In the second weekend of November, the island of Curacao witnessed her first Heineken Regatta, just a year after a team of sailing enthusiasts adopted the idea to open the sailing season with an international regatta in the heart of the historic center of Willemstad. It just had to be good and it was even better!
The seed grew with the help of a brand new main sponsor: the Dutch beer brand Heineken, which doesn’t need any introduction among sailors. The event was carried out after the example of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta: Local sailing experts assisted by an international measurer/judge would take care of the sailing part. Marina owner Gijs Boer, president of the Curacao Sailing Festival Foundation, in cooperation with Heineken director Jurriaan van ‘t Hoff and his team, would carry out the festival program with performances and activities ashore and in the Anna Bay.
Budget Marine would organize a fishing tournament for schoolchildren and the local cellular phone provider Chippie would set up a fair on the other side of the bay, so the general public would be involved. The famous Handelskade would be the unequalled magnificent backdrop. And—exactly like this—it happened!
Though regatta organizer Hans van der Straaten and his team feared calm winds caused by unexpected Hurricane Paloma, it turned out fine. From the first moment, at 4 p.m. Friday when registration commenced, the atmosphere was great and rose to a climax during the official opening.
The next morning12 knots winds blew better than expected. Twenty-five registered yachts filled the Anna Bay with white sails like never before.
The Maritime Museum in the beautiful old mansion on the corner of “Little Wharf,” now baptized “Regatta Village,” was bathed in sunshine. Director Joan Thesseling opened the doors to all visitors.
On the docks of both sides of the Anna Bay, spectators didn’t know where to look first. After the first start sequence of the yachts, twenty-one micro boats, with highly imaginative names like Double-Trouble, Bad Banana and Flying Dutchman, headed out on the water for a fierce competition of their own.
Twenty Optimist dinghies competed in five teams, Sunfish veterans were present in match races, fisherman’s boats tried to catch the biggest fish for the Chippie trophy, thirty schoolchildren received a Budget Marine fishing pole to keep and do the same for a Budget Marine trophy, and water skiers and Sea-doo’s demonstrated their skills. Just outside the entrance of the bay, twenty-four surfers started their competition in Formula racing at sea.
In the meantime, commercial vessels sailed in and out, business as usual, all in close harmony with the regatta participants. It exceeded all high hopes, providing fun for everyone.
At sunset, more than 30 skippers showed up for an illuminated parade of local motor boats, followed by another highlight: the performance of DJ Tico and the Band Basic One from Aruba.
Sunday again showed plenty of sunshine and enough wind for a tactical competition among the yachts. The Blue Skies helicopter added a spectacular show: the jump of two divers from the slides of the low-flying blue machine into the water attracted all eyes. There was music, food and drinks, and booths of the sponsors in the Regatta Village. Celebrities were sailed around in Centaurs in a match race.
On Sunday night, the first regatta in the historical center of Willemstad successfully came to an end. Gijs Boer and his team provided the inhabitants and visitors of the island the opportunity to get a glimpse of what sailing is about.
Sergey Boer’s and Dig van der Slikke’s team on D’Trip were crowned the first overall winner of the Heineken Regatta Curaçao, and awarded the prestigious crystal NIBanc Cup.
The festival was concluded by the action of DJ Carlito and a sizzling show by Queen of Soca, Alison Hinds. “The Heineken Regatta Curacao will be a yearly sailing event without an equal in the region,” according to Gijs Boer. www.heinekenregattacuracao.com.
Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curacao.