Big Trade breezes, warm turquoise waters and a vibrant après-sail scene – the Caribbean race season offers something to tempt racers of every level. Spanning January to April, the season here is the perfect antidote to the UK’s most wintry of months. And it’s eminently doable: whether you have your own boat or fancy a charter, whether it’s your first visit or you’re a seasoned pro, whether it’s serious competition or laid-back vibes you’re after, the Caribbean sailing scene promises visitors a warm welcome, whichever regatta takes your fancy…
First up – getting there. Start your race as you intend to continue. Sure, you could cruise your way there, or perhaps charter or ship your boat and fly, but if you fancy racing your across way to the Caribbean, then RORC’s Transatlantic Race is the way to go. Participants will set off from Lanzarote on 7th January 2024 to race the 3000 miles to Grenada.
The Canary Challenge
Ahead of that, interestingly, a new 600-miler – The Canary Challenge (13-17 December) – has just been added, which will give any crews arriving early to the islands with a nice warm-up.
The 10th edition of the RORC transat will take place this year, and there are expected to be a number of strong entries from Europe and the US. The event will feature racing in the IRC, MOCRA and Maxis classes as well as high performance, two-handed and classic divisions.
Among the line-up will be the two-time line honours winner and the race’s current multihull record holder, Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70. Can they beat their own record set in 2023 of 5 days, five hours and 46 minutes? Also in the hunt will be two foiling MOD70s – Jason Carroll’s Argo and Erik Maris’ Zoulou – and a new all-female MOD70 team, The Famous Project, led by Jules Vernes hopeful, Alexia Barrier.
Leading the charge for the monohulls is likely to be Farr 100 Leopard 3, also expecting a speedy arrival in Grenada at Camper & Nicholson’s Port Louis Marina.
For most, the race takes around 12-14 days – worthwhile for the warm welcome and cold beers every boat is given as they dock, whatever time of day or night.
Grenada Sailing Week
The Spice Island is the ideal base for exploring the Grenadines. Tobago Quays and other parts of the Grenadines are easily accessible from Grenada. The Grenada Sailing Week, which takes place from 28 January to 2 Februarie and features a mixture of coastal and inland races, is not far away.
Barbados Sailing Week
Barbados Sailing Week is a long-standing event that should not be missed (13-22 January). The 60nm Mount Gay Round Barbados Race dates back to as early as 1936. The event has also become known for its inclusiveness, which in recent years has expanded to include spectacles like freestyle kitesurfing, wingfoil races and dinghy racing for many different classes.
Caribbean Multihull Challenge
In February, the Caribbean Multihull Challenge will be held at St Maarten Yacht Club (1-4 Feb). It is a relatively young event and includes distance and local racing for cats and Tris from Diam 24s up to Gunboat 60s. This dynamic event, which has a new model, now includes time trials and a cruising rallies that include an overnight stay in St Barths.
RORC’s Caribbean 600
In the Caribbean, this event has become a must-attend for serious racers. The RORC’s Caribbean 600, organised in association with Antigua YC, starts (19 Feb) off Fort Charlotte, Antigua under a raft of spectators, then wends its way around 11 of the Caribbean’s most stunning islands. This 600-miler offers up a real racer’s challenge, with top prizes highly contested for IRC, MOCRA, two-handed, Class40s, classics and superyacht classes.
If last year’s 70-strong fleet is anything to go by, we can expect this regatta to showcase some of the hottest racing of the season; 2023’s race saw just 11 seconds between first and second in the battle for multihull line honours, as Zoulou (sailed by Erik Maris with crew inc Ned Collier Walkefield and Loïck Peyron) just pipped Maserati to the post.
The monohull record held by George David’s Rambler 88 has remained unbroken since 2018 at 1 day, 13 hours and 41 minutes. Can anyone beat this record? Perhaps. The line-up this year includes the two-time previous line-honours monohull, Leopard 3, skippered by Chris Sherlock. Fresh from Rolex Middle Sea, Leopard 3 is a Farr 100 with significant deck and rig upgrades.
