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A Caribbean Championship of Champions

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A protest hearing in paradise. A regatta should never end this way, but there sat two sun-kissed protagonists, astride at the aft salon table of the Sunsail 454 race committee catamaran. Rick Harris, the laid-back California skipper, and Andy Camarda, the energetic Chicagoan who won PHRF 3 at the St. Petersburg NOOD, faced the Helly Hansen Caribbean NOOD Championship's PRO and umpire, Sue Reilly, to present their versions of a little pre-start port-starboard bump in the day's first of three races.

While crews of the annual regatta’s six teams frolicked above and below the waters of the British Virgin Island’s Norman Island, protest proceedings got underway with complimentary Painkillers for the protestors. Over the next hour or so, facts were found, witnesses summoned, and when it was all said and done, Reilly ruled both boats were in the wrong: Harris, the port-tacker for failing to heed right of way, and Camarda for failing to avoid contact.

Call it draw, perhaps, but the outcome of the protest had the surprising effect of then vaulting the third-place team to the top of the score board. No one saw it coming, especially the Championship’s defender, Team Juhnksho, skippered by Vancouverite Kirk Leslie.

As the weeklong regatta began weaving through the jewels of the Caribbean, Leslie and his tactician John Caunter, had feet riddled with bullet holes, the first of which was inflicted in the opening race. During this lap around Cooper Island, Camarda and his teammates aced the course and put their first win onto the scoresheet. Following them closely around the track was team San Diego, with Harris at the helm. Juhnksho, the 2018 champions, followed across the line third after sailing into a windless hole while trying to cut a corner on the island's western side. Juhnksho was followed by Gyt Petkus and his revelers from Chicago in fourth. Berit Solstad's team, representing the Marblehead NOOD, sailed into the anchorage fifth, followed by Annapolitan Matt Shubert's three-couples squad, which was late out of the base for reasons beyond their control.

Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship winners, Team Juhnksho, had tactician John Caunter (at winch), skipper Kirk Leslie, Annabelle Leslie on trim, Kim Ford in the pit, and Katy Caunter on strategy from the rail (not shown). After a slow start, the defenders gained from other’s mistakes, securing their defense on the regatta’s final day.
Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship winners, Team Juhnksho, had tactician John Caunter (at winch), skipper Kirk Leslie, Annabelle Leslie on trim, Kim Ford in the pit, and Katy Caunter on strategy from the rail (not shown). After a slow start, the defenders gained from other’s mistakes, securing their defense on the regatta’s final day. (Dave Reed/Sailing World/)

Not to worry, though, as all stress was soon left on the racecourse and the teams gathered to formally meet and greet at the Coopers Island Beach Club with the sun dropping behind fleecy clouds, producing a stunning sunset as backdrop for the Helly Hansen welcome party and Oktoberfest.

An early rise and motor gave teams a chance to explore The Baths of Virgin Gorda before a prompt 11 am start for Leg 2 to Virgin Gorda Sound’s Leverick Bay. The top-two teams commenced their blossoming rivalry with Camarda cruising to victory again with Harris in close pursuit. Solstad’s Team Marblehead made its presence known with a third on the scoresheet. Juhksho rolled across the line fourth with a defeated appearance and a look of shock smeared across their sunburnt faces.

The defense, according to Caunter, was not going as planned. To quote, “We sucked.”

Team Chicago claimed its fifth place while Team Annapolis, now confident they were dealt the slowest boat in the charter pool, checked in with another six.

An overnight respite at Leverick Bay gave the sailors a chance to consider their place in the fleet and prepare for the Mount Gay Rum drink-recipe contest. The race committee stood court as drinks arrived in succession: first an “interesting” combination from Team Chicago: rum, prosecco, cranberry juice, chopped mint and lime. Then came a bizarre concoction of Nerds candy, Swedish fish, rum and other assorted ingredients. Team Annapolis delivered a taste of Fall with a delicious apple cider composition. Juhnksho arrived with a cored pineapple filled with a refreshing blend of rum and fresh squeezed juices. Team San Diego’s version of a Painkiller was presented in a pineapple, too. Team St. Pete, late to the party, showed up with a single red Solo cup, a heavy two-finger rum pour, and a topper of Coca Cola. “It’s a proper rum and coke!” proclaimed its creator, Tony Barrett.

