Chic St. Barths may be better known for attracting the rich and the beautiful but the tiny speck of an island has a capacity to produce gifted sailors, too. Benoit Meesemaecker for example who took overall honours at the 22nd Heineken Light Caribbean Laser Championships held in St. Martin on June 11th and 12th.
Orient Bay was again the arena for the CSA-sanctioned Championships but the normally reliable winds failed to kick in this year. Instead the fleet was treated to a benign south-easterly breeze of 10 to 11 knots that held steady both days. Race Officer Andrew Rapley pointed out it was still ideal conditions on the windward/leeward course for the mixed abilities in the fleet.
The fight for supremacy in the Standard category turned out to be between Benoit Meesemaecker and St. Maarten's finest Frits Bus who duelled 'mano a mano'. Both men are far from lightweights and had to draw on every ounce of tactical skill.
Benoit racked up bullets in all races with laser-guided precision except one that he conceded to Bus whose string of second place finishes assured him second overall. Dominican Republic's Sebastian Bros finished third overall.
"I would have preferred more wind but I was very consistent this year," remarked Benoit who finished 17th in the Masters Category of the 2010 Laser Worlds in the UK and 21st in Nova Scotia, Canada, the year before.
Manuel Lehoux, a talented 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, won the Radials ahead of local sail-maker Ernst Looser. Stephane Ferron finished in third place.
Francois de Corlien won the Masters Category, St. Maarten's Rien Korteknie was second, and Henry Fondeur from the Dominican Republic took third place.
Heineken's Managing Director John Leone had the unusual distinction of being both a participant and sponsor. "It's one thing to be sponsoring but quite another to be sailing," reflected Leone who raced his own Laser. "It's the first time I participated and I've got a lot of catching up to do. But it does give you an appreciation for the hard work that goes into organising the event."
Despite the absence of world class names that have graced the championships in previous years, sailors from the Dominican Republic deserve credit for their loyalty to the event each year. Jorge Abreu for one has participated nineteen times.
Winners in each class won beautiful Antoine Chapon paintings. The regatta was sponsored by Heineken Premium Light and Club Orient Resort, and organised by the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
Robert Luckock is a British journalist and freelance writer residing in St. Maarten since 1984. He is currently The Daily Herald's correspondent for French St. Martin and was one of All at Sea's very first contributors.