As the March edition of All At Sea hit the stands, the 33rd Sint Maarten Heineken Regatta got underway and this year a new event has been added to the world famous sailing event.
Visitors to the St. Maarten Yacht Club and those interested in match racing will have seen the fleet of one-design Jeanneau Sunfast 20s owned and operated by Lagoon Sailboat Rentals. These are the same boats used by the world’s leading match racers during the Budget Marine Match Race Cup and the boats that competitors will sail in the new Heineken Light Inshore Class.
Sint Maarten is the ideal location for the Inshore Class because should conditions prove too boisterous along the coast, the race officers can move the event into the sheltered waters of the Simpson Bay Lagoon. It would be a mistake, however, to think a switch of venue will offer less challenging courses. Yes, seas may be flat inside the lagoon but this stretch of water is notorious for its shifting winds that present a huge challenge to tacticians and helmsmen.
Courses will vary depending on venue but mainly will be windward/leeward format with the possibility of longer races on any of the race days. The Heineken Light Inshore Class is part of the main Heineken Regatta, but there’s an added bonus: On their first day of racing the inshore fleet will compete for the Vice-Commodores Cup.
For a fee of $500, sailors taking part in the Inshore Class receive use of the Sunfast 20s for five days, this allows for one practice race day, the ‘Vice-Commodores Cup’ and three days of St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. There is an additional regatta entry fee of $100 per boat.
The highly-maneuverable Sunfast 20s have a comfortable cockpit that is well set up and the boats are easy to race by a crew of three using only the main sail with a self-tacking jib. The yachts have internal ballast with a swing lift centerboard and rudder. They are non-spinnaker boats and there is a fleet of nine. Races will last around 40-minutes and race officers hope to run at least four races per day.
One-design racing in identical boats means all boat ratings are the same. This type of racing is highly competitive and growing in popularity worldwide.
Regatta director Michèle Korteweg describes the new class as “a great way to make sailing in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta more accessible to a lot of people, those with little sailing experience and a smaller budget.” She says that sailors, who don’t own a boat, will no longer have to search for a boat on which to crew. “This is a possible first step to participating in the Regatta as you don’t need to find a large group of friends or colleagues, as you only need three or four people to sail the Jeanneau 20s.”
Korteweg sees the new class as a way to bring small boats back to the Heineken Regatta. “In the past we always used to have the beach cats, but for safety reasons we removed this class from the event. The 20-foot Jeanneaus are great little boats to sail, but they are challenging, especially inside the lagoon with its shifty winds,” she says, adding, “perhaps the new inshore class opens up the door for a Laser class next year.”
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information, visit: garyebrown.net