In absolutely perfect Caribbean racing conditions, with steady trades pumping out of the east at anywhere from 12 to 25 knots, a solid fleet just shy of 200 boatsâincluding a record-setting twenty catamarans and trimaransâset sail in early March in the waters off St. Maarten for the 32nd annual running of the sudsy St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
The eventâs mottoâSerious Funâonce again held true, as the racers, competing in 16 separate classes, reveled by day in the pumping breeze and three to five-foot turquoise seas, and by night at the world-class parties that truly make the Heineken Regatta a one-of-a-kind event. When the final scores were tallied, however, no sailors had more fun than those aboard Richard Wesslundâs J/120, El Ocaso, which earned the prize for the regattaâs Most Worthy Performance Overall by virtue of winning the eventâs most competitive class, CSA 4.
âThis was our sixth year racing in St. Maarten,â said Wesslund. âWeâve won our division twice but never this prize. I want to thank my great team for all their hard work over the years. Weâll be back!â
El Ocasomay have been the regattaâs biggest winner, but the most photogenicâand historicâyacht in the field was Matt Brooksâ classic beauty Dorade, which topped a competitive CSA 7 division. Built in 1929 to a design by a young naval architect named Olin Stephens, Dorade launched the legendary designerâs career the next year when it won the 1930 Transatlantic Race. Brooks brought the refurbished 52-foot yawl to the islands in preparation for this yearâs Newport-Bermuda Race, an event Dorade also won in 1932.
Doradewasnât the only yacht, however, with a well-established record in international racing circles. Representing a more contemporary take on state-of-the-art offshore racers was Bill Alcottâs Farr-designed Transpac 65, Equation, which won the grueling Sydney-Hobart Race in 2007, when she was called Rosebud.
On the first day of racing, on March 1st, Equation and another âheavyweight contenderââErnesto Corntinaâs Volvo 70, Gran Jotiti, crewed by an all-star line-up of Spanish Americaâs Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteransâwaged an epic duel in CSA 1 on the annual round-the-island race that kicks off the Heineken Regatta festivities. On elapsed time, Gran Jotiti won the battle in a time of 3: 03: 26 with Equation just four minutes in arrears. That was still quick enough to give Equation the victory on corrected time.
It set the stage for what appeared to be a weekend of close racing, but unfortunately, Equation broke a spreader falling off a steep wave on the second day of competition, and Gran Jotiti coasted to a class victory in CSA 1.
In Multihull 1, Peter Aschenbrennerâs graceful, bird-like Irens-designed 63-foot tri, Paradox, also parlayed a win in the opening round-the-island race (in a blistering time of 2: 48:19) into an easy overall victory in her division.
As in every St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the fleet was represented by a broad cross-section of boats and competitors, not to mention a strong contingent of chartered bareboats. At the upper end of the scale was a pair of Swan 100s: Tomek Ulatowskiâs Varsovie and Bill and Carolyn Titusâ Virago, the latter the winner of CSA 2.
On the âdiminutiveâ side of things was a trio of Melges 24s, including local St. Maarten boats sailed by Andrea Scarabelli (Budget Marine/Gill) and co-skippers Frits Bus and Peter Houtzager (Coors Light), who finished first and second, respectively, in CSA 3.
Sprinkled between those extremes were dozens of one-designs, custom boats and racer/cruisers. As always, local knowledge played a major role in the outcomes of several divisions. That was certainly the case in CSA 5, where Sir Robert Velasquez, at the helm of his well-known Beneteau 45F5, LâEsperance, drove to victory.
It was also the script in CSA 6, where Ian Hope-Ross, Commodore of the St. Maarten Yacht Club, claimed his familiar spot atop the standings on his well-sailed Beneteau First 36.7, Kick âem Jenny.
For a complete list of results, visit www.heinekenregatta.com
Heineken Regatta press writer Herb McCormick is the senior editor of Cruising World magazine and the author of âGone to the Seaâ, an anthology of his sea stories.