Caribbean Regatta Overcomes Pandemic Challenges with Innovative Racing Format

By Shelley Brown

Sailors from around the world were looking forward to the warm weather, strong trade winds, and competitive sailing as part of the 2021 Caribbean racing circuit. However, the COVID-19 pandemic again thwarted the hopes of many sailors. Each Caribbean island nation has its own travel limitations, quarantine protocols and safety regulations to protect their respective populations. This challenged the logistics of hosting an international event, and caused many regattas to cancel this season, including the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, St. Barth’s Bucket Regatta, and Antigua Sailing Week. The Caribbean Ocean Racing Club (CORC), a newly-established organization focused on promoting offshore racing in the Windward Caribbean, saw these challenges as an opportunity for the sport of sailing to try something different.

In a few short months, CORC organized the Windward 500, a novel race in which competitors start and finish at their home port island, allowing them to overcome travel limitations and quarantine restrictions. CORC invited sailors from Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Martinique, and Barbados to participate in the same 500-mile non-stop course around the Windward Islands. In addition to the mid-May race, virtual meetings and online race administration in the lead up to the event provided sailing enthusiasts an opportunity to connect during these challenging times.

With the motto, the race for a cleaner future, the Windward 500 had a strong environmental focus and registered as a Sailors for the Sea Clean Regatta. Racers started and finished at their home island, eliminating the need to deliver vessels and transport crew to a single island and reducing the carbon footprint of the overall event. Race organizers also encouraged competitors to provision their vessels without single-use plastics, provide local food onboard, be cautious to avoid negative impacts to marine wildlife, and share their sustainability efforts.

Three teams successfully competed in the inaugural event, including Whistler, Spirit of Everest, and Sweet Janina, hailing from Barbados, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, respectively. With optimal weather and wind conditions, the competitive racers beat predictions and all finished the course in less than three days.

All the sailing vessels had AIS (automatic identification system) transponders onboard for safety and tracking purposes, which also allowed spectators from around the globe to watch the race live and cheer on their favorite teams. Each team completed the entire race, including travel to and from the start and finish, completely under sail, not using any fuel and minimizing their individual carbon footprint.

The Windward 500 is already in the 2022 Caribbean regional racing calendar, and Sailors for the Sea looks forward to collaborating with CORC on new environmental initiatives. Help your event become environmentally-friendly by joining the Clean Regattas community.