RORC Nelson Cup Series
Inshore racing is part of the RORC Nelson Cup Series, which will be held from 13-23 February. This series has been running since 2023 and was a success. Four days of windward-leeward racing, run by RORC and Antigua YC, is topped off with the Antigua 360 Round the Island Race; overall scoring for the Nelson Cup includes the RORC Caribbean, making this an exciting – and testing – inshore/offshore series. The 52nm circumnavigation of the island will no doubt be a highlight; last year, Antiguan kiteboard sensation Tiger Tyson blasted around in 2 hours 38 mins, beating the outright round Antigua record, (held by Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD70 Phaedo3) by six minutes.
St Maarten Heineken Regatta
From records breakers to record numbers, and the St Maarten Heineken Regatta – a Caribbean classic that attracts over 20,000 visitors each year, making it the largest event in the Caribbean. The 44th edition is set for 29 Feb to 3 March, with racing taking place under the CSA rule and catering to every class, from liveaboards cruisers (officially dubbed the ‘Island Time’ class!) The 44th edition will take place from 29 February to 3 March, with racing taking place under the CSA rule and catering for every class, including liveaboard cruisers (officially dubbed the ‘Island Time’ class!) The event’s post-race party is a big draw, as you might expect given its sponsor.
Do you like your regattas to be super glitzy and opulent? The Superyacht Challenge Antigua will take place from 11-17 March, followed by the St Barths Bucket on 21-24 March. If your invite has been lost in the post (don’t worry, mine was too) these events still pose a superlative opportunity for those in the area anyway to kick back and watch some of the world’s finest race boats in action. If that’s you, take note of the dates.
St Thomas International Regatta
Back to more mainstream events and the sorts of size boat most of us are more accustomed to… The St Thomas International Regatta bills itself as ‘the crown jewel of Caribbean racing’ and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, with the competition taking place over Easter weekend (29-31 March). Racing runs under CSA, and includes smaller one-design classes; charter options are available, interestingly with a new and exciting ‘race with a pro’ coached initiative on offer. Interestingly, only a few Cape 31s competed in the regatta last year. The Round the Rocks Race is held on 28 March, which precedes the regatta.
BVI Spring Regatta
The BVI Spring regatta (1-7th April) has just celebrated its 51st anniversary. Taking its cue from the destination’s laid-back island vibes, the event is split into two parts – the first a four-day Sailing Festival that includes the 37nm Round Tortola Race, then three days of the Spring Regatta. Last year’s 70 participants were a great start to the event. This year, there are a variety of race options, including cruisers, one-designs, and bareboats. All races will be run by experienced race management, hosted by Nanny Cay.
Les Voiles de St Barths
Les Voiles de St Barths is back for its 13th edition, taking place between 14-20th April. High calibre short course racing attracts well-known Maxis, Multis and high performance flyers to race under CSA, the likes of Pyewacket, Roy P. Disney’s Volvo 70 winner of last year’s Maxi class. Around 80 boats will be participating in this environmentally-conscious regatta. Richard Mille Record Trophy is 47nm between Tintamarre Island and St Barth, as well as a mid-regatta laid-day party held at Nikki Beach.
Antigua Classics Week
Antigua Classics Week takes place around the same time (17-22 April). This regatta, which is a Caribbean staple for decades and attracts up to 100 boats, is a niche event, but it has been attracting Classic Yachts, Spirit of Tradition or Modern Classics for many years.
Antigua Sailing Week
Rounding out the main season is The Peters & May Round Antigua Race on Saturday 27 April, marking the start of Antigua Sailing Week, which runs until 3 May. Over 100 yachts will be present, ranging in size from 24ft to 100ft. They include family cruisers, sportsboats, keelboats as well as multihulls. The Antigua Wingfoil Championship is also taking place concurrently and promises to impress spectators.
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