After much debate and the lingering taste of sour Nerds sucked through a paper straw, the panel gave the nod to Team Junhksho’s mixologists (2018 drink contest winners as well), giving them high marks for presentation, taste and repeatability.

Juhnksho’s cocktail victory must have rekindled its competitive juices for the day’s next race, Leg 3 of the regatta, which featured a short course inside Virgin Gorda Sound before crews exited through the reef passage for a long broad reach to Anegada. Team Marblehead nailed the start, tacked, and played the shifts on the right while Team Juhnksho favored the left. The two teams soon met at the top of the beat and Leslie attempted a late tack at the mark instead of ducking, fouling Marblehead in the process. Camarda’s Team St. Petersburg tried a shy starboard layline but failed to fetch the mark and sat dead in the water attempting to get its sails filled.

Team Marblehead, of course, emerged from the fracas and led out of the sound, but Camarda and his crew reeled them in and passed well before they sailed across the finish line in the crystal blue shallows of Anegada, adding another win to their scoreline. It was starting look as though Camarda and Co. would run away with the championship, but Harris and Team San Diego were right on their tail once again, giving them chase to finish second.

An Anegada lay day allowed teams to dispatch across the island to the numerous beach bars and excursions before returning to the mooring field for the late afternoon’s SUP relay races. Here, Team Annapolis finally broke its string of sixth place finishes with a win, which was then followed up by another triumph—on the dance floor of the Halloween eve party, as a team of lifeguards. Their whistles surely could be heard all the way to Tortola.

The following day, with two races on the schedule, the first from Anegada to Guana Island and a distance of 14 miles or so, it was not surprising to see San Diego and St. Petersburg locked into combat again. As Camarda tailed the Californians down the line on port, however, they misjudged their speed, glanced the race committee’s dinghy and hooked their stern-mounted grill on the committee boat’s lifelines. It was penalty turns for them and they started a step behind, but soon after, they hailed the race committee by VHF, announcing their retirement from the race for having started and raced with their engine accidently left in gear.

San Diego ultimately claimed the leg win and Juhnksho was beginning to make its climb with a second. Team Chicago put in its best result with a third. Team Annapolis, certain with its place in the fleet, declined to start and instead, slid into cruising mode for the remainder of the week.

With the day’s second start off Guana Island’s Monkey Point, San Diego executed a perfect downwind start, jibed immediately and opted for an inshore track along Tortola’s steep and green northern coastline. Juhnksho and St. Petersburg held offshore and crossed the line in that order, followed by San Diego. The scoresheet now had the two rivals tied at the top, with Juhnksho lurking in third.

After the passage of a 38-knot rain squall, racing resumed off Sandy Cay on the final day with Camarda wasting no time putting his match-racing skills to work on Team San Diego in the prestart. There was a lot of yelling, a bit of light rubbing, and then of course the dueling protest hails before they sailed on toward Norman Island. Team Junhksho led off the start and extended its lead through the challenging Thatch Island Cut at the west of Tortola. While the defenders were then left wallowing in a windless hole, Team San Diego made a daring split, tacking away, directly toward the island, and eventually bit into a streak of 100 yards upwind, which propelled them into the lead and launched them into the Bight, followed by St. Petersburg and Juhnksho, respectively.

The race committee then immediately set to work setting marks for two riveting in-port races, both handily won by Camarda and crew. After racing, scores were tallied and the two teams were tied, with the paddle board race results to be applied in favor of San Diego.

But there was that small of issue of the protest hearing, to be held on account of their being contact. Upon both skippers earning their DSQs, the results reshuffled and championship bragging rights were handed to an incredulous Team Juhnksho. Kirk and Annabelle Leslie, John and Katy Caunter, and Kim Ford had conquered the BVI again and vowed to return for a third defense. In doing so, they calling on three-time winner Jim Sears to return and challenge them for the ultimate bragging rights of the BVI champions in 2020.

At press time, Sears had only hinted an intent to challenge, but so long as the taunting from Juhnksho continues, he may find it impossible to decline. Winning is too much fun, Sears would say, especially in the BVIs where everyone is a winner no matter where you finish.