If you want to have fun, round up a crew to com­pete in the bare­boat class of one of the many out­stand­ing Caribbean re­gat­tas. If you also want to win, fol­low these tips. BY DAVID SCH­MIDT

Cruising World - - Hands-On Sailor - David Sch­midt is CW’S elec­tron­ics ed­i­tor.


An at­mos­phere of Caribbean-in­spired eu­pho­ria, un­bri­dled en­thu­si­asm and — in ret­ro­spect — a pinch of over­con­fi­dence blew across the cock­pit of Aigue Marine, our Sun­sail-char­tered Beneteau 50, as we sailed from English Har­bour to nearby Green Is­land, just off of An­tigua’s east­ern flank. The plan was to toss the hook and clean the boat’s am­ple un­der­car­riage in prepa­ra­tion for the next day’s start of the 2008 edi­tion of An­tigua Sail­ing Week. Given that our crew all had rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and given that we were com­pet­ing in the re­gatta’s chubby-hubby bare­boat fleet, we naively as­sumed that our com­pe­ti­tion would be soft.

Three days and nu­mer­ous mid­fleet fin­ishes later, we were quickly learn­ing that it takes more than a scrub brush and some late-win­ter cabin fever to win a Caribbean bare­boat re­gatta, espe­cially with other ac­com­plished rac­ers gun­ning for the same prize. For­tu­nately, as we hap­pily dis­cov­ered, com­pe­ti­tion can be as stiff or re­laxed as each crew chooses to make it, giv­ing sailors of all sail­cloths the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in fun-spir­ited rac­ing on some of the world’s best race­courses.

For sailors who want to do well, how­ever, bare­boat rac­ing ace Neil Har­vey shares se­crets gleaned over 20-plus years of rac­ing — and win­ning — these sto­ried events.

“Bare­boats are a won­der­ful con­cept of rac­ing,” says Har­vey, a long­time marinein­dus­try vet­eran and world­fa­mous Aus­tralian ocean

racer, a few days af­ter win­ning the 2018 Heineken Re­gatta’s 10-boat-strong Bare­boat 2 di­vi­sion aboard KHS&S

Con­trac­tors, the Du­four 44 that he and Michael Can­non char­tered from Dream Yacht Char­ters. “You can bring your fam­ily and friends — your crew doesn’t have to be rock stars, and the boats are quite com­fort­able to stay aboard.”

As with all sail­boat rac­ing, as­sem­bling the right crew is one of the most im­por­tant pieces of any win­ning for­mula, and the key, says Har­vey, is to build a core group who are com­ple­mented by other sailors of vary­ing ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els. “We don’t prac­tice to­gether at home be­fore­hand, but we like to prac­tice be­fore the first day of the re­gatta,” says Har­vey, adding that the

KHS&S Con­trac­tors crew used the re­gatta-within-a-re­gatta Gill Commodore’s Cup at this year’s Heineken re­gatta as their warm-up.

Much like our bot­tom-scrub­bing so­journ to Green Is­land aboard Aigue

Marine, Har­vey and com­pany ar­rive a day or two be­fore the re­gatta and care­fully comb through the boat. Their check­list in­cludes a thor­ough bot­tom scrub (tak­ing par­tic­u­lar care to clean the lead­ing edges of all ap­pendages and the keel bulb’s un­der­side), tun­ing the mast and in­spect­ing the run­ning rig­ging. Here, Har­vey sug­gests di­vid­ing the crew into “bow,” “mast” and “mid-deck/cock­pit” teams that are re­spon­si­ble for in­spect­ing ev­ery in­di­vid­ual piece of equip­ment, fer­ret­ing out bro­ken sheaves and chaffed hal­yards and sheets, tap­ing off life­line fit­tings and gates, and tap­ing over mast-mounted cleats that could oth­er­wise snag jib sheets.

Most charter boats are equipped with a mid­boom trav­eler, and Har­vey rec­om­mends care­fully rins­ing out the trav­eler car and its bear­ings, track and bear­ing races with fresh wa­ter and dish soap, then slack­ing all con­trol lines and run­ning the car back and forth on the track to re­move all salt crys­tals be­fore a fi­nal fresh­wa­ter rinse. “Then, I put a lit­tle bit of Mclube or WD-40 in the trav­eler car to con­di­tion the ball bear­ings,” says Har­vey, who also ad­vises pol­ish­ing the com­pass prisms on both helms.

