First up are the best three places in the world to go to for a small boat sailing vacation.
1. Minorca Sailing
RS Vareos at Minorca Sailing
Minorca Sailing operates on Fornells Bay on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Mediterranean. This place is dinghy sailing heaven. You can learn to sail there. (I did.) You can receive expert coaching on any aspect of dinghy sailing. You can race every day. You can sail in Lasers and a vast range of other dinghies including many types of asymmetric boats, from the ever popular Laser 2000s and RS 200s to the more challenging 29erXX and RS 800s. Check out the full list of sailing fleets.
When I die I don't want to go to heaven; I want to go back to Minorca Sailing. That's how good it is.
2. Bitter End Yacht Club
Sunset over North Sound viewed from BEYC
The Bitter End Yacht Club is a laid back water sports resort on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. You can kayak. You can go scuba diving. You can fish. You can snorkel. But for me it's mainly about the sailing. Lasers (of course) and a good range of other boats including Hobie Waves and Getaways. Check out the club fleet.
BEYC is an all-inclusive resort. You live in cabins dotted on the hillside overlooking North Sound. For breakfast I would usually have some healthy fresh tropical fruits and maybe a callaloo omelette with a mimosa, or two. For lunch I would enjoy a healthy salad and maybe some crabcakes with a glass of rum punch, or two. For dinner I would be very unhealthy and eat and drink way too much and maybe, if I drank enough, even dance with the wife to steel band music.
Talking of Tillerwoman... regular readers of this blog will know that she claims not to like sailing. She never goes sailing. But at BEYC she will sail with me. That's how good it is.
3. Laser Training Center at Cabarete.
Caribbean Laser Midwinters at Cabarete in 2008
Cabarete is in the Dominican Republic and is the best place in the world to practice Laser sailing in big waves with expert coaching onsite. OK, I guess you could go windsurfing or kiteboarding too, but I go for Lasers. There are clinics. There are regattas. There is briefing from head coach Rulo before and after sailing, and videos showing how you really sail (as opposed to how you think you sail.) It sounds intense, and it can be at times, but it's also enormous fun.
The top Laser sailors in the world train there, often in January just before going to sail in the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta. Some wag even coined a slogan - Train in the DR. Win the OCR. That's how good it is.
Since 1989 I have been towing either a Laser or Sunfish up and down the eastern parts of the USA and Canada in order to research regatta sailing locations for this blog post. My next three places are absolutely the best places for small boat regattas on the entire east coast.
4. Newport, Rhode Island
Larry Ellison's Newport cottage
Newport had to make the list. I could write about Fort Adams which is going to be the site of one of those snazzy America's Cup World Series events later this year. Or I could mention the New York Yacht Club's Harbor Court clubhouse which hosted a fabulous North American Laser Masters Championship a few years back, memorable (for me) as the one and only time I beat over 100 boats in a race. (No, really, I did.) But the best location for dinghy racing in Newport is somewhere over on the other side of town, so far over it's actually in the next town, Third Beach Newport (not actually in Newport.)
This ain't no swanky yacht club. It ain't no skanky yacht club either. It's a beach with a parking lot and a boat ramp. That's it. But for wind, waves, easy access to the sailing area, ability to park near the boat, and ease of launching - i.e. all the things that are really important for us dinghy sailors - Third Beach Newport is the best there is. It's the home of the legendary New England Laser Masters Regatta. It was the home of the last US Laser and Laser Radial Olympic Trials to be actually held in the US. That's how good it is.
5. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Laser US Nationals at Wrightsville Beach in 2005
It's a dirty little secret that most sailing clubs on the east coast of the United States don't actually sail on the Atlantic Ocean; no, they sail on bays, often sheltered by barrier islands. But not the Carolina Yacht Club in Wrightsville Beach NC. When you go there for a major regatta they send you out on the ocean in the big waves. Woo hoo!
I sailed the Laser US Nationals there in 2005. That was the memorable occasion I wrote about in Heavy Air Fear when two of the best Laser Masters sailors in the nation invited me to join a boycott against those scary big waves. That's how good it is.
6. Brant Beach Yacht Club, New Jersey
Sometimes you go to a regatta and everything about the place is just perfect. Brant Beach YC is one of those places. Actually it's the best of those places.
