This year’s Puerto Rico Heineken International Regatta could be considered one of the most-friendly regattas or one of the most unforgiving. It all depends on whether you were on the land or at sea.
The regatta was held on May 22-25 and was staged at the Palmas Del Mar Yacht Club. More than 60 boats competed in the event, which featured several classes and boats from Hobie Cats to a Swan 53.
On the water, the conditions were rough with seven-to-eight-foot swells. The winds ranged from 10 to 17 knots during three days of racing. The conditions wreaked havoc on several sailors and volunteers. Some had to be taken to shore after becoming seasick. Conditions also caused one sailor to go overboard, but she was recovered quickly and the team continued the race. Additionally, several minor collisions happened on the racecourse.
Prior to the start of the regatta, the Melges 32 Lazy Dog crashed onto the rocks at the marina entrance, while going out to practice. The boat sustained enough damage that it would have to withdraw from the competition. The Melges 32 Smile and Wave went on to win the Star Cup series.
Lazy Dog skipper Fraito Lugo said the accident was very “disappointing.”
“We had a good chance to win the series,” Lugo said.
He said it was a combination of things that led to the accident.
“The seaweed didn’t help things. We also made a bad tack.”
He claimed the boat can be repaired and should be back sailing soon.
The Melges skipper hopes to see an increase in the number competitors at the regatta. He said that the series and the cash prizes are a good start and even helped attract sailors from the US and British Virgin Islands.
“We need more support from the other islands,” Lugo said.
Smile and Wave’s skipper Jamie Torres said the Heineken Star Cup possibly has more potential than the regatta itself. The new four-regatta series had three boats competing for the cup and thousands of dollars in cash. The series was held around the region, but the winner was decided at the Puerto Rico regatta.
“The fact that Lazy Dog didn’t compete was seriously heart breaking for us,” Torres said. “Everybody loves to win, but there is nobody that races with us who loves to win more than they love to compete. So, when you take the competition out, you have taken out the core reason why you are here.”
Francisco Figueroa and Jolliam Berrios won the Hobie Cat Division for the third consecutive year. The two have been sailing together for the past ten years and have won two North American Championships.
“The Heineken Regatta is always special to us. It is one of our key events,” said Figueroa, who is sponsored by Heineken. “It hasn’t been easy. It has been very hard fought.”
Figueroa hopes that Hobie Cat sailing starts to grow as well. He said getting sailors hooked on it while they are young is key to the division’s future.
“The Hobie Cat scene is not that big in the Caribbean,” Figueroa said. “It is sad, because we have the best conditions all year round. I think there is a misconception that it is too crazy of a boat and uncontrollable. But really it is not. Like every boat, it can be controlled.”
Aside from competing, Berrios wore two other hats at the regatta, that of organizer and sponsor. She is Heineken’s senior brand manager. She said having multiple roles at the regatta can be challenging, but helps her make the event better.
“In order to get this quality of an event, it is important to always close the circle and make sure everything is thought out,” Berrios said. “When I am sailing I am having fun. That is where I relax.”
Sailors were treated to many perks including Espresso machines, continental breakfasts and cocktails on the docks after racing.
At night, thousands of people attended the regatta village to enjoy concerts by top Puerto Rican entertainers and gourmet food trucks.
Despite the recent success of the regatta, organizers are now evaluating their options in regards to the event’s venue from both the brand and competition perspectives.
“At Palmas we have a resort destination for sailors to plan their weekend,” Berrios said. “You also get people at the beach watching the sailing and the yacht club is very nice. We are thinking do we want to stay at this venue or do we want to make it bigger and be closer to the Caribbean.”
No matter the location, Berrios said the regatta will continue to improve with the hopes of attracting more sailors and bigger boats. She said initiatives like cash prizes and better race management have already shown success.
“We definitely expect an up tick,” Berrios said. “We are also getting great collaboration from other sailing federations and islands. We are all talking about what we all can do.”
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.