said when presenting the Dolphin Sail awards, "It was very close racing. In class 1, only 4% difference between the first four boats. In Class 2, 3%. A very good day". It was also to be a good night with the fancy dress ranging from fine, full admiral outfits to rakish and daring if not sometimes demented pirate costumery... of course, in true brigand fashion, a 'rum' do! Well, tomorrow's another day, will sabres again be drawn?
Written by Mike Owen
Images by Mike Jones
There's nothing quite like the Oyster Regatta BVI. Its variety is legend. It's a rolling regatta, racing and rallying around some astonishingly beautiful rocks and stopovers. Four different venues, delightful dining and partying, all wrapped in a well orchestrated, pampering, five day, four race event.
Today the fleet woke swinging to the wind in Norman Island's tranquil Pirates Bight bay after the night's lively beach restaurant party celebrating the first day's racing across from Nanny Cay on Tortola.
A 10.30 start for this Race Day Two seemed suitably respectful of the revelry. Leisurely breakfasts filled the cushioned and canopied cockpits. Then tidied, sorted and time for action, the destination was the Bitter End Yacht Club, an anticipated four hours' sail north-eastward on the far end of Virgin Gorda. A top line laid back beach resort and marina, with a poolside dinner for the Oyster regattistes, it's a fine place to race to. In the prevailing winds, it's also a long slog of a beat. To break this, a fetch was introduced by a port rounding of Ginger Island to the south of Sir Francis Drake Channel mid-course, then back out to the Dogs almost due north. In total, 14 miles on the wind, seven off.
The fleet set off with two-minute-staggered individual boat starts, the sequence following the reciprocal of Race One finish results. Last in on corrected was first out.
The outcome was interesting. Tactics began to choose likely winners. Break south through the islands early on, between Salt Island and Dead Man's Chest, out into the ocean for more wind along the back of the chain, but suffer bigger swell. Or stay in the flatter waters of the channel before taking just Ginger Island. Some seemed tempted to head out, tacking close under the islands, but then checking others and deciding against, instead tacking back to sail more of a line along Tortola in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The man clearly knew his stuff!
Then add in the shifts, reading, working them, the wind veering all over the place, particularly around Ginger and approaching the Dogs. And ultimately the tacking angles needed to make a tight, short, final leg to the finish which mangled some sailors' early successes.
Getting it right again in Class 2, Ken and Diana Randall's Oyster 72 Infiniti shot through the handicapping with her second bullet, while David and Leslie Joyce sailed a blinder on Oyster 575 Ayesha II, lifting from Race One's 6th to 2nd this time. Peter Blackmore's Oyster 49 Pied Piper climbed, too, from 4th to 3rd just 20 seconds corrected behind Ayesha II. Remarkably, Ayesha II's actual elapsed time on the water was within seconds of the bigger 655 iSNL and 625 Vamos. There's another stat that jumps out: the three front runners in Class 2 beat Class 1's Starry Night of the Caribbean on corrected time. That's quite something.
With this kind of class action and the top slots in Class 1 swapping this time, Oyster 825 Reina taking 1st and 625 Lady Mariposa 2nd, there's no clear winner yet showing in either class.
Back at the start it was hard to tell whether it was pressure or chill induced by the individual starts that had some falling off the clock while others played the line hard, none more so than Alan Parker's Oyster 82 Dama de Noche. In Race One Dama was just one second shy of the gun, today she was absolutely bang on the line, not one second behind, not one second over. Sadly her race soon ended with the genoa clew blowing on her second tack in Drake Channel. But a smartly executed transfer of damaged genoa to a quickly arranged Doyle Sails launch in Road Town Harbour means she'll be back with the fleet for Race Three on Friday. She'll also be ready to challenge again John McMonigall's also Oyster 82 Zig Zag which today sailed the full beat up the Channel very well to take a 4th in Class 1, not far behind third placed Starry Night of the Caribbean.
Results on today's course demonstrate interesting traits of the different rigs. With a predicted too-tight fetch for down wind sails, Zig Zag like all others went white sails only. But, cutter rigged and goose-winging on that fetch they flew the staysail, too, and added an extra knot. Conversely, hard on the wind for such a time the inner-forestay-less Lady Mariposa and Reina were able to tack back and forth at a pace, taking minutes off the slower to tack double-headers. Meanwhile Ayesha II (Oyster 575), with custom configured sail handling systems, and respectful of the power in their fully battened main, kept a reef in until the latter stages, then shook it out for the and saw their 9.4knots on the fetch jump to near 11 knots. Saving 4.5 minutes that way clearly was part of their lift to 2nd place.
