The racing season drew to a close in style at the St. Maarten Yacht Club with the Boat of the Year Awards. Competing for the new trophies has breathed life into local keelboat racing, setting an example for other Caribbean yacht clubs to follow.
Hosting an international sailing event is a wonderful thing: St. Maarten has the Heineken Regatta; Antigua has Race Week and Classics. These regattas offer wonderful racing, but what happens when the last beer is drunk, the champers runs out, and the trophies are put away for another year? Sadly, for local racers, the answer is often little or nothing.
Determined to bring about change and to encourage grassroots competition, the St. Maarten Yacht Club (SMYC) proposed a new series that would run over nine months, one that not only recognized winners and runners up, but also awarded points for attendance.
The formula worked and around 60 people attended the Boat of the Year awards ceremony at the St. Maarten Yacht Club. Prizes were modest but striking with the winning boats in Spinnaker and Non-spinnaker Class receiving a perpetual trophy in the form of a silver cup engraved with the winning names. Skippers of the first three boats in each class also received an engraved tankard.
The winners' trophy was donated by St. Maarten Yacht Club Commodore Ian Hope-Ross, whose mission in life is to get people out on the water and rejuvenate what was, pre hurricane Luis, a vibrant local racing scene.
"This series was an absolute success," said Hope-Ross. "But we still have to get more people out of the lagoon and racing. There are lots of nice boats there that just don't come out." Hope-Ross said the yacht club must be more active in seeking out potential racers, and that was something he would pursue at the start of the new season. "We have such a fabulous setting and it's going unused, so we need more people. This is our first year and we are going to build on it, he said."
Encouraging sailors to get their keels moving is more than a job for one man, no matter how enthusiastic that man might be, and Hope-Ross relies heavily on support from his ad-hoc committee.
Annette Grannetia is another volunteer who spent a lot of time and energy promoting and organizing the new Boat of the Year series. Looking to the future, Annette said they have already come up with some new ideas for next season. "We definitely want to do an around the island race and we want to make it easier for more boats to come out and join us. Also, we want to bring more fun into it. Boats don't have to sail all ten races in order to take part."
Captain Garth Steyn at the helm of his Catalina 36 Pelican Marina Residences carried away the title Boat of the Year in Non-Spinnaker Class. Steyn has shown good form this year and was delighted to add another trophy to the list. "It was nice to see all the local boats out on the water," noted Steyn. Adding, "Victory was even sweeter because we sailed with a crew of trainees." Steyn confirmed that he would take part in the event again next year. "We have a good sponsor for the coming season, so we'll be there right up front. We want to do as much sailing as we can."
A welcome participant to the series was another 'old hand' from the days when club racing at the SMYC boasted a much larger fleet. Sint Maarten Port Authority Chief Pilot, Eddy Johnson is at home on the bridge of the largest container ship, but where time allows he sails his yacht Boon in as many keelboat races as he can. Johnson has a slightly different take on the Boat of the Year series, placing emphasis on the way it brought people together. "It's an excellent event, a community thing. We invited some of the youngsters to come out with us to give them some sailing experience," he said. Johnson confirmed he would again take part next season.
For Commodore Ian Hope-Ross it was a double celebration. The inaugural event was a great success and his Beneteau 36.7 Kick 'em Jenny was named Boat of the Year in Spinnaker Class, 12 points ahead of the highly competitive Melges 24 Coors Light skippered by Frits Bus.
For full results and to find out more about the St. Maarten Yacht Club go to: www.smyc.com