Of the seven boats that took the start line on Saturday morning for the Saint Lucia Yacht Club’s Independence Round the Island Race, none of them could have guessed that three vessels would have to retire an hour into the two-day competition for the Sir John Compton Memorial Trophy. But such is the nature of competitive sailing, reminding all the participants that equipment failure can happen and the best laid race plans of skippers and crews can be dashed in a second.
So it was a diminished fleet of two J24s and two cruising yachts that sailed down the east coast on Saturday in high seas and stiff but shifty winds, to arrive in Laborie Bay at the end of the first leg. First past the mark shortly after lunchtime was 54’ Caol Ila, the winner of the Diamond Dash on Feb 1st, followed by J24 Sugar Beach Attitude, 44’ Hot Chocolate and J24 Sunset Heights Grayling. After de-rigging and cooling off for a while, the crews headed ashore to join in Laborie’s Independence Day celebrations, which included a steel pan band in the square, a street lime and a warm Laborian welcome from the owners of Big Bamboo restaurant and other bars and rum shops in the village.
Day two of the race began bright and early on Sunday morning in Laborie Bay, and the four competing crews were in fighting form as they jostled for the sailing equivalent of ‘pole’ position. The race is open to all classes of yacht, and the results are based on Caribbean Sailing Association handicaps applied to the time taken to finish each leg, meaning that the ‘over the line’ positions on the first day were no indication of the actual results.
As the horn blew at 9am, Sugar Beach Attitude almost flew off the start line, hoisting spinnaker and surfing the waves all the way to Soufriere, where they dropped the large sheet and sailed north under jib to the finish at Rodney Bay. Caol Ila and Sunset Heights Grayling both got off to a strong start, while Hot Chocolate appeared to have problems with their jib right from the starting line, and the two man crew worked hard to right the problem and fly their spinnaker to get back into the race.
Once again, conditions were perfect for the sail, despite a few calm intervals where west coast wind-shadow affected some of the boats. Crossing the line at the end of the second day, the finishing order was Caol Ila, Sugar Beach Attitude, Grayling and Hot Chocolate, but with handicaps in play, the sailors were still in the dark as the prize-giving ceremony started at the Saint Lucia Yacht Club.
Guest of honour for the occasion was Lady Janice Compton, whose late husband Sir John, the island’s first prime minister, was a skilled sailor and enthusiastic participant in all manner of races and regattas.
Lady Janice and the audience were welcomed by the Yacht Club’s first woman Vice Commodore, Lily Bergasse, and treated to a few memories of Sir John’s passion for sailing by SLYC committee veteran Jonathan Everett, who raised a smile from the crowd as he recounted how Sir John liked to “travel light” with a small bag for his spare shirt and underwear, but a large crocus sack full of fruits from his own land which presumably kept the crew free of scurvy on their voyages!
Mr. Everett also gave a brief history of the Sir John Compton Memorial Trophy, which was formerly awarded for a three-day race to Martinique, but will in future be associated with the Independence Round the Island Race, a fitting reintroduction on the occasion of the island’s 35th anniversary of independence.
And so to the final results: SLYC Sailing Captain Fredric Sweeney firstly called on Alistair Maclean and the crew of Star Charger V who were awarded a “good Samaritan prize” for going beyond the call of duty in assisting one of the damaged vessels: they also hosted the SLYC PRO and another crew member of the stricken Happy Morning all the way to Laborie and back on their yacht, thereby saving the weekend for a couple of initially very disappointed sailors!
In third place was J24 Sunset Heights Grayling skippered by Scott Anthony with corrected time of 33,866 secs; in second place, to the surprise of many in the audience, was Caol Ila skippered by Alex Geddes, which demolished the previous Round the Island time record by more than an hour; on handicap however, their performance of 32,491 secs corrected time was not enough to beat J24 Sugar Beach Attitude who finished with a corrected time of 31,798 and defied the odds to win the two day race in their 24’ racing keelboat.
Victorious skipper Fredric Sweeney and his crew were presented with the Sir John Compton Memorial Trophy by Lady Janice Compton, who was visibly delighted to be celebrating the Independence sailing event at the club in which Sir John was Honorary Commodore for many years of his life. Sweeney presented Lady Janice with a posy of flowers, and on behalf of SLYC thanked all the participants, skippers, helpers, Laborie Development Foundation and the Marine Police for making the event a big success.
Saint Lucia Yacht Club is already working with ARC organisers World Cruising Club to offer the Independence Round the Island Race 2015 as an ARC Rendezvous by attracting participants of the trans-Atlantic race back to Saint Lucia in February for a weekend of fierce competition and a lot of fun.