There's no doubting it was a day of concentration, a long beat is always that. John McMonigall driving Zig Zag, with his wind instruments down and staring at telltales for four hours, captures the Oyster regatta mood, "It was great fun, what better day in your life than whacking down those islands!"
Similarly, Jereon Hemels, owner driver of Reina who before the Oyster's Palma regatta last year had never helmed this kind of sailing. "We really enjoyed today, loved it, the concentration to get the best of the boat. And here in the BVI, I've never experienced anything like it before. It's great, not to take it lightly, to go for it, to get the result." And they did. The bullet was theirs, whose will it be on Friday?
But before then with the fleet alongside the Bitter End Yacht Club marina there's a layday to enjoy the resort and the regatta's unofficial Oyster-Hobie beach cat championship and head out to the Baths or Oil Nut Bay, the last a lavish man-made spa, the former nature's own geological wonder. The BVI, what a blend! "Love the country" says Alan Parker of Dama de Noche, "God's own sailing!"
Written by Mike Owen
Images by Mike Jones
Under heavy skies, the Oyster fleet started in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, the race a circumnavigation of the Island. Once again starting with individual starts at two minute intervals, Oyster 82 Dama de Noche had her start spot on, for the third time in three races, hitting the line with one second to go at full speed. After beating up to, and tacking around Necker Island in an increasing swell, the turquoise waters still gleaming even under the dark clouds that loomed on the horizon. The fleet started to compress around Pajaros Point, the most northerly tip of Virgin Gorda, where they were able to gybe and hoist spinnakers.
After the hoist Oyster 49 Pied Piper radioed for assistance with an injury onboard, and Oyster 625 Lady Mariposa who up until that point had been powerfully advancing through the fleet, having started nearly last, was the first to respond. An exceptional level of seamanship was displayed by all involved in the operation to safely and speedily deliver the casualty ashore.
With Lady Mariposa out of the race, it gave the other Oyster 625, Vamos, a chance to show her pace unchallenged, putting in an excellent performance on the long run to Round Rock, holding off the much more powerful Oyster 825 Reina for most of the leg, both sporting striking red kites. As the wind headed slightly the stiffer, Oyster 825 was able to overhaul the Oyster 625 carrying her spinnaker comfortably to the mark. Equally as tense at the head of the fleet for much of the race, was the battle between Oyster 655 Sotto Vento and Oyster 72 Infiniti of Cowes in Class 2 who had stretched out an impressive lead on the rest of the fleet as they approached Fallen Jerusalem, towards the South Western tip of the Island. It was as the wind crept forward that they were both forced to drop their spinnakers, with Infiniti doing so first, this allowed Oyster 825 Reina to snatch the lead on the water, coming up to the final leg to the finish.
There was wonderfully close racing between the two 575s Atalanta and Ayesha II who were glued gunnel to gunnel, unable to shake each other for much of the race, until a few miles from the finish where David & Leslie Joyce of Ayesha II were able to pull ahead of Stephen Lambert of Atalanta.
The group of Oyster 82s had their own fierce racing with Starry Night of the Caribbean holding her spinnaker for the longest, making her first to round Round Rock and harden up for the final leg. Impressively Oyster 82 Zig Zag held her own on the run and was in hot pursuit, herself chased by Oyster 82, Dama de Noche.
At the back of the pack, and catching the worst of the rain on the downwind leg, Oyster 53 Jigsaw and Oyster 45 Taboo who opted for white sails only at the start of the race had the advantage of a grand stand view of the fleet under spinnaker.
The tight reach to the finish off West Dog, meant waterline length was king. In Class 1 Oyster 825 Reina approached the line with her impressive Code 1 sail up and a decent lead on her nearest rival on the water Oyster 82 Starry Night. In Class 2, Oyster 72 Infiniti led Oyster 655 Sotto Vento over the line, her greater length giving her the advantage on the reach home, impressive nonetheless for these two boats to finish ahead on the water of the majority of the Class 1.
With the days racing captured for reflection in the stunning photography screening at the centre of a keen crowd, the Oyster fleet looked forward to the final days racing.
