Started in 1980 with just 12 boats, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is now the largest in the Caribbean. In 2007, organizers added an extra day of racing for spinnaker class boats called the Budget Marine Cup, which now makes the St. Marten Heineken Regatta a four-day event, to be held this year March 6 to 9.
Famous competitors at past Heineken Regattas have included record-breaker Steve Fossett; Roy Disney of movie company fame; Mike ‘Moose’ Sanderson, winner of the Volvo Around the World Race; Dee Caffari, record breaking solo around the world Yachtswoman; and Dennis Conner of the America’s Cup. Top performers like Black Eyed Peas and the Marley Brothers have headlined the end of Regatta party.
Record numbers of bareboats have entered the 2008 St.Maarten Heineken Regatta with one travel agency in Schiphol, Holland, sending more than 500 hundred sailors to the event.
In the regatta’s early days, the only way to take part in the event was with your own boat or as part of the crew of a friend. The rise of the bareboat altered the Caribbean racing scene forever and the St.Maarten Heineken Regatta led the charge. After the first few years, the cruising and racing classes began to realize that not only were the latest bareboats fast and highly competitive, they were sailed by top class sailors who, aboard their own boats and in their own countries, competed in some of the most prestigious and arduous races around.
What is it that makes the bareboats so thrilling for competitors and spectators? For a start, the boats are all virtually the same and that means match racing on a grand scale. All boats sail under the CSA rating rule, with tiny adjustments made for things like two or three bladed props, but the difference is minor and stimulates great competition.
In the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, six classes of bareboats cross that start line and often this is where the camera crews are gathered, watching the superb boat handling skills that have killed forever the thoughts of blundering amateurs. Bareboating is now the heart of the world-wide club racing scene, offering everyone thrilling competition in the best sailing grounds in the world.
Majolein van der Valk of Advanced Travel Partners (ATP), a Dutch company involved in corporate travel, has been organizing bareboat packages since 1995. This year she put together a package of 64 boats for 500 people and even got an international airline to make an extra stop in St. Maarten to ensure the crews make it in time.
“We have been sending people to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for 15 years and there is still growing interest in this great event,” notes van der Valk. “Fifteen years ago we sent three boats.”
Preview reports submitted by the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
HIGH SPEED GUNBOATS TO ATTEND ST.MAARTEN HEINEKEN
As many as six Gunboat catamarans will inject a shot of adrenaline into the multihull division of the 2008 Heineken regatta. The boats, built in Cape Town, South Africa, and sailed to the Caribbean on their own keel, are gaining worldwide popularity as an alternative to a performance monohull. According to race rules, if enough Gunboats take part in the Heineken Regatta, they will be given their own division or even class.
"The Heineken Regatta has clearly established itself as one of the best all round regattas in the world,” Gunboat company founder Peter Johnstone said.
With hulls made of composite racing materials, Swedish built carbon fiber mast and spars, and Kevlar rigging, the boats, designed by Morrelli and Melvin, are light and fast. Most of their owners bought them to cruise with the family as well as to race. Adding a generator and other live aboard comforts may marginally affect their performance, but the designers claim that when sailing light a Gunboat 48 can tack through 80 degrees, and one owner is said to have touched 29-knots while on a broad reach.
According to marketing and events manager Chandler Collins, the Heineken Regatta can expect a mix of Gunboat 48s and 62s, but the company expects to have their bigger boats, the 66s and even a 90, at future events.
Why the name Gunboat? “They were named by the company founder”, says Collins. “The first boat that crosses the line gets the gun. That’s the Gunboat.”