The monster that is the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is over for another year. Two events in the build-up to the usual three-day extravaganza have turned the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta into a sailing festival.
The events are the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup and the Gill Commodores Cup. The Match Racing is the first of the curtain raisers and it plays a dual role by attracting world-class sailors and focusing media interest on St. Maarten.
"The challenge for Caribbean regattas is to create a basis for them to stand out in the media world," says Robbie Ferron, Chairman of the Steering Committee for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. "By having the match racing associated with the Heineken Regatta we are able to attract extensive coverage to the regatta through creating the opportunity for journalists to focus on the athletes."
Ferron's comments certainly rang true with media coverage for all events reaching new heights.
Publicity aside, there was stiff competition in the Budget Marine Match Race for two-times defending champion Peter Holmberg.
"The quickest way to lose a title is to try and defend it, so I'm not taking that approach at all," explained Holmberg before the race. Eying the competition the Virgin Islander said he expected Colin Rathbun would be sharp and that Gavin Brady would be tough.
Prophetic words from the veteran America's Cup sailor.
Following a virtuoso performance at the helm of the quirky Jeanneau SunFast20s, in the fluky winds of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, it was indeed New Zealander Gavin Brady who scooped the $5000 first prize, thus breaking Holmberg's monopoly on the event.
Brady described the final race in the series as one of the most enjoyable he had ever sailed and he was full of praise for the man he forced into second place. "Peter's always going to push you to the end because he's a very fast sailor. At the end of the day, whether you are match racing, sailing offshore, or doing a windward leeward race, Peter Holmberg is one of the fastest sailors in the world," Brady said.
Many of those taking part in the Budget Marine Match Race also took part in the GILL Commodores Cup. This event, sailed over a series of windward/leeward courses, replaced the Heineken warm-up race and, by tradition, takes place on Thursday, the day before the official start of the regatta.
Race day began with rain and drizzle and gave way to blue skies and fresh breeze – in other words, a perfect day for yachting. Thirty-nine boats in six classes gathered off Simpson Bay to compete and, as the GILL Commodores Cup is for spinnaker boats only, some powerful yachts were on display.
One of the more memorable moments came during a leeward mark-rounding in the second contest of the three-race series, when a pair of Class 2 boats – the Melges 24 Budget Marine/GILL, and the Open 750 Panic Attack, with its distinctive square-topped main – finished their first windward leg just as the fleet's largest boat, the Dubois 90 Genuine Risk, completed their second. The juxtaposition of the three wildly divergent boats, with Genuine Risk's five-spreader rig towering over the action, was emblematic of the range and variety of the assembled racers.
The big winner, however, was the canting-keel Cookson 50 Jazz, which made her impressive Caribbean debut with three straight victories to top Class 1. Jazz had traveled halfway around the world, mostly via freighter, since winning the IRC-0 class in the recent Sydney-Hobart Race.
"We had light conditions and we did quite well," said Jazz navigator Mike Broughton. The boats convincing victory served notice that she'll be a force to contend with on the Caribbean circuit this year.
In Class 2, Mark Plaxton's Melges 32, Team INTAC, also recorded three bullets to easily win the division. Ironically Plaxton, a key crewman in Gavin Brady's victory in the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup, had Peter Holmberg onboard!
For full info on the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup and the GILL Commodore's Cup, visit: www.heinekenregatta.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net