Bareboat racing on the Caribbean regatta circuit is closely competitive, we asked the winners at Antigua Sailing Week for their tips on white sail racing

Anyone who thinks that the bareboat fleet at a Caribbean regatta is an easy option is in for a rude surprise. Turn up for a bareboat race charter and chances are you will be up against some stiff competition.

Mike Cannon and Neil Harvey have just taken a deciding win in Bareboat 4 at Antigua Sailing Week, with five wins and three 2nd places on KHS&S Contractors. They recently added a back-to-back overall bareboat win at the St Maarten Heineken regatta to a hefty collection of bareboat trophies. Forty-six bareboats competed at Antigua in four different divisions.

Bareboat racing at Antigua Sailing Week 2017 ©Paul Wyeth PW Pictures

US-based Harvey and Cannon have, like many of the team, plenty of serious racing miles on serious boats behind them – several raced together on the 1979 Fastnet. Former Whitbread Round the World Race sailor Shag Morton is an intrinsic part of the team, having just celebrated his 70th birthday, with sailmaker and ocean racer Al Gooch on navigation. However, they choose to sail in the white-sail bareboat fleet, where they say there is just as much emphasis on skill as anywhere else in the regatta fleet.

We found out more about their winning formula, watch here:

Regattas are planned carefully in advance – the rules forbid charterers in the bareboat division to race the same yacht two years running. Their nearest rival at Antigua, Swiss sailor Martin Sager, had won the event two years previously and booked the same Dufour 44 when he returned for the 50th edition of the regatta. Meanwhile the American team was sailing in a Jeanneau SO44i at Antigua, with both boats having a waterline advantage over most of their rivals for all-important clear air.

They begin regatta preparation early, with the team spending several days before racing going over the boat thoroughly. “We make sure that every block, every shackle is done up and tied on, we just don’t leave any stones unturned,” says Harvey.

Harvey also brings new cruising blocks with him to replace any split or damaged gear, although he is Harken’s man in the south-east States and Caribbean, so can probably rustle up like-for-like spares more easily than most.

Antigua Sailing Week 2017 ©Paul Wyeth PW Pictures

Gone are the days of leaving most of your bareboat’s cruising kit on the dock, with modifications strictly limited. “As far as the rest of the boat, you can’t change the boat in any way from its configuration as it comes from the charter boat company. For example, people used to take the anchor chain and everything out of the bow of the boat. That rule now says you have to have the primary anchor, chain and rode in the dedicated bow locker.

“You can take the canvas off the biminy and the dodger, but it must remain on board the boat. You can fold the biminy and dodger frames but they have to remain pinned in their normal place on the deck. That’s something that’s been tightened up in the last few years and it’s made for a lot fairer racing than it used to be five or ten years ago.

Otherwise finding winning speed is largely down to figuring out settings for different conditions, in boats with no polars or sailmakers’ guide, and trimming skill. “Because they have very short keels on them the whole ticket to sailing the boats fast is working the traveler, up and down up and down. Because before you know it the boat will spin out on you with that short keel and shallow rudder,” comments Harvey.

“We really work on sailing in clear air and getting a clean lane, that’s the big ticket.”

Antigua Sailing Week ©Paul Wyeth PW Pictures

Downwind white sail racing brings its own tactics. “Because you’ve got to go wing-on-wing on these boats and you’re not allowed to use a pole, or even a boat hook to hold the jib out, we sail the boat about five degrees by the lee. To keep the jib full we have all the crew sitting out with their legs over the rail on the same side as the jib to help tip the boat to windward. That helps these very, very heavy Dacron jibs particularly in the water off Shirley Heights here, where it’s very sloppy. So that’s one important thing we do, and it showed – we really stepped it out downwind.”

“Our biggest problem is that we are the last bareboat class to start so we have to thread the needle all the way up through the other bareboats ahead of us. That’s the biggest issue for us – [finding] clear air, clean lanes.”