Saturday May 21 and day one of the 7th Captain Oliver's Regatta, sailed out of Oyster Pond, French St. Martin, began with light airs and clouds that threatened rain. However, turnout was good with a fleet of 23 racing and cruising monohulls and multihulls and a supporting cast of five beachcats.
Start sequences were well run and offered plenty of excitement. Eager to be off around the island, Jan van den Eynde, sailing in racing class, pushed his Open 750 Panic Attack too hard and crossed the line early. In cruising class, and approaching the line to windward of the Catalina 36 Moondance, Bobby Valasques' First 45F5 L'Esperance was picked up by a wave and lifted sideways, causing the helmsmen to spin the wheel to avoid paying for two expensive paint jobs.
A short beat to windward brought the boats to the only mark on the course. From there instructions said leave the island to port until you arrived back at the finish off Oyster Pond.
The tight starts gave everyone a good chance to view the fleet, and there were some interesting boats on display. Two Requins, Mr Walker and Lil'e, from St. Barth, were a joy to watch as their narrow, low-slung hulls cut through the steep chop. These two kept up a fierce competition all the way around the course.
Fears that the wind would drop in the area of Grande Case were unfounded and the boats enjoyed some quick downwind sailing. Tactics came into play in the Anguilla Channel where the current can be a factor. Some boats, deciding on the shortest route around the island, hugged the coast. Others, like Raphael Magras X-Yacht 34 Maelia, a new-build straight out of the box, opted for mid channel.
On the long beat up the southwest coast, winds gusted to 26 knots testing many of the smaller boats.
Battling the rough conditions was the engineless Dufour 1800 Little Po, skippered by Rien Korteknie and a crew of youngsters from the St. Maarten Secondary Vocational Education (SBO) program. "We try to prepare youngsters who are not doing so well in school for the job market, mainly in the marine industry," said Korteknie. "Sailing is part of it. It's a good experience for them."
At the awards ceremony, the crew of Little Po each received a gift certificate from the St. Maarten Sailing School, offering them a free captain's course for yachts up to 27 feet.
Sunday, clouds cleared, the sun came out, and the wind forecast was right on the money. The committee, having chosen the longer of two possible courses, got the race underway, again to plenty of excitement. Having issued a general recall, the start for racing class was bumped to the back of the queue. However, it was the racing multihulls, starting with the beachcats, where the action took place. Thundering towards the line, and rapidly overhauling the beachcats, the crew of the trimaran Dauphin Telecom began bellowing for room. At one point it seemed as if the tri would flatten the smaller boats and observers expected to see at least a couple of splintered beachcats swirling in the tri's wake.
The excitement was short-lived. By the time the boats rounded Pelican Rock for the beat towards St. Barth, the wind was dying. Three hours later, and with only half the fleet around Table Rock, it was obvious that many boats would not complete the course by the 1pm cutoff time.
"Overall the weekend was much better than we expected. The regatta was well organized and the competition very good," said Derek Little, crew on the Melges 24 Budget Marine Gill, winner of racing class and one of the few boats to finish before the cutoff time. Little added, "Perhaps the course shouldn't have been as long, but that's a hard call to make. You make the call in the morning and the wind is good. Then it dies off during the day. What can you say?"
Bobby Valasques' L'Esperance also beat the cutoff time to win cruising class and was named Most Worthy Boat. Local sailor Petro Jonker's 51 du Toit Quality Time, the only cruising multihull to finish both races, won cruising multihull, while racing multihull went to the trimaran Dauphin Telecom. Jeff Ledee's Nacra F18 Nikki Beach sailed to victory in Beachcat. The inaugural Corporate Challenge was won by the Sun Odyssey 44i Turtle Island skippered by Arnaud Anquetil.
For information and full results, visit: http://regatta.yolasite.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a radio presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: http://garyebrown.net