Held from the 19th to 21st January, the 2nd St Maarten-St Martin Classic Yacht regatta brought together 10 beautiful yachts ‘of a certain age’ in conditions that could not have been better. Clear skies, flat seas and a steady breeze conspired with some excellent on-shore entertainment to make this one of those events where Sunday evening comes too soon.
Eighteen boats were registered, including the 1914 William Fife-built Moonbeam, but an assortment of technical problems and rescheduled refits meant that ten boats only took to the starting line. However, if Moonbeam wasn’t able to make it, Philip Walwyn’s new gaff-rigged 12-meter Kate, based on an Alfred Mylne design, made its full regatta debut, and the addition of a local boat racing series brought in six 23’ wooden boats from Grande Case.
Other big names included the trusty local competitor Charm III, a 1928 Alden schooner owned by Anguilla’s Richard West; When & If, another Alden schooner built in 1939 (for General Patton); Long White Cloud, a 1996 New Zealand rebuild of a 1930s Herreshoff design; local Frers Synergy, a former Admirals Cup winner; Donald Tofias’s W-Class Equus; and the stunning 65’ Vic Carpenter sloop Van Ki Pass. When this lot converged on the finish line off Simpson Bay on Sunday’s race, it was only long afterwards that those of us on the press boat noticed we were bobbing alongside the 370 ft Le Grand Bleu, the world’s 11th biggest yacht.
Racing was divided into Classic, Vintage and Spirit of Tradition Classes, with courses from Simpson Bay up to Marigot, Marigot to Great Bay, and Great Bay back to Simpson Bay having first rounded a rock off Pointe Blanche. With so much canvas, teak and mahogany on show, it seems vulgar to talk of statistics, but once again Charm III pulled off a perfect regatta. Awesome upwind and feisty throughout, Charm III enjoyed a great, close battle with When & If, which looked even better on corrected time. Likewise, Long White Cloud took three bullets in her Classic class, even if Walwyn’s Kate had line honors in Friday’s race. For all her grace and spectacular profile, the St Kitts-built Kate could never get going upwind.
In the Spirit of Tradition class, Van Ki Pass consistently left the other three to race among themselves, but this is a big boat and the sleeker Synergy fared much better on corrected time, winning the class.
The local boats raced out of Great Bay, starting and finishing on the beach. These physical, boisterous crews brought an equally vocal support with them, but also generated a huge amount of interest among those on the Philipsburg Boardwalk. Marigot-based Alma Gloria won overall. The day’s biggest drama was the sinking in a flash of Chance, the lightest boat in the fleet, showing just how vulnerable these open hull, big boom boats are. The French-side SNSM rescue boat was on hand to pick up the crew within seconds, and all were back on the beach with a rum and coke for the finish.
For Philip Walwyn, builder and owner of Kate and St Kitts’ unofficial Minister of Yachting, the regatta was a chance to “learn that I didn’t know a lot about sailing Kate. One of the problems is knowing how much sail to lug to windward. I think it takes a year to learn how to sail any boat. It’s a lovely boat to sail, but a lot of it’s to do with controlling that blasted mainsail. The boat’s 40ft on the waterline and the boom’s 46 ft long.” As for the regatta in general, Walwyn was enthusiastic: “How can you not enjoy this amount of wind, this amount of fun? The fact that the fleet was so diverse doesn’t really matter. We’re not racing Farr 40s. It’s a different game.”
Randy West, skipper of Vann Ki Pass, found that the Classic yacht regatta is not just fun, it’s essential. “There’s no regatta where the old Columbia 50, the old Cal 40, the old IOR boats can race. They’re never going to win in any normal regatta, and now they can race here. Invite all these old fiberglass boats because we’re getting old. Everyone’s pretending like fiberglass is new.”
The same sentiments were echoed by Synergy owner Lea de Haas: “I’m [Synergy] 33 years old. Here, they give boats like mine a chance. I still have that IOR measurement and don’t fit any more in the other races.” Haas also enjoyed the ‘different mentality’ of Classic yacht racing – just as hard as regattas such as the Heineken, but a lot more relaxed with no screaming and shouting close to the start line!
Great ideas, but not perhaps the direction Jan Roosens, founder and organizer of the regatta, wants to take things. Having worked closely with Kenny Coombs of the Antigua Classic Yacht regatta, Roosens is keen to create a co-ordinated Classic regatta series. “We want to establish a real Classic regatta. We will probably apply the same rules as Antigua.” said Roosens. “There are so many boats that are on the line, but you have to draw the line.” If ‘wannabe’ classics are allowed to swell the numbers, will it still be possible to attract the J-Class, W-Class and other headliners?
Roosens, nevertheless, looks forward to an even bigger year in 2008, with many Classic yachts due to return to the Caribbean following a refit in 2007. For now, this Classic creation is already Vintage quality.
Nick Marshall is an English journalist who was consultant editor of All At Sea from 2003 to 2005.
1st Charm III
2nd When and If
1st: Long White Cloud
3rd: Mi Querida
Spirit of Tradition
2nd: Van Ki Pass
3rd: Sharyn Leigh