There can be few events in the world that match St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s unique cocktail of fun and serious racing. Under the leadership of Robbie Ferron – Sint Maarten Yacht Club commodore – who set up the regatta 30 years ago, this Caribbean classic continues to go from strength to strength and, if the positive buzz on the street is anything to go by, next year’s event is going to reach record levels.
With some of the world’s most talented sailors including the likes of America’s Cup legends Peter Isler, Peter Holmberg, Gavin Brady, round the world sailors Kenny Read, Wouter Verbraak, Olympic/America’s Cup skipper Andy Beadsworth, and Dutch double Europe Olympic silver medallist Margriet Matthijsse, among the many high profile sailors competing here this week, it’s not surprising this event is fast becoming a Mecca for seriously fun winter racing.
As well as the big names racing on the latest, powerful ultra-light racing machines such as Irvine Laidlaw’s Wally 82 Highland Fling, Tom and Dotty Hill’s brand-new stunning-looking custom Reichel/Pugh 75, Titan 15, George David’s Reichel/Pugh 90 Rambler, and a healthy mix of big Swans, Farrs and custom builds, yachts in the 30ft-40ft range make up the majority of the fleet including a bumper 99-strong Bareboat charter fleet.
While fun and partying contribute hugely to Caribbean regatta success, it’s what happens behind the scenes and on the water that really counts. St. Maarten Heineken Regatta race team run a good balance of coastal and round-the buoys races, and offer a highly efficient results system, which are the other key factors that make a good event, great.
The final race of the three-day St. Maarten Heineken Regatta this morning may have lacked one special Caribbean ingredient – sun – but there was certainly no shortage of action for the 240-boat fleet in the extremely lively northerly breeze which allowed the big raunchy yachts the opportunity to really strut their stuff on the 27nm race from Marigot Bay back to Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
In the three-horse battle between Titan, Highland Fling and Rambler, it was Titan that benefited from a strange twist of misfortune when she blew out her A5 spinnaker. With no option other than to hoist a slightly flatter A3, it proved to be the perfect choice of sail when the wind shifted round to a tighter angle. Revelling in the 20kt squalls, and sailing right on the edge, Peter Isler tactfully gave Titan the opportunity to really show her true colours and, in a fine demonstration of downwind sailing, stormed past Highland Fling and Rambler at blistering speed not only taking line honours but also an impressive first overall in class. Artie Means – navigator aboard Titan enthused about the day’s racing: “It was a fantastic day out there with all three of us doing 17-20kts downwind side by side and trading back and forth. It’s a great boat and great team, and it was the first chance we’ve had to line up against the others and really see how she performs. It was probably one of the best day’s racing I’ve had.”
Highland Fling led round the course most of the race and although she was effectively pipped at the post for line honours, Peter Holmberg was pleased with the day’s racing. “We probably put together our best result of the regatta because we, as a team, sailed smart. Titan got a little lucky and got in front of us just before the finish but we still feel we ended on a good note after a really fantastic race.”
Hans-Joachim Tiggels and team from Germany sailing a Beneteau Oceanis 523 Acele et were the overall winners of Bareboat 1, with the Duketown Official Royal Sailing Team (DORST) finishing second. Ronald Gessel and team in a Harmony 52 Neerlands Glorie who was leading the fleet going into today’s final race, suffered a disqualification following a protest hearing and had to settle for third overall.
One of the closest regatta-long battles this week was in Spinnaker 3 between the Reichel/Pugh 44 Peake Yacht Services sailed by Peter Peake and team, and Richard Matthews and team from the UK aboard Oystercatcher XXVI. These two raced neck and neck, often match racing each other round the course but it was the British Tom Humphries design Oystercatcher XXVI that won the day. Going into today’s race any one of three boats – Peake Yacht Services, Oystercatcher XXVI or Paul Solomon’s Blackberry Enzyme – could have won overall. Neil Mackley – trimmer – commented: “We had a great day. The key to our win was choice of headsail. We opted for a jib rather than the spinnaker which paid off big time and eventually beat Peake Yacht Services by a minute and a half – possibly one of the biggest margins of the week.”
The winner of Bareboat 6 was Robbie Nitche and the team from Germany sailing a Dufour 455 Let Me Go which three straight wins. Nitche, a first timer to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, said the bareboat fleets are extremely close but today’s racing in the biggest winds of the week, was the most competitive. “The most fun was today because we really had a good battle. It’s a great regatta because I like the courses and the three-day format, and the parties of course. We’ll be back,”
After a relaxing afternoon at Sint Maarten Yacht Club, and at the big prizegiving event, competitors and guests were treated to a relaxing evening dancing the night away on the beach in the presence of International Reggae superstar Maxi Priest and his band who played classic hits of the last three decades, well into the early hours, concluding yet another successful St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.