Fourteen crews made it to the start of the 7th North Sails Regatta over the weekend of June 21/22 in St Maarten. Over the years, this event has attracted top names from across the region – Robbie Hirst, Chris Rosenberg, Karl James, John Holmberg – and continued for 2008 with the return of St Lucia’s Mike Green and Trinidad’s Paul Amon. These were the so-called ‘rock stars’, but neither was seen slugging bare-chested from a bottle of Jack Daniels or defenestrating hotel TVs. Instead, both buckled down to the business of mastering Simpson Bay Lagoon’s shifting wind conditions under pressure from some excellent local competition.
Each crew would sail a total of nine races over the two days, switching boats between races at the Explorer’s floating dock with the kind of slick precision more normally seen in a Formula One pit stop.
As race one got underway, it was clear that the wind was set to play havoc – strong gusts from the hills making some parts of the course tremble and splutter, while flat holes opened up in a succession of crucial spots. FKG drew first blood with Mike Green finishing last, and the next six races saw six winners and three crews ‘bookend’ the results table with both first and last finishes.
For Frits Bus, who took three bullets over the weekend but struggled initially, Saturday was a frustrating experience. “It didn’t have so much to do with good sailing,” said Bus whose ‘Stella Artois’ team finished second overall. “You could have a great start and a moment later you’re in last position. It didn’t bring out the good sailing skills.” Certainly, the close nose-to-transom sailing often seen in this regatta was emphatically blown away, with the fleet scattered and little hope for those left adrift.
“When you’re close together at the mark, all nine boats, there’s the skill of finding your spot,” added Bus, who revels in the aggressive brinksmanship at the marks.
On Sunday, the winds returned strong but steady, allowing the more experienced sailors to strut their stuff: Trinidad’s Paul Amon posted a string of top-four finishes, Bus two wins, while Mike Green and Emma Paull both threatened. Going into the final race, Amon had effectively sown up first place, but some six boats were in contention for second place.
According to Amon: “The last two races on Sunday were the most fun because the breeze was more constant. In one race, we had nine boats overlapping going into the first weather mark – we were on port tack and ended up rounding last.”
Eric Baray of Martinique won praise in the final race from Chairman of the Jury (that never had to convene!) David De Vries, for hastily employing his main topping lift in place of a broken jib halyard rather than withdrawing and seeking redress. This was typical of the spirit of the weekend – firm, friendly, no fuss sailing.
After fourteen races overall, the championship went to Paul Amon’s ‘Drunken Monkey’ team, with Frits Bus’s ‘Stella Artois’ second and Mike Green’s ‘Team St Lucia’ a close third. In the same vein as Maya Angelou’s quote that calling her a ‘natural writer’ is “right after being a natural heart surgeon,” those best equipped to deal with the lottery of flukey wind conditions were those who have worked hard for years out on the water, and there was nothing unpredictable about the podium.
Despite a tough weekend, the mood was indefatigably cheerful at the awards ceremony. North Sails Area Manager Andrew Dove pledged continuing support in the future, and there was a succession of praise for regatta organizers Cary Byerley and Robbie Ferron who drive this event forward each year with palpable enthusiasm.
Emma Paull from the BVI picked out the friendliness of the regatta as its main draw, and pointed out that the combination of big names with local talent was what made it attractive. Too many ‘rock stars’, said Paull, tended to put the more mortal crews off.
Amon himself was happy with the decision to come, having nearly been forced to pull out earlier in the week. “Hard luck to everybody who didn’t come,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘I’m canceling’. It was a struggle to get here but it was definitely worth it.”
“The event itself is fantastic,” said Bus to round off the discussion. “The one design racing is the best there is. All this rating stuff is…hrumph!”
For full results go to: www.tropicalsailloft.com/nsregatta.html