Sailing across the globe with Philip Barnard
When you look at the top 10 list of great things that St. Vincent is known for, you probably won’t see yacht racing. But professional sailor Philip Barnard still makes sure that he waves the Vincy flag high as he sails from sea to sea.
What’s the Vincy sailing scene like?
The St. Vincent sailing scene is, quite literally, nonexistent, which is exactly why I was forced to pursue opportunities on neighboring islands like Martinique, Barbados and Trinidad during my early years.
So then how did you get into sailing?
I began sailing when I was a very young boy, with my father who was and still is an avid sailor, and my grandfather who has now passed away, but whose love of the sea instilled my own passion for the ocean.
You have a background in windsurfing… did that assist in your transition to yacht racing?
My first taste of racing was on a yacht called “Punk”, built by Cole Beadon. She was the first of the ULDB’s and because of my windsurfing background, it was thought appropriate that I start by trimming the mainsail. I was hooked instantly by the formidableness of the boat and the warm camaraderie of the crew.
It was a good friend of mine, Richard Szyjan, who introduced me to what professional sailing is all about, and it was he who gave me the training, advice, and friendship which made this step possible.
By a stroke of luck I met Ralph Johnson from Barbados. He was a generous man and provided me, a very green sailor at the time, with the opportunity to acquire the experience I needed.
Shane Atwell, who is one of my dearest friends and a mentor, recruited me to race on a yacht named ‘Ninja.’ During my time on Ninja I felt that I had found a home away from home and the sort of friends that I had been searching for.
When the Caribbean Challenge for the America’s Cup came about, I applied right away, and after surviving a grueling process meant to weed through over 5000 applicants, I made the squad as a bowman. While sailing the IACC boats, I realized that my heavy-air experience was lacking – so I made the next logical step which was offshore sailing on boats at the cutting edge of performance in extreme conditions.
I joined the RX Sight racing team with the help of Clint Brooks – another crew member from Bruggadung. This led to me being selected for the syndicate’s new venture – the 80 foot Skandia, later renamed Nicorette and considered the fastest monohull in the world at the time. The yacht was a beast, and we sailed her in every major ocean race from Sweden to Australia, all the while setting records as we went.
Where can spectators find you on the boat?
I’m best known as a bowman and made my living doing this position for about 7 years. I’m still doing bow with top professional teams but have moved toward the back of the boat, mainly as a tactician and helmsman for club racing. I’m currently working on building my experience for the future and perhaps, more pro sailing through my J24 Salt Fish sailing programme.
Where in the Caribbean have you competed?
I’ve had the privilege of sailing in all the major regattas in the Caribbean and have won most but, the overall prize in Antigua is one I’m very hungry for but which still eludes me. I don’t have my Rolex yet – however, I’ve been lucky enough to have been bowman on a boat that won.
Where else have you raced?
I have raced on both coasts of the United States as well as doing the two famous distance races – “The Macs” – on the Great Lakes. I’ve also spent time racing in Europe, from Sweden and Germany down through France, Portugal and Spain.
I raced a lot in the Med, in the Maxi Worlds in Sardinia, the St. Tropez Week, Antibes Classic Regatta, Copa del Ray in Palma Majorca, and quite a few others as well. I sailed in Europe from 2000 to 2003 and ended my time there on the Maxi-cat “Orange”. I also helped Team China get up to speed during a three week stint prior to the America’s Cup.
What types of boats have you raced on and which is your favorite?
I’ve raced on all types of keel-boats from J24’s to 98 ft offshore maxi’s, and on 18 ft beach Cats right through 120 ft offshore racing Cats.
There’s nothing like the power of the modern super maxi out on the open ocean in 45 knots of wind with the masthead kite up, doing a solid 35 knots and hitting top speeds of about 40 knots. The team work and complete trust in your fellow sailors on board has to be perfect and absolute.
Which is your favourite Regatta in the Caribbean and why?
My favorite Regatta is in St. Martin for the competition and BVI for the courses however, I want to win in Antigua so badly that it’s all I can taste right now.
Out of all the sailors you have either raced with or against, whom do you most admire?
I’d have to begin by mentioning Shane Atwell – during my time sailing with him he taught me to be genuinely humble and also what it takes to be truly tough, so to speak.
I’m thankful to Richard Szyjan for showing me what single-handed racing is all about and for pushing me to sail in Europe where the best offshore sailors come from.
Paul Amon demonstrated that, even in the islands, we should be – and can be – totally professional and in fact as good as any other professional team in the world.
Peter Holmberg for making me a true and legitimate professional sailor and opening the door for me by recruiting me to be a member of Team Caribbean.
I admire Sir Peter Blake, whom I raced against and was my hero growing up – for being a truly humble man with a great love for his country and a kind and generous heart.
Russel Coutts, may be the greatest sailor of our time and I admire him because he is down to earth and a humble man who respects his peers and crew.
Whilst not always seeing eye to eye with Paul Cayard, I have to say that he’s an awesome sailor, and what he did with EF Language has earned my respect and admiration.
I love the ocean and try my best to be in it as much as possible. When I’m not sailing, I’m usually surfing, scuba and free diving, wakeboarding and slalom skiing. I believe that every day on the water is a great day as long as you have the right toys for the conditions.
What would you like to see happen to improve sailing in the region?
I would like to see what I think every serious sailor would like to see: better communication and planning so that regattas and series do not overlap or clash with each other – which puts us in the difficult position of having to pick and choose between sailing on foreign boats in major regattas and in the local series. This is counter-productive, since every sailor knows that the more types of boats you sail on, the better sailor you become as each has its lessons to teach. Another important aspect is the exposure, networking and experience gained by sailing on top-end foreign boats with big budgets and professional crews.
Any last words?
I’d like to say to all other sportsmen and sportswomen from the islands, that we should never forget who we are, and the lessons of humility and courtesy that have been passed on to us by our elders. We have a responsibility to maintain an image to be emulated by the youth who look up to us. It is our job to help and guide them so that they may continue our legacy – that same legacy that’s been passed to us by those who came before us.
When I left the Caribbean to begin my first paid sailing job, I realized that it was the beginning of a lifelong quest and that my goal was simple – I wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world and to earn their respect, both by being a formidable opponent and by being trusted as a reliable crew mate when times became tough. The respect and friendship of and for my peers was my most valuable reward – not the girls, not the money, just the respect.