Class 2 had a clear winner with Infiniti holding three firsts, but places 2, 3 and 4 are tight. Class 1 is even tighter top down, open to any one of the three leaders, Lady Mariposa, Reina and Starry Night of the Caribbean. Tomorrow’s winner takes all.
Roll on Race 4!
Written by Mike Owen
Images by Mike Jones
Oyster Regatta BVI – Race Day Four – sponsored by Lewmar.
The podium calls! In the final race day of the Oyster Regatta BVI 2015 there was much to race for in a 15 boat fleet that had for the past week ranged across the British Virgin Isles testing the mettle of these fine bluewater performance cruising yachts. Are cruising and racing world’s apart? Not necessarily, because it’s always been true that one man in a boat sails but two men in boats race! And here with very few points between the leaders, the race was on.
In this four-race one-discard series, true, Class 2 already knew its winner, Ken and Diana Randall with their Oyster 72 Infiniti of Cowes. In this their first ever regatta, they had already notched an unassailable three firsts. But places two, three and four were a mix’n’match needing this race to sort. Class 1 was even more of a matrix. Lady Mariposa (Oyster 625), Reina (Oyster 825) and Starry Night of the Caribbean (Oyster 82) had each scored a 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The winner today would take all. As Oyster CEO David Tydeman said at the later prize giving on the lawns of the splendid Yacht Club Costa Smeralda overlooking the enchanting Sound, “It was all about today!”
David, serving as Race Officer throughout, had also looked to give everyone their own day with four distinct course types delivering different splits of on and off wind legs to serve reachers and beaters equally well over the period. Today it was an anticlockwise double rounding of the Dogs (cluster of islets and islands) to the south side of renowned Necker Island where the startline ran. The wind was a little more southerly than expected and lost some of the anticipated beating but still provided a nice balance.
A rolling, individual start sequence set the fleet off boat by boat at three minute intervals. A downwind start, some hit the line right on the button, some distinctly not. David and Joanne Furby’s Oyster 625 Vamos’ pre-start looked excellent, the hoist was made then the mainsail remained pinned in so she spun and all but broached on the start. It would have been perfect. Earlier, one minute to go and well set, Ian Galbraith’s Oyster 53 Jig Saw shredded a halyard and lost a minute and more resolving. But switch to the positive. Like Jig Saw more modestly flying white sails only, David & Leslie’s Oyster 575 Ayesha II had a great start poled out. Last to start having the highest handicap, Oyster 825 Reina sledged across two seconds past gun at a full 10-plus knots while Alan Parker’s Oyster 82 Dama de Noche earlier hit the line on zero seconds for the second time this week, astounding. He also notched one second. “I’ve never seen starts hit so accurately before,” said Race Officer David Tydeman at the later prize ceremony.
While most started on the starboard gybe close to the committee boat, pushing out then gybing back abeam of Mosquito Rock for the layline to Cockroach Island, a couple opted for the outer end, sailed deeper and lay it or gybed then dropped and hardened up by Mosquito.
First to West Dog was Stephen Lambert’s 575 Atalanta closely followed by Richard Smith’s 655 Sotto Vento which held her kite the longest with a late drop while others gybed just before to harden up for the short beat up to Great Dog. Then it was a single tack, with the wind shift south, on the heavily biased starboard fetch to Seal Dog, the windward mark.
Here the fleet sailed safely, with most clearing the reef well, gybing out onto port and hoisting the spinnaker, Sotto Vento and Atalanta good examples of that tactic – hoisting as soon as gybed.
Infiniti and iSNL, more cautious, sailed further from the reef before hoisting.
Reina, differently, bore away, hoisted and gybed achieving the layline to Cockroach Island and gaining a good 300 metres on Lady Mariposa, inside and soon behind.
With the second rounding the wind continued to shift to the south east, so the offered option to pass either side of Seal Dog before the final beat to the finish off Mosquito Rock didn’t materialise. Everyone left it to port and pretty much the whole fleet finished within 50m of the committee boat with the notable exception of Zig Zag and Dama de Noche. Sailing close to each other much further out Dama de Noche took control, pushing Zig Zag further out, then tacked and cracked sheets to the finishing line with just three seconds between them and five from Atalanta… three boats in 8 seconds. “Fantastic racing,” says John McMonigall, owner of Zig Zag, “Some of the closest I’ve ever had, Dama and all at 10 knots. Fantastic.”
