This year’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has again attracted top sailors from around the world. While competitors can expect the usual exciting competition, the event will go ahead without regatta founder and head of the steering committee, Robbie Ferron, whose shock resignation over policy came just weeks before the first boat crossed the line. This will also be the last regatta for Race Director Heather Tackling.
No other Caribbean regatta brings together such a gathering of international, regional and local sailing talent many of whom return every year.
For international sailing star Brad Van Liew, winner of the Velux 5 Oceans single-handed around the world race, the event offers an interesting challenge. His Open 60 Le Penguin proved to be a superb boat as he thrashed it around the globe and battled the storms of the Southern Ocean. Now it remains to be seen how the boat will cope with a large fleet, sailing at close quarters, in the shifty wind conditions around St. Maarten.
Five-times around the world veteran Bouwe Bekking returns to helm the 46ft Grand Soleil Antilope. “We are looking forward to the good weather and of course good breeze during the racing,” says Bekking. His team finished second in their class in 2011.
Puerto Rican skipper Jaime Torres makes a welcome return. He may not be the most experienced guy in the regatta but he is certainly one of the more passionate. Last year, he and his team drove their Beneteau First 40.7 Smile and Wave to fifth place in the ultra-competitive Class 5 division, and led the pack of five Beneteau First 40s in that 15-boat fleet.
“I tell my crew that if we could only do one regatta, it would be the Gill Commodore’s Cup and the Heineken,” says Torres “There are so many good sailors, and you’re surrounded by guys who’ve sailed in the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race. That’s a rare and wonderful gift.”
For the owner of the St. Maarten Sailing School, Garth Steyn, the regatta is a chance to involve youngsters in a world class sailing event. Steyn has built a reputation for introducing local kids to offshore sailing and his hard work is paying off. This year the school entered two boats, one of them an engineless Dufour 1800. “I am hoping to acquire a third boat in time for the regatta,” says Steyn, “and that boat will be crewed by students, too.”
Heineken Regatta press writer Herb McCormick returns for the sixth year. He says this is one event that really does get better every time. “The Budget Marine Match Racing Cup has been a nice addition, bringing the action right into Simpson Bay and kicking off what’s become a full week of racing. The Gill Commodore’s Cup has also been well received, and gives the serious racers a chance to shake out the cobwebs before the main event.”
McCormick describes the parties as epic and says they involve the whole island. “It’s not a formula that could work everywhere, but it’s just about perfect for St. Maarten.”
Most people are happy to enter one boat in the regatta, but not 15 year Heineken Regatta veterans Bill and Carolyn Titus. They have so much fun that they entered two yachts this year: the magnificent Swan 100 Virago and her little sister Nefertiti, a Swan 90. “This is all for bragging rights back in Newport, Rhode Island,” says Titus, a broker with Northrop and Johnston. Both vessels are charter yachts and all efforts for the event were organized by the couple.
The Titus’s could be international ambassadors for the regatta, having chartered and participated in the past aboard vessels such as Bharlin Blu, Selene, Volador, Attitude, Safara, Splash Tango and Inca.
“If you have not yet thanked a member of the Heineken Regatta Committee,” says Titus, “then it’s high time you did. Through tireless efforts, gracious hospitality and feverous commitment they have surpassed all expectations, over the many years, and provided the ultimate venue for SERIOUS FUN!
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For information visit: garyebrown.net