Before leaving the states, a Trini J/24 sailor asked us if we would crew for him during Tobago Race Week. Having sold my J/24 months ago and knowing we were going to miss our usual winter regattas back home we excitedly agreed.
Let me be the first to say J/24 racing in the southern Caribbean is nothing like J/24 racing anywhere else I’ve been. Most notably, no one drives their J/24s to the racing venues. Since there are no roads between the venues the boats are sailed “up dee road” to regattas. The shortest distance for any J/24 to reach Tobago is the 70 nautical miles from Trinidad. I know everyone who has ever sailed a J/24 is now laughing their ass off. But seriously, that’s how they do it here. For you non-sailors out there, the 70 miles from Trinidad to Tobago takes about 12 hours. The trip is best done during the night so you arrive on the shallow reefs of Tobago in daylight. As if the trip from Trinidad isn’t bad enough, the furthest boat this year came from Grenada which is about a 15-18 hour trip, and we heard that in previous years, boats have come all the way from Bequia, which is 30+ hours depending on conditions. Keep in mind these intrepid sailors are crossing open ocean in a boat which has no standing head room, no running water, no toilet, and no bed. Personally, I think I might race in a different class.
The boat delivery aside, racing in Tobago is amazing. Conditions average 15-25 knots of steady wind, and 3-6′ seas, all in crystal clear Caribbean water. Thanks to the distance from the U.S. and the great expense of getting parts and supplies for Js down here, boats were rigged a little more old-school (no Lopez blocks, lots of cabin-top winches, and halyards led aft) and sails were a bit less crispy than we’re used to back home, but the rules are the same, so we felt pretty at home. We managed one bullet for the weekend, with a pickup crew and some crew members still getting acquainted with the J/24. We even had a run-in with what we thought was a giant black tarp floating in the water on our way in from racing one day, and it turned out to be a manta ray, about 8′ in wingspan.
On land, the regatta committee had organized kiteboarding and windsurfing demos after their racing portion had ended, so the “big boat” racers hung out on the beach “liming” and spectating. There were beach games daily, and theses involved such crazy stunts as group skiing, team potato sack racing, and piling 6 people onto a 12″ circle with no feet touching the ground!
Though our racing wasn’t as smooth as anyone on the boat may have wished, we came out of the weekend having had a great time, having learned new things, having played some serious beach games, and having made some great new friends. (Shout out to Die Hard in Grenada!) Stephen and his sister and brother-in-law Jennifer and James have been great ambassadors to the sailing community in Trinidad for us, and we couldn’t have asked for a more fun experience.