Lady Mariposa had a great finish, too, tacking early to avoid dirty air from Sotto Vento on port which Vamos, closeby, was, too. As Lady Mariposa couldn’t put her about she tacked underneath early, just a few degrees off laying the finishing committee boat but, just short, she luffed and her way snuck her across the line just 3 seconds from Vamos which beat her by three minutes on corrected time.
Starry Night of the Caribbean with poled out symmetric spinnaker could race deeper than the asymmetrics flying off the bow, letting her sail more direct, shorter distances on the downwind leg, and with good boat handling and crew work, and good calls around the islands, she took a well deserved 2nd behind Reina, the victor today. Reina it has to be said sailed a blinder of a race determined in the quest for top slot to not drop a second anywhere in manoeuvres and they didn’t. As the afterguard said, they left nothing on the race course. The deckwork was faultless, tactics were spot on. At West Dog when the fleet went out far right before hardening up, Reina went straight in tight and close, shrugging off the five second wind shadow and swiftly charging on, cutting huge chunks out of the course of others. Then the tricky bearaway set and gybe, that choreography created huge gains. Add in snap tacking in six impressive seconds (it’s 40 on a good day for double headed Starry Night), faultless drops and then owner driver Jeroen Hemels continuously hitting the numbers well, including on the beat max speed at 28° apparent. Poetry.
As scratch boat in the handicaps, it also won Reina her fourth “first to the finish line” on the water, four out of four. “Whatever happens tonight at the prize giving, we’ll be celebrating,” Jeroen laughs.
It was soon a double celebration. Across the Sound that evening at the award ceremony dinner and dance in the grand tented nest of the hillside hugging YCCS, David Tydeman announced Reina overall winner Class 1, reporting, “First three boats [Reina 1st, Lady Mariposa 2nd, Starry Night 3rd ] had just 1.25 points between them. I’m delighted with the results.” Roger Whylde, captain of Starry Night of the Caribbean, said, “What fantastic racing, all week… and first boats all within 1.25 points, you didn’t even get that in the old Admirals’ Cup.”
And it was just a close step to 4th placed Vamos. Again on Starry Night, Jonathan Russell comments, “You get four boats so close on points like that and you know they’ve got something right with the handicapping.”
In Class 2, the clear winner, with an astonishing four firsts on corrected time, was of course Ken and Diana Randall’s Infiniti of Cowes. Remembering this is their first regatta, and that they have in their own words acted only as ballast for others before, this is a worthy success. How so? It’s driven by a recent change in crew, the lift and buzz coming from new skipper/chef combo Tim (Tosh) and Bryony MacIntosh who also keep the boat tip-top and scooped the Class 2 Concours d’Elegance trophy.
The win is an unexpected thrill but as Ken and Diana say, “It is difficult at times, we do sail with only six, that’s us, Tim and Bryony and a couple of friends. There’s been a lot of learning on the job! A blend of youth and enthusiasm!” And what of the future? “MORE!”
Second in Class 2 was Sotto Vento, 3rd Jig Saw and 4th Ayesha II.
“So very close results,” says David Tydeman, “and the handicapping worked because of that mix of race types. Something for everyone, there isn’t a bias. Over time we’ve also learned that though close results make for excitement you don’t need to be close to each other to have close racing. The staggered individual starting has worked well, keeping boats safely away from each other and allowing owners & tacticians time to plan separation on the course – and, we hope, encouraging family and friends and social sailors to be involved. We’ve had a really good social fleet of seven or eight boats coming to the parties, following the event on its travels around the BVI this week but not racing - and we’d love to see more doing this.”
Class 1 winner Jeroen Hemels extended the blend, sharing his enthusiasm with the gathering, “I’ve been sailing all my life but cruising. In Palma last year I did my first regatta, it was fantastic, it confirmed absolutely that regattas are the best thing in life… but it is also so much about the socialising, which is excellent and so much a part of this, it is so exciting, to talk and enjoy so many people, it is so open, and everyone is lovely!”
Socialising and conviviality were certainly king and queen as the awards evening stretched into the dancing hours with everyone looking back on a good, successful Oyster Regatta BVI 2015 and talking of the next – that’s the Oyster Regatta Palma 29 Sept – 3 Oct 2015.
Written by Mike Owen
Images by Mike Jones