A Race to Meet Friends, Old and New
Frank Mavronicolas and his wife, Linda, had spent the winter of 2009 cruising the islands of the Caribbean aboard Boonatsa, their Swan 57. When they got to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, they decided to take a slip at Nanny Cay Marina, where they grew fond of breathtaking sunrise views over Sir Francis Drake Channel, not to mention the nearby beach, pool, and Peg Leg Landing bar and restaurant.
Then they learned one day that the annual B.V.I. Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival was moving in. "Miles, the manager, told me that if I wasn't racing, I had to give up the slip," recalls Frank. "I didn't want to give up the slip so I told him I'd race."
Frank and Linda's easygoing attitude-combined with a healthy appetite for competition on the racecourse-are integral to the success story of this signature B.V.I. event. Nearly four decades old, the regatta is one of the most popular and enduring of Caribbean racing events for everything from its daily short courses, which attract sailors of both Olympic and Corinthian stature, to its ever-expanding showcase of parties, parades of fashion models, and lay-day amusements ashore.
In 2009, lingering cold fronts and northers miraculously shoved off on cue, and the Mavronicolases were joined by more than 120 other cruising and racing entries, all of them eager to mix it up under mostly flawless skies on the emerald courses that loop in and out of the channel.
From locals to annual regulars on break from the rigors of lousy winter weather someplace else, and including such well-known retirees as former Oyster Marine executive Richard Matthews, sailors in several classes boarded their own vessels or chartered bareboats, tore down dodgers, and pulled on racing gloves while they hunted wind and tweaked sails to propel them onward.
Lucky to be in their midst and in my old stomping grounds, I accepted invitations to crew with a few of them, making new friends and enjoying many reunions with old.
I'd barely arrived for duty aboard Boonatsa when I saw the smiling face of Val Doan pop up out of the companionway with a warm hello. An accomplished sailor and racer with hundreds of thousands of miles to her credit, Val and I met when I worked as charter-boat crew here in the 1990s.
Val made it into the record books after the 2006 Newport-Bermuda Race, when her role as navigator helped earn her the Carlton Mitchell/Finisterre Trophy for the yacht with the best-corrected time in the cruising division. Unbeknown to me, Val had delivered Boonatsa for the Mavronicolases in previous years, and they'd become friends, forging yet another link within the cruising network.
Frank, who's previously owned an Ericson 39, a Baltic 42, and a C&C 40, is no stranger to the circuit, with countless regatta seasons in his Long Island home waters as well as a few Newport-Bermuda races under his belt. This was his first B.V.I. regatta, he told me, and he was enjoying every bit of it, including alternating helming duties with Val. "This is sailing in paradise. It's a great race, and there's great competition," he says. "It's better than Newport-Bermuda in that you can see your competition. Plus, I have my favorite female helmsman aboard." Boonatsa carried us smoothly over the finish line, and though we weren't about to set any records, Frank beamed. "I love it when everything goes right," he sighed. Once off Boonatsa, I left Nanny Cay and began another round of dock visits at the Sunsail Sailing Vacation base, located on the waterfront at Road Town, the territory's capital. There I literally stumbled upon sailing friends and colleagues from Newport, Rhode Island.
Leave it to my neighbors Dick and Jane Tracy, veteran cruisers and racers, to ensure that I met even more sailors who swell the ranks of the bareboat fleet, thus delighting regatta organizers and charter companies. They're both longtime professionals in the marine industry: Dick's a yacht-insurance broker with Pantaenius America, and Jane's the editor of an in-house newsletter for a U.S. Navy R&D facility.