destinations-caribbean-bvi_dreamin-largeAll the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. Is it time for the BVI Spring Regatta yet?

This summer was a wonderful one – I put a lot of water under the boat, had a ball and it didn't seem to rain on a single weekend! But now the boat is under its tarp and my deck sneakers have that wandering feeling. The pull is stronger than in years past because just before launch last spring, I started my season extra early by taking in the BVI Spring Regatta. And now it's clearly time to make plans for heading down again.

Not, I suppose, that you have to wait until spring to grab that flight south. Cruisers who have done a bareboat or a crewed charter in the Virgins never stop talking about the fun they've had; you have doubtless heard the recounts of clear blue seas, line of sight navigation and wonderful hospitality (and by that I mean crazy bars) in the cays that make up the BVI. I'm sure all that would happily quell my winter escape needs, but all that plus some hot racing made the Spring Regatta extra enjoyable.

Since your dock mates probably didn't get too far past the long list of rummers, I will fill in some back story detail about BVI. First of all, it's a pretty cool little country with a long British heritage – it's today British territory that's largely autonomous. Small means under 30,000 folks but with thoroughly modern everything. From a boating perspective, the best part is that these people live on a cluster of 50 or so islands, islets and cays arrayed around a small sea called the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The largest island, Tortola is where I spent my whole visit, but there's a vast array of outlying smaller charmers, many of them likely in your winter escape vocabulary like Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. No shortage of places to spin between, each with great cruising anchorages and so forth – haven't been there, but the large fleet of boats all over the region certainly supports that notion.

The BVI is a delicious blend of pretty serious racing (I was lucky enough to hook up with the very hardcore IC24 fleet – more on that later), Caribbean shoreside fun and perfect weather.

Before we get on the water, Tortola is the tropical island you see when you close your Canadian eyes in February. This main island (Road Town on its south shore has a parliament, some shops and lots of low key touristy stuff) is about 20 km by 5 with a nice mountainous ridge up the spine. Sage Mountain, the highest peak on the island is more than twice the height of Collingwood's Blue Mountain although skiing is about the farthest thing from your mind in this part of paradise.

The beaches all round the island are perfect as is the fauna and vistas. There are no high-rise hotels – a plus in my view – but there's all sorts of resorts and villas on top of a number of huge charter fleets. There's also some very Caribbean dream bars and restaurants ranging from the surfside uber-rumshack, Bomba's, to the sublime and yummy Myett's Restaurant overlooking Cane Garden Bay. You need a vehicle to get to most spots and the added thrill of navigating the serpentine mountainous roads is a total bonus.

I was there to report on the sailing, so let's get down to business. The Spring Regatta bases on Nanny Cay, just outside Road Town and the fleet assembles in a picturesque marina. Not as numerous as some of the major Caribbean events in raw numbers, the fleet nonetheless attracts some sharpshooters as well as charter boat funsters and charter boat white-sailors in a broad range of divisions. The fleet includes some beauties like the Reichel Pugh 44, Storm; Equation, an Andrews 68 and a few Canadians boats like Vela Veloce, Richard Oland's Southern Cross 52. There's a contingent of sport quickies like J105s, B36.7s and a couple of Melges 32s along with a very nice looking charter fleet with visiting sailors from everywhere. The website www.bvispringregatta.org has links to hook you up to charter some fine craft.

The race org is superb, the sun shines and the wind blows like mad adding up to perfect conditions. Attach a full schedule of on shore Mount Gay-fueled hearty partying and you're in shape for a pretty splendid week.

Like any regatta there or here at home, the Spring Regatta benefits from one-design action and it was there that we journalists were dispatched into crews backboned by local host/skippers (thank you Brian Duff!). The unrelenting all-action program took us out for a staggering 21 races over three days featuring windward-leewards courses made extra challenging by an uncharacteristic northerly that blew over the Tortola peaks with some shifty results. Somehow the RC got it right every time and the competition – particularly among the fleet leaders – was fearsome. To add to the experience, the Class sponsored a daily post racing debrief with the Race Committee to exchange pointers and advice (and beverages); any good fleet works to constantly improve and that aspect was terrific to take part in.

The very winning Puerto Rican skip Fraito Lugo eked out just a 1-point win over local hot boat Team Lime in what is a regular class showdown. Our crew learned as we overcame language barriers – Argentine foredeck meets Anglo pit crew – enabling us to nail a third in the last race, sixth overall, and feel like we belonged at least in the mid pack of this extremely well sailed fleet. Constantly tacking on top of us was the other journalist boat skippered by Dante Hodge, a very talented BVI teenager who has risen up through the KATS program, Kids And The Sea. KATS is a nonprofit program started in the BVIs about 1990 to help teach kids water safety and boating skills.

In summary, this is one terrific experience in a fantastic venue. I could happily slip down to the BVI for a dose of winter dodging cruising warmth too, but I certainly would love to book my flights for the Spring Regatta right now.

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