For the fifth consecutive year, sailors came from across the Caribbean to compete in the St Maarten North Sails One Design Regatta, held in Simpson Bay lagoon over the weekend June 17 and 18. Last year’s winner Robby Hirst and former winners Mike Green and John Holmberg were absent, but otherwise organizers could safely claim to have assembled the best in Caribbean sailing talent to race in the fleet of Jeanneau Sunfasts.
A revised course gave sailors the option of rounding the leeward gate to port or starboard, but otherwise there were not so much choices to be made as hunches to be followed. The wind that blows off the hills and across Simpson Bay Lagoon is reliably unpredictable, and with fifteen knots gusting to twenty, the most successful crews were those that rode the lifts upwind to put clear water between themselves and those stuck out on the wings.
Another shift was the decision to move the spectator gallery and changeover dock away from the shoreline and out onto the Explorer boat, anchored level with the start line. This provided spectators with an unbeatable view of the action and allowed crews to change boats at a floating dock without even putting the brakes on.
Out on the water, it was St Thomas’s IC24 mogul Chris Rosenberg who dominated. Once the crews were divided into Silver and Gold fleets, Rosenberg showed tactical finesse and a cool head to record three straight bullets on Saturday evening. “At the beginning we were just purely trying to win the starts and sail the shifts,” he said. “It’s about covering your competition and trying to stay conservative. You can’t sail in the middle. You’ve got to look for the breeze. You’ve got to look to connect the dots and go from one breeze line to the next. That’s the tricky part of this venue.”
This was a regatta that famously went down to the last wind shift two years ago, but this was no walkover. With winds gusting over a choppy surface, boats struggled to break free, locked in broaches. Fleets in both categories were tightly packed, as illustrated in the Gold fleet’s race five when St Barth’s Markku Harmala led five boats over the line within seconds of each other.
Sunday morning started with a race straight out of the text book by St Thomas’s Phillip Shannon, who led from line to line and showed that the regatta had further surprises to give. But where would the consistent challenge come from? While Rosenberg refused to drop out of the top four, only the St Barths team could combine consecutive strong finishes. Karl James’s Antigua crew, perhaps a pre-regatta favorite, took a last place in race two, putting it down to ‘issues on the water’, sailing shorthand for spending a 20-minute race following seven other boats. Puerto Rico’s Fraito Lugo, a former runner-up, could also not impose while local competitor Frits Bus, so often a master in this boat, was to finish the regatta in last place in the Gold fleet. The top St Maarten challenger was Simon Manley, who finished fifth – an excellent performance from a sailor who has put in hundreds of hours perfecting his skills on the St Maarten one-design fleet.
In the Silver fleet, St Croix’s Jeff Beaudin was strong enough overall to overcome a broken gooseneck in race four, edging out Robbie Ferron’s Budget Marine team. St Lucia’s Nick Forsberg came in third, while Antigua’s Bernie Evan Wong led crewmembers McGyver and Louis to fifth. Wong, who popped over from Antigua in his motor boat, was clearly getting the hang of the Sunfasts and could have been lethal had racing gone to a third day. Normally synonymous with his yacht Huey Too, Wong admits to being “really excited” about One-Design racing. “You learn a lot. You really hone your skills,” he said. “Because everyone’s got the same boat, you have to be on the right side of the course. If you don’t, you get hammered.”
At the Awards Ceremony, North Sails’ Andrew Dove praised the regatta, which has become a key event in the calendar is just five years. “This is the way Caribbean sailing should be,” said Dove. While Robbie Ferron admitted that the regatta had “never been won so resoundingly,” winner Chris Rosenberg was humbled. “It’s hard to pull off an invitational event,” he said, but reserved praise for “a beautiful regatta. This is one of the premier events in the Caribbean. The way it’s run, the venue; I love to come here every years. It’s just so much fun.”
1 st Chris Rosenberg ( St Thomas)
2 nd Markku Harmala, Team St Barths (St Barths)
3 rd Karl James ( Antigua)
1 st Jeff Beaudin, Gone Cruzan ( St Croix)
2 nd Robbie Ferron, Budget Marine (St Maarten)
3 rd Nick Forsberg ( St Lucia)