BVI Spring Regatta: 51 Years Later the Kids are Still Racing

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Doug Stewart and Susan Harney hold the distinction of being the offspring of Albie Stewart and Peter Haycraft, co-organizers of the first BVI Spring Regatta some 51 years ago. This week the two childhood friends are racing in Jib and Main class on Libertas, a Beneteau 40 owned by Walter Keenan and currently in first place in class with a four-point lead going into the last day. Stewart and Harney have fond memories of growing up around BVI Spring Regatta and are thrilled to still be part of it.

“I remember doing the regatta when I was 9 and older on Satori,” Stewart recalled. “We used to do prize giving on the beach at Peter Island, sometimes up at Virgin Gorda – they would plan destination racing and the prize giving happened once you got there. It was amazing.”

Stewart splits his time these days between Tortola and Annapolis, MD, and Harney, who, like Stewart, was born and raised on Tortola, has lived much of her life in Vancouver, Canada, although she and her husband Peter have recently bought a home on Tortola where they plan to spend winters.

“We always had a boat right from the time I was young,” Harney said. “At the beginning we never won, we were last more times than we ever won! It wasn’t until dad got Pipedream that things turned around. But it wasn’t about winning, it was about the camaraderie, just being out there and sailing the beautiful waters and the great wind – normally,” she smiled. “There was not so much of the international crowd that there is now, it was more of a Caribbean event, and the village didn’t exist. Now, the village is rocking in the evenings, they get good bands in, the locals turn up and people come to party; it involves the whole island.”

While Stewart races BVISR regularly, it’s been a few years since Harney has participated. She was happy to be able to race with Keenan this week.

“We had no idea that we were going to be on a winning boat, that’s for sure! It’s been such a joy; Walter is so generous and hospitable, and we were thrilled to get on the water.”

Keenan has been visiting the BVI since 1979, and it was his impressions as a kid that enticed him back here year after year. He found Libertas a few years ago at Nanny Cay and after purchasing her hired crews at Nanny Cay to get the boat in optimal condition. While working on the boat Keenan got to know locals like Martin van Houten who continues to maintain Libertas, and Stewart and Kevin Wrigley from the Quantum loft at Nanny Cay; these guys now sail with Keenan as do other locals. Keenan has raced twelve BVISR events over the years.

“The key to winning this week has been focusing on fun,” Keenan said. “We’re here to have fun, we’ve got a very solid group of locals on the boat – mostly everyone as a connection to the BVI and to Nanny Cay importantly. BVISR has the best racecourses in the Caribbean, it is the most fun place to sail. Sometimes you get light air and that’s unfortunate, but it happens. It’s just testament to this place that we could actually get in four to five races in light air conditions when you would not get a race in anywhere else. It’s consistent, beautiful, easy, and fun.”

Stewart raced on Libertas last year and suggests that solid preparation has helped them with results this week.

“The boat is well taken care of, thanks to Martin, and Walter makes sure that we have the right gear, sails etc. We learn as we go, some on board are new to the boat but they all know how to sail – we just get the boat around the course as fast as we can and are having an absolutely blast!”

Stewart is really enjoying the racing, light air, and all; even after all these years, the racing is one of the key ingredients to the BVISR’s long standing success.

“The racing is amazing, the fact that we got three races off on day two, with breeze under ten knows, well, Dickie (PRO Dick Neville) is superman, he really is. He always has so much patience for everyone on the course. I was talking to Peter Holmberg yesterday and he was impressed with what we have done with this regatta; I think it’s because we have the Nanny Cay marina and a great venue, the regatta runs for a week, so people want to come down and spend the whole time, it’s just wonderful.”

Scrub Island Race, BVISR 2023. Copyright Ingrid Abery 2023.