An utterly dominating performance by St. Barths’ Benoit Meesmaecker at the 25th Heineken Light Caribbean Open Laser Championships in St. Martin on June 14-15 handed the French sailor his second Laser Champion title here since 2012.
Benoit won the six-boat Standard Class, snatching the bullet in all eight races after a discarded OCS in race one blotted an otherwise perfect result. The Class was deprived this year of Antigua’s Karl James and last year’s champion Ari Barshi of the Dominican Republic, but Benoit was pushed hard by veteran stalwarts Frits Bus, Olivier Bernaz, and the Dominican Republic’s Jorge Abreu, incidentally making his 21st appearance at the championships.
The 24-boat fleet had its work cut out for it on Saturday on the windward leeward course in Orient Bay as winds gusted to 20-22 knots over steep swells. Conditions calmed down on Sunday with little alteration to the course needed.
“It’s always challenging racing here and surfing down the swells; I love this event and it’s very well organised,” remarked Benoit before heading off to the European Masters Championship in Belgium, and thereon to the Laser World Masters in France in October.
Island Water World’s Frits Bus, who placed third in class and second overall, was trounced by a resurgent Olivier Bernaz who fought his way into second place and third overall with a string of second place finishes.
Jorge Abreu won the Masters Category and took fourth overall. Second in this class went to Francois de Corlieu from St. Barths and third Ian Mahon from Trinidad.
Up and coming sailing talent Rhône Findlay’s blossoming career remains on track with another entry to add to his résumé. He won the 12-boat Radial Class for the second year running and placed fifth in fleet.
The self assured18-year-old won all eight races, discarding one over early. Much of the time he was racing up at the head of the fleet.
It probably wasn’t as easy as it looked on paper and Findlay agreed. “It was challenging and I had a lot of people pushing me from behind. I wasn’t always in front,” he said.
Five-time Open Laser champion Karl James was nursing an injured knee and instead brought with him four young protégés, Lewis Fitzgerald, Jules Mitchell, Rhone Kirby and Vincent Anfi who all raced in the Radial Class.
“It’s painful to watch, not being out there,” rued James from the committee boat before jumping into a dinghy to coach his young hopefuls in between races. “This is Lewis’s first international regatta and the others have done a few small ones. But this one is a real test for all of them.”
Fitzgerald finished second in Radials behind Findlay and sixth overall, and Mitchell was third in class.
There were two prizes for the ladies in the Radial Class. Trinidad’s Kelly Ann Arrindell finished fourth overall in the class. The second prize went to Johanna Looser, 20th overall. Both girls sailed all nine races in difficult conditions.
The regatta was organised by the St. Maarten Yacht Club and sponsored by Heineken Light, Island Water World, Sunsail, and Club Orient.