(Simpson Bay, St Maarten)- For over three decades, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has showcased the top boats and sailing in the Caribbean, and has become equally famous for its world-class slate of parties and musical entertainment. Now recognized by sailors around the planet as one of the sailing world’s best regattas, each year the event lives up to its worthy motto: Serious Fun!! And for sure the J/Teams that sailed in the event took advantage of every opportunity to have fun on the water as well as partaking in the evening's festivities. "The Heineken" regatta, as it's known to its aficionados worldwide, was yet again living up to its reputation- "be happy, go sailing, mon!"
It's a regatta that is impossible not to fall in love with. The first day of sailing was a beautiful challenging day for yacht racing, with gentle easterly breezes that never topped 12-knots. Regatta PRO David Campbell-James made the gutsy call to send the fleet on the traditional round-the-island contest that launches the three-day regatta. While the "big boats" sailed the longer version of the course, the CSA 2-8 classes sailed a 29nm course with a mark set inside of Tintamarre Island.
After rounding Basse Terre at the western corner of St. Maarten, the round-the-island racers embarked on a long beat up the west coast past Marigot and Grand Case. While many boats tacked across the Anguilla Channel in hopes of better breeze, by staying inshore several local sailors found flat water and steady wind flowing off the hills near the beach, where they made impressive gains. Once past Tintamarre, in fading winds, it was a tight reach to the finish line. When the preliminary scores were tallied, Tom Mullen’s J/95, SHAMROCK VII, employed the luck of the Irish to win CSA 6.
For the second day of sailing, the fleet started off Simpson Bay and headed off to Marigot Bay. During the day the breeze built steadily with many classes recording a pair of races in ideal Caribbean sailing conditions. The racing action started with the traditional Saturday point-to-point contest to Marigot Bay. Following the morning’s racing, the race committee conducted an afternoon race for the CSA 2-8 divisions, a windward-leeward race in the Anguilla Channel. After the dust cleared, CSA 3 was wide open-- Greg Slyngstad’s J/125 HAMACHI had yet to win a race, but held the lead thanks to a consistent series with no finish higher than sixth.
The last day of sailing was simply a classic Caribbean day for racing. The fleet was treated to steady south-southeast trade winds of 15-20 knots, seas flecked with white caps, and superbly clear-blue skies dotted by flying clouds looking like torn white cotton balls. It was one of those yachting days made for superlatives, and official scorer and “regatta guru” Paul Miller unleashed a torrent of them. “The sparkling turquoise waters made for champagne sailing,” he said. And he was right.
On Day 3, the wind blew. And blew. First hard. And then harder. For the crews of the 202 yachts who’d descended on St. Maarten to race sailboats, it was what they’d come looking for, and it was definitely worth the wait. After Saturday’s race to Marigot, the fleet reassembled on the western, French side of St. Maarten to put the finishing touches on what had evolved into yet another memorable edition of “The Heineken.” With solid breeze gusting to over 20-knots, the race committee took full advantage of the sweet conditions and sent the racers on challenging courses that took them into and across the Anguilla Channel before a long upwind leg along the island’s southern shore to a finish line off Simpson Bay. The CSA 2-8 classes sailed a 22.5nm race, the timing was such that the entire fleet converged on Blowing Rocks off the western point of Anguilla en masse, and the sight of dozens of race boats shredding across the clear waters was sensational.
Going into the final race, CSA 3 class was up for grabs on Sunday, and it was stacked with talent, including last year’s recipient of the Most Worthy Performance Overall Award, the J/120 EL OCASO. So on Sunday, in CSA 3 it came down to the J/122 LAZY DOG— a perennial Heineken contender— and a newcomer to the fleet, the J/125 HAMACHI. The latter sailed a tremendous race, and was the first of all CSA boats to round Blowing Rocks after flying down the Anguilla Channel under a huge, white asymmetric spinnaker. When the spray settled HAMACHI was second on Sunday and LAZY DOG won the final CSA 3 race on corrected time.
The big competition for the J/Teams was in CSA 3 with no less than four very well-sailed boats vying for class honors. Having won the opening Gill Commodore's Cup Regatta, Rick Wesslund's J/120 EL OCASO had to settle for 4th overall after scoring an uncharacteristic 14th in the opening race! They sailed the second best record for the remaining three races, counting a 1-3-2 to just miss the podium by one point! Top dog for the J's was Sergio Sagramoso's J/122 LAZY DOG (certainly not a lazy one, for sure!). Like their classmate EL OCASO, they too had a slow start with a 10th on the first day, followed by a 2.5-2-1 to claim the overall prize on a tie-breaker! And with whom was that tie-breaker against? None other than the fast-sailing, fun-loving gang led by Greg Slingstad on the J/125 HAMACHI! Despite finishing every single race as the overall elapsed time winner, all the HAMACHI crew could do was watch the rest of their class file into the finish and hope they'd corrected out over all of them. In the end, the HAMACHI crew sailed a very consistent 4-2.5-6-3 to lay claim to the title, but lose the tie-breaker to take second overall in class. Also showing flashes of brilliance despite a slow start was Fritz Odenbachs's custom J/120 JAGUAR ISLAND WATER WORLD, finishing 5th in the last race and taking 9th overall.
If the competition was pretty fierce in CSA 3, it was equally as hot in the CSA 6 class with four J/Teams sailing well to mix it up in the overall standings. Leading the charge with an amazingly consistent scoreline of 3-2-2-1 was Remco van Dortmondt's J/35 SUNBELT REALTY DASH, taking 1st overall in class. After starting out strong, perennial Heineken competitor Tom Mullen took his merry bandits along on the comfy J/95 SHAMROCK VII to collect a 1-3-7-6 record to take 4th overall. Behind them was the famous J/109 ALBACOR IV sailed by French woman Sophie Olivaud (winner in Double-handed and Racing Spinnaker class in the ARC Rally 2012), she managed to improve every single race and here tally of 8-7-4-5 was good enough for 6th overall. Watch out for Sophie in the next few events, she has a reputation for being a fast-learner tactically and is already a fast sailor! Rounding out the J/Teams was Peter Lewis sailing their J/105 WHISTLER to 8th overall.
Showing up for perhaps the longest streak going for any sailboat participating in "the Heineken" was Tanner Jones' J/30 BLUE PETER. Always sailed well. Always looking gorgeous in that medium blue color. Always sailing with a fun-loving, smart crew, Tanner and the gang again managed a podium finish, taking 2nd overall in class with a solid 2-3-3-2 record.
Finally, in the CSA 2 class, it was evident Nathan Owen's beautiful J/46 SEA BISCUIT was having fun and managed to sail to ninth in class while having a great time enjoying the regatta's renowned festivities.
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