ST. THOMAS — A stiff easterly breeze made for some exciting racing around St. John on Thursday during the annual Round the Rocks Race.

Nearly a half-dozen boats evenly divided between CSA Spinnaker Racing and Non-Spinnaker Racing took their start in the waters off the southeast side of St. Thomas for the Round the Rocks Race, the tuneup event for the 47th St. Thomas International Regatta, which begins today and runs through Sunday.

Sailors reveled in the 15 to 20 knots of easterly breeze on the 17-nautical mile course that traced along the south side of St. John, rounded LeDuck island off Coral Bay, and finished back off Cowpet Bay on the East End of St. Thomas.

In the end, it was “FOX,” a Botin 52 owned and sailed by San Diego-based skipper Victor Wild, that won the Spinnaker class and “Wild T’ing,” a Dufour 40 owned and raced by St. Thomas’ Lawrence Aqui, that topped Non-Spinnaker.

“This is the most fantastic place we’ve ever sailed, it’s reliable and fun,” said Wild, an avid racer who holds memberships in the New York Yacht Club, San Diego Yacht Club and Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and who took delivery of the brand-new FOX last year. “We’ve enjoyed the close starts and tussle with Blitz. Looking forward to tomorrow.”

“Blitz,” St. Thomas resident Peter Corr’s King 40, finished second and “Chili Pepper,” a Beneteau First 10M owned by Puerto Rico’s Sebastian Sarh, ended up third in CSA Spinnaker Racing.

“We had a fabulous day,” Aqui said. “It’s been a year since we’ve raced due to the pandemic. For the first hour today, I felt a bit rusty and had to get the feel of the boat again. After that, off we went.”

“Hotel California Too,” a Santa Cruz 70 owned St. Thomas resident Stephen Schmidt, placed second, and the “Trinity III,” a Pearson 37-2 owned by American sailor David McDonough, rounded out third in CSA Non-Spinnaker Racing.

47th STIR starts today

Thirty-five boats are registered for the 2021 version of the St. Thomas International Regatta.

The fleet will sail in CSA Spinnaker Racing, CSA Non-Spinnaker Racing, One-Design IC24 and Hobie Wave. The first start for each day of racing is 11 a.m.

Sarh is looking forward to the three days of competition ahead.

“Everyone is excited to be back on the water after being locked down for nearly a year,” says Sarh. “Chili Pepper is a former race winner, but many years ago when it was then named Uncle Sam. She is converted into a very stylish day sailor and takes people out on day sailing trips, most of whom have never experienced sailing.

“She cannot compete with modern designs, but we plan on having fun and hopefully competing against some older boats. Besides the first mate, the crew are a bunch of newbies that want to learn about sailing. They are very excited to come to the regatta. We love St Thomas; sailing couldn’t be any better.”

The One-Design IC24 Class will be the largest with 14 entries. One of those is St. Thomas’ Michael Finley, sailing his “Aim Low You’ll Never Be Disappointed.”

“It’s an old boat we had stored, and we have been rushing to get it ready,” says Finley.

“Tony Coffelt [Commodore of the St. Thomas Yacht Club], Chris Curreri and I are racing together and for us, it’s just about getting out and racing. We all live here and love it here.”

COVID-safe top of mind

Social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand sanitization stations are among COVID-19 protocols in place for STIR 2021.

On the water, crews in boats such as the one-design IC24 are limited to three this year, and bigger boat classes will remain in social bubbles throughout the regatta.

Onshore, there will be staggered class finishes and Happy Hours daily.

There will be two awards ceremonies Sunday: at 4 p.m. for IC-24s and Hobie Waves, and 5 p.m. for CSA Racing and Cruising boats.