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Sint Maarten Heineken Regatta: Classic Caribbean Sailing

Serious Celebration – Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32 Team INTAC earns ‘Most Worthy Performance Overall’ for the 2013 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Photo: Bob Grieser
Serious Celebration – Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32 Team INTAC earns ‘Most Worthy Performance Overall’ for the 2013 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Photo: Bob Grieser

This year’s 33rd running of the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta concluded in spectacular style, with scores of racing boats flying down the coast of St. Maarten on the final race from Marigot to Simpson Bay. It was classic Caribbean sailing, fueled by the pumping trade winds and conducted on turquoise seas flecked with whitecaps. And it’s precisely what the crews of the 203 boats entered in the event came looking for.

The usual stellar sailing conditions, however, weren’t the only reason there was a familiar feeling in the salty air. The final results also had an aura of déjà vu. And that’s because for the second time in three years the St. Maarten Cup, awarded to the team that records the ‘Most Worthy Performance Overall’, was presented to British Virgin Island skipper Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32, Team INTAC.

As they did when winning the ‘overall’ title in 2011, Plaxton’s crew dominated their class—the highly competitive CSA 8 division comprised almost entirely of Melges 32s and 24s—with four consecutive victories in the four-race series. The all-star team had a strong Virgin Islands contingent, including St. Thomas native Taylor Canfield, as well as Canadian Olympic sailor Richard Clarke. It was an especially successful week for the trio: with Canfield at the helm, they also won the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup that has become the kick-off event each year prior to the Heineken Regatta.

“I have an awesome crew, some of the best sailors in the world,” said Plaxton after receiving his trophy. “It’s a real pleasure to sail with them.”

Once again in 2013, the three-day event in early March began with the traditional round-the-island race. On the second day, most of the fleet sailed two races: a round-the-buoys contest and a point-to-point distance race to Marigot. The third and final day, starting on the windiest morning of the regatta, brought the competitors back to Simpson Bay.

As usual, the marquee division was CSA 1, and this year the Grand Prix class brought together two heavyweights—Jeremy Pilkington’s Baltic 78, Lupa of London, and Jan Rupert’s Tripp 75, Blackbird. The two boats came into the final day of racing with identical scores, setting up what became a tightly contested boat-to-boat match race. In a superb display of boat handling, at the end of the day Lupa fended off Blackbird for a well-earned triumph in the big-boat field.

One of the best things about the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, however, is that it’s not merely a showcase for the grand dames of yacht racing. In fact, rarely has there been more diversity in the ranks. Yes, the ‘scratch boat’ in the fleet was an epic hundred-footer, Tomek Ulatowski’s Swan 100, Varsovie. But at the other end of the spectrum, sailing the most diminutive vessel on the water, was young Belgian skipper Dimitri Brouhns’ home-built 21-footer, Liberté. Brouhns spent 65-days crossing the Atlantic to race in St. Maarten, and perhaps fittingly, at the conclusion of the event, he was awarded the ‘Most Rum-worthy Performance’, naturally sponsored by Captain Morgan. Between these extremes, in another noteworthy performance, was a pair of mid-size boats—a Catalina 36, MoonDance, and a Beneteau 30, Vanille—sailed by 10 youthful sailors from a St. Maarten high school, Milton Peters College. Thanks to an innovative scholarship program sponsored by the regatta, the St. Maarten Sailing School, and IGY Marinas, the Heineken Regatta rookies received extensive training before the event and made their competitive racing debut during it.

“We supported the project because it’s key to us to get the local community involved, especially the younger ones,” said Regatta Director Michele Korteweg. “Getting them to go sailing is more than we could have hoped for and hopefully their enthusiasm will be infectious and we will see more local kids sailing in the coming years.”

Another major story line for the 33rd Heineken Regatta was the exceptionally strong multihull fleet, with nearly thirty boats in five of the event’s 19 classes. It was one of the largest dedicated gatherings of catamarans and trimarans in the long history of Caribbean racing. Among the big winners were the Gunboat, Elvis, in Multihull 1, and Nils Erickson’s scorched Formula 40 cat, Soma, in Multihull 2.

For full results and more, visit: http://www.heinekenregatta.com

Herb McCormick is the senior editor of Cruising World magazine and has served as the press writer for the Heineken Regatta for five years.

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