An early morning rain shower served as the wake-up call for the ninth edition of the Golden Rock Regatta (GRR) held November 13 to 18. Although the skies had cleared in time for the start of the first race – an exhilarating 19-mile beat from Philipsburg, St. Maarten to Gustavia, St. Barths – some of the crew were still a bit foggy from the previous night’s opening party at the 12 Metre Bar. Covering a circuit between St. Maarten, St. Barths and St. Eustatius, a record 21 entrants enjoyed five days of vigorous competition, punctuated by evenings with royalty and revelry. The GRR features a combination of distance, pursuit and buoy racing which favors no one class or model of yacht, keeping the results somewhat mutable and the racers on edge. Case in point: on Day Two’s 31-mile pursuit race from St. Barths to Statia the first three boats crossed the line within 10 seconds, with Klaas van Duuren and Willow Group at the head of the pack.
But in the end it was Rogier Petit and Bel Aurora who took overall honors, while Annie Gardner and Team Rockstars successfully defended their 2012 title as winners in the Bareboat division. Petit snatched victory in the tightly contested Open Class, knocking out perennial champion Bobby Velasquez in L’Esperance, and a solid challenge from Nico Cortlever aboard Nix. Bel Aurora is a reincarnated Jeanneau Selection, originally built in 1984 for the Tour de France a la Voile. Salvaged following Hurricane Luis in 1995, Petit pieced it together, saying he, “brought it back to life using stuff other people had discarded.” He has campaigned the spartan 36ft yacht successfully throughout the Caribbean since its launch two years ago, adding another notch to his belt with this GRR win. In the Bareboat Division racing was equally exciting, with Gardner’s all-California-girl team aboard the Sunsail 44i Dundee, in Bareboat Class III, deflecting a challenge by Pieter Bosman and Royal Funfactor on a Moorings 50.5, Bareboat II. The Rockstars racked up an impressive number of wins to edge out Royal Funfactor by three points. Each prevailed in their respective classes; Dutch Sailing Events triumphed in Bareboat Class I. The Captain Oliver’s Memorial Trophy for the best performance by a first time competitor went to Ton Broekhuizen and Rental Pumps, in Bareboat II class. Capping off a three-week Caribbean tour, Broekhuizen said he elected to compete in the GRR due to the small scale, camaraderie, and less commercial aspect of the event. “This is a nice regatta in a special setting,” added the Dutch skipper. Also joining the fleet were two teams of autistic youngsters from the Antwerp area, participating thanks to the Overstagreizen program and a handful of hardy volunteers. “They sailed brilliantly,” said GRR organizer Juul Hermsen, who noted the positive impact the youth had on the regatta. “The enjoyment they got was infectious!” Hermsen’s enthusiasm was infectious too. Approaching its ten year anniversary, the future of the GRR is bright, he said, with expanded funding by local governments increasing exposure and boosting foreign participation. The regatta, traditionally timed to correspond with Statia Day, also coincided with a visit to the island by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. These festivities merely added to the nightly merriment of the international fleet, which included a dance party along the docks in Gustavia, and all night Happy Hour at the 12 Metre Bar in Philipsburg. A final prize-giving ceremony at Captain Oliver’s featured their renowned dinner buffet, along with trophy presentations, sing-alongs and dancing … until a power outage cut the evening short. Then the party moved to the Sunsail and Moorings docks, where boat-hopping revelry carried on until the early hours. GRR 2014 will be held mid-November, for details, visit: www.goldenrockregatta.com