Every edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta – the three-day festival of yacht racing, music and nearly non-stop parties that occurs annually on the first weekend of March – takes on its own personality, and this year's 31st running was no exception. For instance, after weeks of locked-in trade winds, the steady easterlies took a breather for most of the event, with much of the racing conducted in breeze hovering around 10 knots.
Also, with an entry list just shy of 200 boats, in sheer numbers it was by no means a record-setting fleet, though Robbie Ferron, the chairman of the event's steering committee, noted that the big drop-off was in the Bareboat charter divisions, an understandable development considering the state of the world's financial affairs.
However, the quality and diversity of the strong fleet of yachts competing in the CSA racing classes, as well as in the multihull divisions, remained as good as or even better than ever. Indeed, the Grand Prix CSA 1R racing class was absolutely loaded, with an entry list that included Britain's Richard Matthews' new 54-foot Oystercatcher XXVIII, which resembled a souped-up Transpac 52; the Dubois 90, Genuine Risk, far and away the quickest monohull on the track; and Aussie Chris Bull's canting-keel Cookson 50, Jazz, fresh from a first-place finish in her ORC division in the recent, heavy-air 2010 Sydney-Hobart Race. There was even an old but refurbished Volvo 60 flying a Lithuanian flag, Ambersail, which is certainly an unusual sight in a Caribbean regatta.
When all was said and done, however, it was a local boat – Peter Peake's well-sailed, heavily campaigned Reichel/Pugh 43, Peake Yacht Services Storm – that proved to be a giant-killer, winning the 1R class with a victory on the final day of competition (which broke a tie with the impressive Hobart victor, Jazz). And as far as Caribbean entrants were concerned, Peake's, well, peak performance at the top of the fleet was by no means an aberration. In fact, the challenging conditions showcased the skill and talent of island sailors throughout the 19 respective divisions, and that is certainly one of the key elements for which the 31st Heineken Regatta will be remembered.
Indeed, the event's motto is 'Serious Fun' and no boat was more serious – or had more fun – than Mark Plaxton's Melges 32, Team INTAC, from the BVI. Plaxton's all-star crew included a host of veteran sailors from the neighboring USVI such as America's Cup winner Peter Holmberg, Ben Beer and Maurice Burg. Team INTAC dominated the CSA 2 class with four bullets in four races, and earned the regatta's top prize, the Heineken Cup, for 'Most Worthy Performance Overall'.
As always, the speediest boats on the racecourse may well have been in the three multihull classes, which also drew a
radical and assorted roster of entrants: the blazing quick Seacart 30 trimaran, Blanca, which was the fastest multihull on Friday's traditional round-the-island kick-off race; the shocking pink Lui, from Guadeloupe, an offshore burner that's competed in the famed Route du Rhum race; Soma, Nils Erickson's fast and familiar Formula 40; and probably the most distinctive looking boat on the water, Phaedo, an orange, all-carbon Gunboat 66 catamaran with black carbon sails.
But in what was becoming a recurrent theme, the winner of Multihull 1R was the venerable, plywood, Dick Newick-designed tri, Team Kahunas (a.k.a Tryst) an island fixture for many, many years under the command of skipper Patrick Turner, who showed all the high-tech boys with their brand-new toys a thing or two about old-fashioned yacht racing. Other islanders who topped their respective divisions were St. Maarten's own Bobby Velasquez aboard L'Eesperance, a 45-foot Beneteau, in CSA 7; and Antiguan Tanner Jones' J/30, Blue Peter, in CSA 8.
As usual, there was a grand contingent of elegant Superyachts in the upper echelon of the entry list – the CSA 1C fleet was comprised of such beauties as the Farr 115, Sojana; Varsovie, a 100-foot Swan; the striking Carbon Ocean 82, Aegir; and POS, an R/P 78. In somewhat of an upset, however, the winner in this division was one of the 'smaller' yachts, Wendy Schmidt's Swan 80, Team Selene.
The big boats, of course, were the ones that missed the breeze the most. So it was perhaps fitting that on Sunday night's award ceremony – followed by an incredible four-hour concert by Wyclef Jean – the tongue-in-cheek award for Most Unworthy Performance was presented to The Wind Gods, whose fluky, sputtering offerings were frustrating and uncharacteristic. Fittingly, and perhaps embarrassed by their collectively weak effort, none of the Gods showed up to claim the prize.
For full results, visit the event's website: www.heinekenregatta.com