Next, Har­vey sug­gests past­ing white elec­tri­cal tape next to each of the jib tracks — port and star­board — and num­ber­ing each pin-stop hole for easy vis­ual ref­er­ence. Also, if your boat’s jib-furl­ing line leads aft to a pri­mary winch, Har­vey sug­gests re-lead­ing it from the bow through an empty slot in a cabin-top or­ga­nizer to a rope clutch and then to a cabin-top winch, which al­lows you to shorten sail if the pri­mary winch is oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied.

Fol­low­ing the rules is an im­por­tant part of mas­ter­ing any game, and it’s crit­i­cal that mul­ti­ple crewmem­bers have

read the re­gatta’s no­tice of race and are fa­mil­iar with its sail­ing in­struc­tions. While most Caribbean re­gat­tas are gov­erned by the Rac­ing Rules of Sail­ing and hand­i­cap each boat us­ing the Caribbean Sail­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s hand­i­cap for­mula, some events, in­clud­ing the St. Maarten Heineken Re­gatta, em­ploy their own bare­boat rules. In all cases, it’s crit­i­cal to un­der­stand the rules and penal­ties (such as 360- or 720-de­gree penalty turns), and while no one wants to be pe­nal­ized and go into “the room,” Har­vey sug­gests tap­ing a protest flag to the back­stay for fast de­ploy­ment, just in case. “It’s a fab­u­lous set of rules, and they made it even for ev­ery­one,” says Har­vey about the even play­ing fields found in the bare­boat fleets.

Once un­der sail and in full up­wind trim, Har­vey rec­om­mends mark­ing your out­haul and hal­yard po­si­tions with a magic marker and then adding ad­di­tional marks a few inches be­hind the clutch to serve as rough-trim ref­er­ence points when quickly switch­ing gears from up­wind mode to reach­ing or run­ning.

“I joke with the charter com­pa­nies that I’ll be dis­ap­pointed if the boat doesn’t come back in bet­ter con­di­tion than when we took it,” Har­vey says of his pre-race setup work.

Next, the task be­comes one of em­ploy­ing the fastest boathandling tac­tics. This starts, says Har­vey, by back­ing down the boat min­utes be­fore your start­ing gun to re­move any er­rant sea­weed or kelp, while also en­sur­ing that the en­gine’s gear shifter is in its neu­tral po­si­tion.

Sails come next, and the first com­mand­ment of bare­boat rac­ing is never to reef the main­sail in less than 28 knots, says Har­vey. “Full-bat­ten sails with in­ter­nal slugs make it al­most im­pos­si­ble to pull the sail down with­out head­ing into the wind,” Har­vey says, adding that swept-back spread­ers make it ex­tremely hard to re­hoist the main af­ter round­ing the wind­ward mark. “In­stead, it’s bet­ter to go with a full main and a [par­tially] rolledup jib be­cause this opens the slot, let­ting you lower the trav­eler in puffs.” Sim­i­larly, when pound­ing into bath­tub-warm seas and pre­par­ing to tack, Har­vey of­ten puts four or five reef­ing rolls into the head­sail and then un­winds this cloth on the next board.

While roller-reef­ing the head­sail — rather than the main­sail — is fast, don’t for­get

to ad­just your jib cars to achieve the cor­rect sail shapes. Here, Har­vey says, a smart move in­volves us­ing the end of your jib hal­yard as a tem­po­rary jib sheet (run­ning from the clew to a rail cleat) while ad­just­ing a jib car, and to ad­just the port and star­board jib cars at the same time — us­ing the numbered tape as a fast ref­er­ence — so the helms­man can tack as needed.

Car­ry­ing a full main­sail in a fresh Caribbean breeze re­quires ac­tive trim­mers, and Har­vey sta­tions crew on the port and star­board trav­eler-con­trol lines, which are never cleated off. This al­lows the crew to in­stantly crack the trav­eler off in puffs — keep­ing the boat on its feet and re­duc­ing weather helm — and quickly trim it to weather dur­ing lulls.

