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Fourth St. Maarten Classic Yacht Regatta

With just four boats on the start line for the Fourth St Maarten Classic Yacht Regatta January 23 to 25, the mood could so easily have been gloomy, but there was little melancholy on show throughout the weekend, culminating in a prize giving on Sunday night that was positively exuberant. Classic Yachts 1, Credit Crunch 0.

As organizer Jan Roosens pointed out, “As long as you have two boats, you can organize a regatta.” It helped that the racing quartet included Ira Epstein’s 1957 Robert Clark ketch Lone Fox, Philip Walwyn’s 78ft Kate, Tim Blackman’s 1947 Bermudan Yawl Infanta and John Whitsett’s 76ft schooner Raindancer. These would be joined on the third day by Spirited Lady from Fowey, which added some spice to an already seasoned field. Captain Pascal’s press boat Playtime Too followed the action from a matter of feet, close enough even to deliver pre-start beers to settle the nerves of the crew on Kate.

Friday involved a race round the south coast from Great Bay to Marigot, during which Lone Fox showed her class to edge out Infanta by just 30 seconds on corrected time.  On Saturday, the race returned to Great Bay, which Lone Fox again appeared to be dominating until pulling up barely 100 yards from the finish line with a jammed steering line, leaving him unable to turn to starboard. “I turned to windward,” he explains, “and felt something break loose. People might say we made all the right choices over the weekend, but some of those things are just luck.”

Spirited Lady’s arrival on Sunday put the cat among the pigeons as the quickly assembled crew took the boat over the line first and fought hard with Lone Fox all the way round to the mark off Pointe Blanche and back to Simpson Bay. It took a spinnaker sail and Mizzen staysail combination on the final downwind leg to enable to Lone Fox to wear the smaller boat down, while Infanta was forced to retire when a sudden gust threw a crewmember overboard as the spinnaker halyard surged out of his hand.

Overall, Lone Fox recorded a second consecutive victory in three years of competition. “To me it means a lot,” said owner Ira Epstein, “because there’s so much energy put into a regatta regardless of how many boats take place. I live on that boat, but it’s very serious because we’re out there pushing a 52-year-old boat to its limits.” Asked whether the weekend had been worth it, Epstein was emphatic: “I really applaud what they do here and want to be part of trying to help this become a viable regatta.”

British Classic Yacht Club Commodore Tim Blackman, skipper of Infanta, was similarly delighted. “In the UK, we started the British Classic Yacht Club Regatta with a small number of boats and we’re trying to keep it small, where you get to know everybody. On the water perhaps, if we’d had another three or four yachts it would have been even better, but the boats were quite well matched. The starts were fantastic,” he said.

Organizer Jan Roosens was already looking forward to 2010, when he hopes to have the boats on the new dock at Bobby’s Marina. “We would love to have the boats here for the public,” he said. Otherwise, he pointed to the fact that, until a short while before the regatta, entry numbers were set to surpass last year’s ten boats, had it not been for the late withdrawal of four yachts in the Virgins who took charters, and another seven who returned to Europe on a transporter. “That’s a fact of the economic situation,” he observed.

Full details and photos on www.classicyachtregatta.com

Nick Marshall is an English journalist living on St. Maarten who was consultant editor of All At Sea from 2003 to 2005

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