The 29th edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta experienced an early unofficial start and the Budget Marine Match Racing series made the true regatta lover’s heart quicken on Tuesday, March 3 before the main event. It was the first time that match races were held on the windward island and the light, maneuverable fleet of Jeanneau 20s was put to good use.
Budget Marine owner and regatta organizer Robbie Ferron said the races were organized as an experiment and, as all participating sailors, spectators and referees agreed afterward, it was a successful one. For the referees it was a hard nut to crack.
In match racing two teams in the same model of boat compete against each other. It is not just about reaching the finish line as quickly as possible, but also about bothering the opponent as much as possible so they may overstep the mark and trigger penalties, which is to the opponent’s advantage.
Match racing is challenging sailing which demands a lot of tactical and technical skill on the part of the sailors. Each of the six participating teams is sailing a flight against any opponent. After five flights, the four best teams proceed to the final races. Numbers three and four have to fight for the third place in the petite finals, and the two best teams compete in up to five flights against each other until the winner has won three flights.
This year’s inaugural event pitted teams from Brazil, Russia, the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands against each other. From St. Thomas, the experienced match racer Peter Holmberg lived up to expectations despite one (not caused by his fault) broken mast in the second race. Through all flights, Holmberg remained invincible even as the Russians passionately tried to block his way. Skipper Eugeny Nikiforov and his team obtained third place behind Marc Fitzgerald’s team, who ended up on a well-deserved second place.
The Budget Marine Match racing series was launched for the first time, as a prelude to the 2009 Heineken Regatta. Along with St. Thomas, St. Maarten has now gained traction in this renewed, challenging sailing competition being rediscovered worldwide.