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26th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

Once again, boats came in quantity and
quality to St Maarten in March, with some 264 entries and the now-customary
tapestry of America’s Cup idols, Whitbread veterans, affluent
owner/drivers, big-boned Dutch bareboaters and
familiar Caribbean campaigners crossing the start line on Friday March 3.

However, the light winds which plagued the Silver Jubilee edition
returned for a second consecutive year, this time forcing a complete
cancellation of the third day’s racing. Outright victory, then, for
Heineken, with around 2,000 parched sailors buying rounds of cans for breakfast
rather than rounding the cans, but disappointment for competitors, with many
battles still unfinished.

Regardless of what the wind had in store, the line-up this year was
stunning: Tom Hill’s Reichel-Pugh
Titan XII returned with the intention of
continuing last year’s Caribbean clean-up, as did the Swan 56
Lolita. Also in Spinnaker 1 were two Transpac 52s and two Farr 60s, one of which,
Numbers, was packed with crew from Alinghi. Also on
the water, their canvas looming over the regular fleets,
were the Wally 77 Carrera,
Peter Harrison’s Farr 115 Sojana and a dozen more Swans. In Spinnaker 4, local hero
Paul Dielemans, an Olympian in 1996, returned on Swan Benelux 2, coming fourth in the
Round the Island race.

With winds at 15 knots, the opening day’s race had competitors
literally bolting out the traps to get underway. A total of five boats in the
Spinnaker classes crossed the start line early, giving Race Officer Andrew
Rapley a taste of what was to come in his first Regatta in
charge. In other dramatic cameos, the skipper of
Team Atlantic had to withdraw and take five stitches following a
smack from the boom, and Chairman of the Steering Committee Robbie Ferron
heroically dived into the water to rescue a buoy snagged by a bareboat doing a
360 penalty.

In 3 hours 43 minutes, Sojana took line
honors in the Round the Island Race, despite being one of those boats to suffer
a start recall, but it was Titan who
took first place on corrected time. Other winners on Day One were last
year’s overall winner, Lazy Dog,
in Spinnaker 5, Lolita in Spinnaker
2, Frits Bus’s Carib Natufit in
Spinnaker 6 and Vega Prima in the tight Spinnaker 7. Perhaps
the surprise of the day came in Non-Spinnaker 1; the annual duel between Bobby
Velasquez and Hugo Bailey relegated to a fight for second place, when
Three Harkoms
took first place.

Friday’s night’s excellent bash on the Philipsburg boardwalk
had clearly taken its toll as some fuzzy crews set off on Day Two towards
Marigot, with the winds dying progressively. An added feature to this
year’s regatta was a leeward/windward series for the spinnaker classes in
Great Bay. Titan once again
dominated, winning all three races in the day and showing that she’s not
just a fast boat, but also carries a versatile, expertly drilled crew.
Affinity, a Swan 48, was another boat to
complete a hat trick of wins to finish the regatta with a 100% record, as did
Lazy Dog. One of the most interesting
duels was an old one – Frits Bus and Jamie Dobbs enjoying a classic St
Maarten/Antigua battle in Spinnaker 6. Two wins apiece left this one
frustratingly poised.

By the end of Day Two, Race Officer Rapley was
already shortening courses and by Sunday morning, with 3 knots of wind
available, it was curtains. No quibbles at all with the call –
Rapley had a storming regatta, but this was a bitter pill
to swallow.

Philippe Herve, skipper of Vanille in the ruthless Spinnaker 7 class, voiced the
frustrations of many. “It was a big disappointment not to have the last
race. It was the best conditions for the boat and the class was still
open.”

For Antiguan legend Karl James, trimming Jib and Spinnaker aboard
Sojana, it was a
case of being cruel to be kind. “I hate to go to regattas where people
try to salvage a regatta,” he said. “I believe that they learnt
from last year. Even if people come down to race, they don’t want bad
races.”

Both sailors had praise for the new Windward/Leeward trial, which was
well received across the classes, even if James didn’t particularly enjoy
the experience. “The boat is almost as long as the legs,” he said.
“It’s very hard work!”

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