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25th Anniversary St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

With the March deadline looming, it was time to check with
Heineken Regatta Director Mirian Ebbers for any newsworthy last-minute entries.

“Jimmy Cliff,” came her reply.

“I didn’t know he sailed,” I said, wrongfooted.

“He doesn’t. He’s headlining the final night.”

There in a
nutshell lies the appeal of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta – big names across
the board, whether behind a microphone or a team of winch grinders. The regatta
whose catchphrase is ‘Serious Fun’ is almost unique in its ability to throw top
sailors against each other during the day for heated sailing exchanges on the
water, then bring everyone together in the evening for a cool beer and a
shuffle to some live music.

Hardly a secret
this year is the fact that the Heineken, which runs from March 4 to 6, is
celebrating its Silver Jubilee. If you find yourself standing next to an
America’s Cup or Whitbread legend at the bar, the sense of nostalgia
surrounding this year’s regatta should be a reminder that ’twas not ever thus.
The Heineken started out with just 12 boats from the local area putting a race
together. Only the most delusional would have imagined in 1980 that it would
one day become arguably the biggest draw in the Caribbean racing calendar for
visiting yachtsmen, whether on board a chartered bareboat or top-of-the range
Maxi.

Last year, 238
boats did battle off the coast of St Maarten, in 6 overall classes from Beach
Cat right up to Big Boat. The Bareboat class was divided into six divisions. St
Kitts’ Dougie Brookes took Bareboat 1 ahead of 18 others boats aboard the
Beneteau 50 Island Flyer, while Mark Duranty came out top of the largest fleet
in Bareboat 3, beating off 22 others on the 45′ Beneteau Island Flyer. Bareboat
5, and the overall Most Worthy Performance cup went to Hans Richter’s Vague a
l’Ame (Sun Odyssey 40).

Multihull racing
at the Heineken has still yet to reach the entry numbers of old, but the
competition is as thrilling as ever. Pascal Marchais’ Hobie 16 Quicksilver
Eyewear won a 7-strong Beach Cat Class while Dominic Mouillac snatched the
Multi Hull Cruising Class aboard Fantastic Lady II. In Multi Hull racing,
Richard Woolridge’s Triple Jack came out on top, besting Pat Turner on the
world’s oldest existing Trimaran, Tryst.

The two
Non-Spinnaker classes are rife with enduring rivalries. In One, Bill Higgenson
was crowned champion on the Frers 80 Volador, while in division Two, Antigua’s
Hugh Bailey, on the Beneteau 435 Hugo, beat off his old foe Bobby Velasquez on
L’Esperance. To be continued…!

The six Spinnaker
divisions combined performance and personality, with a story in every race.
Trinidad took the glory in division 6 thanks to the 34′ Beneteau Guardian Star,
whereas Antigua came out top on Spinnaker 5 with Tony Maidment’s 34′ Dehler
Budger Marine. With Swans, Farrs and Formula 1’s going head to head throughout
the classes, Spinnaker was the one to keep an eye on.

And so we did.
Spinnaker 1 threw up the inaugural face-off between the two canting keel Z-86
Maxis, Morning Glory and Pyewacket. After three days of fierce but amicable
racing, Dr Hasso Plattner’s Morning Glory snatched the headlines from Roy
Disney’s Pyewacket – the last time these two would race each other with smiles
on their faces.

Finally, the Open
or Fun classes provides competition for those boats who can’t get a rating.
Nick Maley’s 27′ C&C Pumkin had the most fun in this class, beating 16
other boats.

This year’s regatta will once again see racing in Spinnaker,
Non Spinnaker, Bareboat, Multihull, Beach Cat and Open Classes. The coveted
blue Delft jugs from yesteryear have been replaced by trophies including The
Columbus Cup (overall winner in Bareboat Class), the Around the Island Trophy
and the ‘Most Worthy Performance’ Cup.

The schedule
begins with the Round the Island race on Friday, starting from Simpson Bay and
finishing this year in Great Bay. On Saturday, boats will race from Great Bay
to Marigot, returning on Sunday to Simpson Bay for prize giving and
entertainment.

Then, no sooner
will Jimmy Cliff has sung his final bar, than the planning begins for 2006,
give or take a few days. The Heineken Regatta catapulted itself into the major
leagues years ago, drawing in one by one everyone from Ted Turner to Dennis
Conner, Laurent Bourgnon to Chris Dickson. The secret has been to combine
meticulous preparation and a vibrant volunteer base with an unpretentious,
carefree spirit where disputes are ultimately settled in the bar not the
protest room. Cheers!

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