The Caribbean Ocean Racing Club successfully hosted the inaugural Windward 500. Excellent offshore racing conditions allowed competitive racers to beat predictions and finish in less than three days. Racers adapted well to sailing instructions for remote starting, racing through waypoint gates, and remote finishes. Competitors meet stringent health, customs, and immigration requirements of their home port and the Islands whose water they sailed through.
Virtual meeting platforms allowed the Organizing Authority and Race Officials to engage all appropriate international resources and develop the event to World Sailing standards. Skippers attended the briefing simultaneously in three of the Windward Islands and with the OA in Barbados, PRO in Annapolis Maryland, International Judges in St. Thomas USVI, CSA Chief Measurer in Trinidad, and OA/RC Desk Officers in four of the course Islands. It was otherwise a traditional Skippers Briefing. The PRO and Chief Judge reminded competitors to keep their YB Trackers and AIS transponders on throughout the race for safety and tracking purposes and mentioned various nuances particular to the rules in the Sailing Instructions for this race. Brief Q&As followed, and once adjourned, attendees went off to celebrate that their preparations for the race were complete.
With GPS Waypoint Start/Finish and Course Gates set, the race started at 10:00 Monday, May 17th, 2021. Soon after, an announcement was made over the RC (WhatsApp) Channel “The PRO is happy to report that there will be NO starting penalties necessary.”
OA/RC Desk Officers monitored progress over YB Tracker, AIS Apps and received a GPS Fix over a Competitor’s (WhatsApp) Channel as boats passed through each course gate. Racers maintained a log of each fix’s date, time, latitude, and longitude for submission to RC after finishing. The PRO signaled line honors over the RC (WhatsApp) Channel with a “HONK.” In this first year of the Windward 500, the OA/RC Desk Officers maintained similar logs for each boat and submitted them for reconciliation with boat logs, confirming that all was in good order.
The OA designed the course locating the waypoint gates within one nautical mile of land at each island, ensuring cell phone coverage for competitors approaching to pass through the gates. This allowed position fixes to be conveniently sent to OA/RC Desk Officers at each island in a timely manner. In addition, YB Tracking established Geo-fences at each Finish Line, resulting in the Date/Time of Finish instantaneously captured and relayed to YachtScoring.com.
Prevailing winds of between 15 to 18 knots blew directly out of the east and provided competitors with an enviable racecourse. The sea state was reasonably comfortable, as was expected for this time of year. The exception being the passage around Kick’um Jenny, which traditionally has confused seas during peak tidal changes. There were no known or reported safety issues, and all experienced a comfortable and fast ride around the race course this year.
Spectators enjoyed watching their boat on the YB Tracker and cheered for them over event and open social media sites. Besides posting Fixes, competitors posted photos and videos, some of which were relayed to Sailors for the Sea by Oceana. Sponsors enjoyed live worldwide visibility on the YB Tracking platform during the event.
Prizegiving was virtual and focused on Giving. Windward 500 expenses were paid by kind contributions from Caribbean Ocean Racing Club members, concessionary competitor entry fees, and a Sponsor who picked up the costs for YB Tracker rentals. All concerned gave generously of their time to plan, administer, and participate in the event.
Competitors were recognized for supporting the low-carbon footprint and limited environmental impact aspects of the event. All were recognised for bringing focus to the Marine Industry as an active sector of our burgeoning Blue Economies. In keeping with the virtual nature of the event, podium finishers received and were thrilled with digital Windward 500 certificates, accepted next year as waivers of entry fees for the 2022 Windward 500.
The Measurer reviewed leg by leg performance using CSA’s mixed mono/multihull experimental ratings. This proved interesting and lifted the spirits of podium finishers even further. Each now have bragging rights for having had won one or two legs of the inaugural Windward 500. The experiences of the OA, RC, and proud competitors continue to circulate on social media and in regional and international press.
The novel race format, online race administration, and virtual meetings delivered Hope to sailing enthusiasts. We will emerge from these challenging times and strive to be “Faster, Higher, Stronger” in our sport and in our endeavors to be good stewards of, and to enjoy the seas of the Windward Islands. The Caribbean Ocean Racing Club is grateful for guidance and support from all who participated one way or the other in the inaugural running of the 2021 Windward 500. Thank you.