As with all sail­boat rac­ing, it’s im­por­tant to watch the breeze and to re­act by “chang­ing gears” as nec­es­sary, us­ing con­trols such as sheets, out­haul and hal­yard ten­sion, and mov­able bal­last. “We have two rules when go­ing to weather,” Har­vey says. “We pre­fer you sit on the wind­ward rail, but it’s OK to lean against the cabin side, and if you go be­low, you’d bet­ter come up with a few beers.”

Down­wind tac­tics are eased con­sid­er­ably by the fact that bare­boat fleets don’t use spin­nakers, and Rule 49.2 of the Rac­ing Rules of Sail­ing lim­its how far out­side the life­lines crews can reach while hold­ing sheets, but fast crews will pay close at­ten­tion to the boat’s heel an­gle and at­ti­tude. “We’ll move two bod­ies to lee­ward [when sail­ing down­wind],” Har­vey says. “And we move all weight for­ward of the shrouds to get the stern out of the wa­ter.”

While spin­nakers are out, sail­ing wing-on-wing is fast and class le­gal. In light to mod­er­ate airs, Har­vey and his crew ease the main­sail all the way out and tie the boom to the cap shroud (us­ing duct tape or a towel to pro­tect it from dam­age), and move all crewmem­bers to the head­sail side of the boat to help en­cour­age the jib to fill. Also, steer­ing 5 de­grees to the lee is quick when sail­ing deep an­gles, Har­vey says.

While fairly ob­vi­ous, it’s im­por­tant to avoid com­peti­tors’ dirty air and ad­verse cur­rents, just like on any race­course. How­ever, Har­vey points out that the equa­to­rial cur­rent gen­er­ally flows through the Caribbean in a west­ward di­rec­tion (even­tu­ally be­com­ing the Gulf Stream). Here, smart tac­ti­cians will mon­i­tor the dif­fer­ence be­tween the ves­sel’s speed over wa­ter and its speed over ground, and will lever­age this in­for­ma­tion.

Like­wise, wave an­gles rel­a­tive to the breeze are an­other im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion, and Har­vey sug­gests us­ing the roller-reef­ing head­sail to help deal with off­set seas. For ex­am­ple, when ne­go­ti­at­ing the An­guilla Pas­sage at the Heineken Re­gatta, where the seas are gen­er­ally skewed a bit to the pre­vail­ing breeze, Har­vey sug­gests putting in four or five head­sail rolls when tack­ing into the waves, and then shak­ing out one or two rolls on the op­po­site board.

Har­vey’s fi­nal pieces of ad­vice are ones that we for­tu­nately heeded aboard

Aigue Marine, namely that the Caribbean sun is hot and in­tensely bright, espe­cially for any­one ac­cus­tomed to north­ern climes, so proper hy­dra­tion and sun pro­tec­tion are crit­i­cal. Con­sider car­ry­ing large wa­ter jugs to re­fill in­di­vid­ual bot­tles, and def­i­nitely use strong sun­screen and Spf-rated cloth­ing, the lat­ter of which can be or­dered with team liv­ery.

While chartering a boat and en­joy­ing a fan­tas­tic week of sail­ing at a Caribbean re­gatta is rel­a­tively easy (see “Charter Con­sid­er­a­tions,” above), win­ning is an­other mat­ter. Still, Har­vey and his core group of “nu­cle­ars” have used this play­book to col­lect more than their fair share of race­course hard­ware over the past 20-plus years.

“It’s the most en­joy­able keel­boat rac­ing I’ve ever done,” Har­vey says, adding that he of­ten op­ti­mizes his ex­pe­ri­ence by tag­ging on a few days of cruis­ing be­fore or af­ter rac­ing. “And it’s an af­ford­able way to do a ma­jor Caribbean re­gatta.”

Dressed for suc­cess: Sport­ing match­ing uni­forms, a nice way to fos­ter team spirit, a bare­boat crew on a char­tered 41-footer puts its boat through the paces while sail­ing to weather.

Even on charter boats, close-quar­ters ma­neu­ver­ing is al­ways ex­cit­ing (top). But one of the rea­sons many sailors love Caribbean rac­ing is the point-to-point dis­tance con­tests that take the fleet on a chal­leng­ing course around the is­lands (above).

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