Great location. Great clubhouse (actually two clubhouses.) What seems like hundreds of yards of beachfront for launching boats. Great volunteers.
But above all, the folk at BBYC have totally got their act together in knowing how to run fabulous dinghy regattas. Everything from the race management on the water, to hospitality on the land, the refreshments on and off the water, communications with the sailors... literally everything. They just have their shit together. It was my favorite place to sail when I lived in New Jersey, and even though I don't usually drive far to regattas these days, I'm heading back to BBYC in September for the Laser Masters Nationals. That's how good it is.
Awards winners at 2005 Laser Atlantic Coast Masters at Brant Beach YC
Wait. Who is that skinny guy in the orange T-shirt? The 2005 Laser Atlantic Coast Grandmaster Champion apparently. No wonder he wants to go back to BBYC. Memo to self: take a white shirt to BBYC in September. Just in case.
In the past sixteen years I have had the great pleasure to sail in three Sunfish World Championships and six Laser Masters World Championships. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel all over the world and race against so many awesome sailors from dozens of different countries. It also means I have had the opportunity to visit the following three sailing destinations...
7. Cartagena, Colombia
I would never have thought of going to Colombia if I hadn't been invited to sail in the 1997 Sunfish World Championships in Cartagena, and I am so glad I went. Back in the day, Cartagena was one of the main ports used by Spain to ship out all the gold and silver they mined in South America. As such it was a great temptation to all those pesky English captains like Drake and Hawkins who were active in that area doing the usual ravaging and pillaging and generally robbing Spanish gold wherever they could find it. Over time the Spanish spent millions building walls and forts to protect Cartagena from the pesky English (not to mention the nefarious French) and much of those colonial fortifications survive today. Cartagena's walled city and fortress are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so. Estupendo!
And the sailing was pretty good too.
8. Terrigal, New South Wales
I love Australia. And there are some gorgeous places to sail there. Sydney Harbor on a weekend is packed with racing sailboats. Fremantle in Western Australia is world famous as a sailing venue (think 1987 America's Cup.) Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide - what's not to like? I haven't sailed in any of those.
But I did sail in the 2008 Laser Masters Worlds in Terrigal. Terrigal is a beach town about 60 miles north of Sydney. The "clubhouse" for the regatta was actually a rugby club and the boat park was the rugby field. We stayed in an apartment close to the rugby club and there were plenty of little restaurants within walking distance for post-race refreshments. The regatta had a bit of everything. Light winds and big waves. Sunny days and rainy days. I managed to discover totally new ways of screwing up Laser races including getting another boat's sheet wrapped round my neck. I achieved the dubious distinction of being the first USA sailor across the finish line in what must have been the longest Laser World Championship race in the history of the planet. Ace!
In spite of all that it was enormous fun. Perhaps it was the Aussie hospitality and good humor. Perhaps it was the chance to be sailing in the sunshine on the Pacific Ocean during the northern hemisphere winter. Whatever. It really was that good.
9. Roses, Catalonia
Roses - Ciutadella (Foto: Wikimedia Commons, 2006)
Roses is a charming, historic, Spanish town on the Mediterranean about 100 miles east of Barcelona and quite close to the French border. It was the home of the 2007 Laser Masters Worlds, a major milestone in my sailing career as the only world championship ever in which I managed to finish in the top half of the fleet (just) and thereby was able to claim that that I had (briefly) emerged from the depths of perennial no-hoper to the giddy heights of semi-respectable mediocrity.
If that weren't enough, Tillerwoman and I found it a delightful place to stay. Wandering the winding back alleys of Roses most nights to find yet another charming little restaurant. The regatta party at the impressive Ciutadella, another one of those forts built by the Spanish to defend against their pesky neighbors. The trip on the lay day to the sleepy little fishing village of Cadaqués, a favorite haunt of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. A day exploring Barcelona on the way home. Fantástico.
I heard a rumor that the European Laser Masters are going to be in Roses this year. I might just have to go back for that. It's that good.
OK. That's my top nine. Of course you will disagree. You know some way better places to sail, I am sure. Why not tell us in the comments?