27th Heineken Regatta

Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, the 27th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta needs to return next month (March 1 to 4) with nothing less than a humdinger—not because there are cracks in the façade, or feet of clay, but more because the Caribbean’s most popular regatta flies a huge metaphorical spinnaker, which requires a constant blast of big names, big boats and tough racing to fill it.

In 2006, no fewer than 255 boats took part, the same as in 2004, but slightly down on the record of 261 boats in 2005. But while the boats came in 2006, the wind didn’t, resulting in the third day’s racing being scratched, with many classes agonizingly poised. Likewise in 2005, when three days of light-wind sailing hardly did justice to the caliber of canvas on the entry list.

Organizers will be hoping for a return to something like 2004, when the two Z86 Maxis Pyewacket and Morning Glory reveled in perfect conditions and the buzz lasted from start gun to finish line. And where organizers are concerned, nobody deserves some vintage Heineken more than Mirian Ebbers, who will be celebrating her final year in command before handing over to assistant Heather Tackling. Under Ebbers, the St. Maarten regatta has been perfected into an innovative, serious, top-quality event to match anything found elsewhere.

One of those innovations was the introduction of a new Spinnaker Class windward/leeward stage last year. This has been retained for 2006, with Budget Marine stepping in as sponsor. The ‘Budget Marine Commodore’s Cup’ will be competed for on the Thursday before racing begins in all classes on the Friday with the impeccable Round the Island race. The round-the-buoys series was an instant hit, allowing the big boats to put their crews through some grueling deck-work.

Two boats that will be hoping to return for a victorious triple are Tom Hill’s Titan XII and Lazy Dog, both from Puerto Rico. Both finished with 100% records last year, in Spinnaker 4 and Spinnaker 5 respectively. Lazy Dog’s achievement is outstanding; crowned overall winner two years running against some formidable opposition.

One new addition to help put the cat among the pigeons is the Volvo Ocean 70 ABN AMRO ONE, skippered by Rolex World Sailor of the year Mike Sanderson. Although the yacht suffered a broken mast in the 2006 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, local sailors and fans cannot wait to see her turn up in St. Maarten. But any boat or crew that comes to the island, from Maxi to Bareboat is welcome, which is why so many return year after year. Here’s hoping the trade winds provide something to remember.

St. Maarten Heineken Regatta: March 1 to 4. For more information: www.heinekenregatta.com