St. Maarten Heineken Regatta kicks off with Gill Commodores Cup

Day 1 - Gill Commodores Cup - St. Maarten Heineken Regatta 2012
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta 32nd edition kicked off with the Gill Commodores Cup in Simpson Bay.

There are many adjectives one might employ to describe the sailing conditions off the south coast of the Friendly Island of St. Maarten. 'Sporty, sunny, and breezy' would all apply. But for the sake of simplicity, the day could be summed up with one straightforward word:

Perfect.

In easterly tradewinds of 18-22 knots and clear blue seas of 3-5 feet, 25 boats in four classes set sail in the Gill Commodores Cup, a two-race series scored separately from the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for the flat-out racing crews, many of whom use the regatta as a practice day before the start of the three-day main event. The event’s official supplier of outstanding technical racing and sailing gear, Gill North America, sponsors the Gill Commodores Cup.

'It couldn’t have been a better day,' said David Pritchard, president of Gill North America. 'The race management was excellent, the racing went off right on the money. The team has so much experience; it’s just a first-class operation of people with lots of experience. And it’s such a unique event, with such an international group of sailors, from Europe, North and South America, the islands. From our perspective as a sponsor, it couldn’t be friendlier. Everyone makes us feel very welcome.'

As always, the Gill Commodores Cup showcased several of the top match-ups in the fleet and served as a preview of coming attractions in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. In Class 1, Bill Alcott’s 65-foot Equation and Marco Iglesius’s Volvo 70, Gran Jotiti, look to be a pair of powerhouses in the regatta’s figurative Heavyweight Division. In the first round, however, the clear winner was Equation, with a pair of bullets. Gran Jotiti earned second, and John Wilson’s powerful 78-foot sloop, Idea, was third.

If the racing was any indication, however, the closest competition may well be in the Class 2 fleet, which is loaded with more than a half dozen strong teams that figure to be right in the hunt in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Among the contenders are Sergio Sagramoso’s J/122, Lazy Dog; Rich Wesslund’s J/120, El Ocaso; Jordan Mindich’s J/125, Aunt Jessie; Willem Wester’s Grand Soleil 46, Antilope; Jaime Torres’s Beneteau First 40, Smile and Wave; Peter Peake’s RP 37, Peake Yacht Services/Slippery; and Jan vanden Eynde’s Open 750, Panic Attack.

While all of these yachts are capable of podium finishes, today’s winner was Torres’s Smile and Wave, with a third and a first, followed by Lazy Dog and El Ocaso.

With the exception of Phil Munday’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 52.2, Great Escape of Southampton, the 7-boat Class 3 fleet was comprised of a half dozen Beneteaus. When the final scores were tallied, the winner, with a first and a third, was Sean McGinn’s Beneateau First 40.7, Team Red, White & Blue, followed by Paul Johnson’s First Class 10, Bruggadung 2, and Patrick Holloran’s First 40.7, Caipirinha.

Class 4 was another strong fleet, with Frederic Dutheil’s JPK 960, Eliott, and Andrea Scarabelli’s Melges 24, Budget Marine/Gill, atop the leader board with identical records of a first and a second, but the tie-breaker gave the win to Eliott. Another Melges 24, Coors Light, sailed by Frits Bus and Peter Houtzager, was third.

St. Maarten Heineken Regatta website