BVI Sping Regatta Banner Photo by Anthony Blake

BVI Spring Regatta – Now a Major Player

The BVI Spring Regatta is among the top 15 racing events in the world

by Claudia Colli

The masts of dozens of racing boats stand tall above the docks at Nanny Cay Marina, and rows of Hobie Cats and sail boards line the beach. Hundreds of sunburned sailors in tee shirts, cargo shorts and salt encrusted caps mill around the food tents talking, drinking and eating. It's the opening evening of the 37th annual BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival, and there's a buzz of excitement as the territory's biggest yachting event gets underway.

The Regatta, which will be held this year from March 31 through April 5, attracts an international bevy of yachtsmen sailing on vessels ranging from state of the art racers to casual cruisers. The event's attraction is easy to see. The B.V.I. has some of the world's best sailing waters, and what makes the area appealing to cruisers, works just as well for racers.

"We are now among the top racing events in the world," says Bob Phillips, the Chairman of the Spring Regatta, who estimates that perhaps half a billion dollars of boats are on hand for the event each year. These are boats with international cachet like Pyewacket, Roy Disney's 80 foot beauty that participated in the regatta four years ago and the stunning ABN AMRO 1, the 2005/06 Volvo Ocean Race winner who stole the show and the overall first prize at last year's Spring Regatta.

The Regatta's growth over the last 37 years has been impressive. When the race was inaugurated in 1972 with just a dozen or so boats skippered by mostly weekend sailors, yachting here was still in its infancy. Bareboating was a brand new industry and there were only a handful of crewed charter yachts operating in the territory. But with hard work and limitless enthusiasm the race grew in lock step with the territory's burgeoning yachting industry. From two days, the race was increased to three, and as the caliber and number of boats continued to grow, the regatta was expanded to today's week-long festival. In an amazing "rags to riches" tale, the regatta is today one of the glamour events of the racing circuit, attracting about 160 yachts each year.

But it's not just a matter of getting them here, according to Bob Phillips, it's important to give them a good time once they arrive. That's why it was natural to expand the regatta into a seven day event.

"We wanted to make this a fun event for not only the racers, but for their families and friends as well," he says. "What's the point of coming to the B.V.I. if you can't see some of the islands? We have one of the most scenic places in the world and we want to show it off."

And being on the international racing map is good for more than the sailors. It benefits the entire British Virgin Islands. An average of 2500 people, descend on the B.V.I for the week of the Spring Regatta, spending several million dollars on hotels, taxis, restaurants and rental cars. "Virtually every business benefits," says Judy Petz the Regatta Coordinator, who works with dozens of volunteers to ensure the regatta's success.

As it turns out, the regatta benefits the B.V.I. year round. "There is nothing like a good first experience to bring tourists to the B.V.I.," she says. "The Spring Regatta promotes the territory as a sailing capital, and many participants return on vacations with their family at another time."

This year's festival begins with a welcome party and registration for the Sailing Festival at Nanny Cay Marina on Monday, March 31. On Tuesday, yachts will race to the Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound, Virgin Gorda for the Bitter End Cup. There will be an awards party that evening, and the next day will be reserved strictly for fun in North Sound. On Thursday, contestants will race back to Nanny Cay where there will be awards for the day's racing and a welcome party and registration in the Regatta Village for the main event - the BVI Spring Regatta.

The Regatta has a little of something for everyone. There are numerous classes and three courses catering for racers and cruisers, as well as smaller boats like the zippy IC 24s.

"People have a great time at the Regatta," affirms Alistair Abrehart of Broadsword Communications, the Regatta's publicity coordinator. Each evening, racing culminates at the Regatta Village at Nanny Cay where there are food tents and nightly entertainment, including the perennially popular swim wear fashion show.

Says Alistair, "The sailing is fun, but so is the social aspect. People love it, it's just what you expect a Caribbean regatta to be - a big sand-between-your-toes event."