Challenging final day for St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

Day one of the 2011 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta the biggest regatta in the Caribbean.
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta final day's report..

On a strange, squally day where it rained early and often—and in many divisions, both skill and luck, sometimes in heavy doses, played a major role in the final results—the 31st running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta came to a close this afternoon following a single, extremely taxing point-to-point race from Marigot to Simpson Bay.


Every edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta takes on its own personality, and Number 31 in the annual series will be remembered as a largely light-air affair. Ironically, it’s been a very windy winter on the idyllic Caribbean isle, but for the most part this weekend, the usually reliable trade winds were fitful and elusive, and racing was conducted in breeze of ten knots or less. In nearly every class, those sailors adept at eking out every last tenth of a knot of boat speed; sniffing out every last zephyr, no matter how gentle or transitory; and capitalizing on the constantly shifting breeze, particularly in the wake of passing squalls, were the ones who topped the podium in their respective divisions.

And the third day of the three-day event was certainly the most challenging of them all. 'It was one of those days,' said Tom Callahan, a crewman on the Swan 56, Clover. 'There was a little bit of everything.'

'There were certainly quite a few wind shifts,' said Klaas Van Duuren, a 15-year veteran of the event, who finished second overall in CSA 7 after winning today’s race aboard his X-612, De Wilgen Vastgoed/Nix. Shortly after crossing the finish line, Van Duuren could have been speaking for many of today’s winners when he said, 'We were pretty lucky in the last third of the race. Many of the other boats in our class are still out there waiting for wind.'

Yes, there was a bit of everything: gusts, lulls, showers, shifts. From a spectator’s point of view, it was also highly entertaining and at times almost unbelievable. For instance, it’s not every day you see a 747 alter course while approaching a runway—like one did this afternoon—to avoid a 77-foot Swan (in this instance, Fred Smithers’ La Forza Del Destino) coursing through the water under spinnaker.

Due to the unstable conditions, it was remarkable that the race committee in charge of Classes 1-6 and the Multihull divisions managed to get action started precisely on schedule this morning at 10:30 a.m. In the wake of a grey squall with east-southeast winds registering a mere 4 or 5 knots, the 40-foot Karubuni Pinel led the Multihulls off the starting line, and five minutes later, the Dubois 90 Genuine Risk did the same for the CSA 1R and 1C classes.

Then the breeze died altogether…and not for the first time. Choosing discretion over valor, the race committee radioed the fleet that they were postponing the subsequent starts to wait for fresh breeze and 'to let the Multihulls and CSA get down the pike.' That they did…if only temporarily…while the Formula 40, Soma, led the first pack around the weather mark before peeling off for a run down the Anguilla Channel.

When the breeze swung into the east-northeast approximately a half-hour later—but still only in the 5-7 knot range—action resumed in the CSA spinnaker classes. Once again, in CSA 2, Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32, Team Intac, timed the start perfectly and hit the line with plenty of pace and clear air. In CSA 3, the Swan 66, Godot, set the early tempo but Kialoa V was dreadfully late for the start. As it turned out, there would be plenty of opportunities to catch up.

In CSA 4 and 5, respectively, Steffan Lennert’s Passion 4 C and ANTILOPE, with Volvo Ocean Race legend Bouwe Bekking aboard, both looked good off the starting line.

Then came the second squall.

At the front of the pack, as the leaders closed in on a turning mark off Basse Terre, Genuine Pack dropped her kite, spent some time two-sail reaching, re-hoisted the spinnaker…and then ran completely out of wind. Meanwhile, the fresh breeze filling in from the northeast, though not particularly staunch, allowed the trailing boats to close in on the front-runners as they wallowed in a windless hole. It was like pushing a reset button. Off Basse Terre, a new race began with such boats as Sojana, Soma, Aquarius, Jazz and the very slippery Seacart 30, Blanca, right back in the mix.

As the boats rolled down the south coast of St. Maarten, they did so in exceedingly unbalanced breeze. Some boats managed to fly kites for a time while others resorted to jibs and genoas. A third squall at the second-to-last mark before the finish brought fresh breeze and it seemed as if the entire fleet converged together at the same time. The Open 750, Panic Attack, was in full panic mode after its rudder snagged the mark. The Swan 48, Avocation, fouled another boat and spun a penalty circle in the midst of barely organized chaos. Meanwhile, the boats that avoided problems close reached to the final turning mark and then hoisted spinnakers one last time before crossing the finish line off Simpson Bay.

It had been one memorable race.

Once the results were finalized, a full slate of worthy victors were revealed. In CSA 1R, though both boats finished with identical scores (two firsts and two seconds, for six points apiece), by virtue of her win in the fourth and final race, Peter Peake’s well-sailed Peake Yacht Services Storm nipped the impressive Australian Cookson 50, Jazz, to win the division by the narrowest of margins. But in CSA 1C, Wendy Schmidt’s Swan 80, Team Selene, easily took top honors in the 8-boat class.

With a perfect score of four consecutive bullets, the Melges 32, Team INTAC, dominated the competition to win CSA 2. Despite almost clipping the wings off the arriving jet, La Forzo Del Destino won today’s race in CSA 3 as well as the overall title in the division. Philippe Falle’s Beneteau 501, Hydrocarbon Logic, won three of four contests—including today’s race—to top the CSA 4 class. And despite a ninth today, William Coates’s J/122, Otra Vez, had enough in the bank (two firsts and a second) to triumph in CSA 5.

Another Beneteau, Philippe Herve’s First 300 Spirit, Vanille, edged out Ian Hope-Ross’s Beneteau 36.5, Kick ‘em Jenny, in surprising and dramatic fashion to win CSA 6. Hope-Ross was in the driver’s seat when the day began, having scored two firsts and a second in the earlier racing. But with an uncharacteristic ninth today, Hope-Ross fell to second overall when Vanille registered her first win of the series this afternoon to top the division by a mere two points.

St. Maarten’s own Bobby Velasquez and his crew aboard L’Esperance were the winners of CSA 7. In CSA 8, Antiguan Tanner Jones’s Blue Peter, a J/30, was the winner in the 11-boat fleet.

With three wins in a row, Patrick Turner’s Dick Newick-designed vintage plywood trimaran, Team Kahunas, proved you don’t need to go high-tech to still compete—and triumph—in the Multihull 1R class. And Lloyd Thornburg’s brand-new Gunboat 66, Phaedo, making her racing debut, also captured all three races in the Multihull 1C division to top the division. In Multihull 2, the top boat was the Lagoon 500, Nikiforov.

In the Bareboat fleets, Eggbert Schuett’s Harmony 52, Team Hamburg, topped Bareboat 1. The Bareboat 2 Cyclades 50 champion was Ernst van der Wal’s Brand Boot; Marieke Poulie’s Something Hot earned first place in Bareboat 3 Sun Odyssey 44. Sailing a Dufour 455, Robert Nitsche’s KH+P Sea You Later was atop the Bareboat 4 class. Yapado, Philippe Fermin’s Sunsail 41, won Bareboat 5.

Van Duuren, the CSA Class 7 runner-up, also echoed the sentiments of most of the participants in this year’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta when he said, 'This was a difficult year with little wind and lots of holes. But every time is nice. We always enjoy the Heineken Regatta.'

For full information on the 2011 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta visit www.heinekenregatta.com.