“If you’ve never raced a Caribbean regatta, the Heineken Regatta is a great place to begin, and for 2014, the crew of El Ocaso were ready for what the regatta labels ‘Serious Fun’. Our race on El Ocaso began with Wednesday practice day and then the windward/leeward one-day Gill Commodore’s Cup. We won our class (Series 3), and were awarded the overall trophy for the single day event. This really set the tone for Team El Ocaso as the full power of the Heineken Regatta began the next morning.
Long-time team owner Rick Wesslund (Coconut Grove, FL), bought the J/122 this past summer from Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagremoso, who recently went on a speed binge with the winter purchase of a Melges 32 and McConaghy 38. Having purchased the previous El Ocaso (J120) new in 2003 when he lived in San Francisco, Rick cut his teeth sailing on the west coast before relocating to South Florida. Led by now-recovering North Sailmaker Anson Mulder, Rick began to form a new program including a mix of previous crew, Florida talent and Great Lakes skills. The team stays together on other boats as well in various venues, and this fact that makes our Caribbean racing even more fun; we arrive to the regatta with a team that knows each other well, and quickly dials into the boat. Our first regatta on the new (to us) J/122 was Quantum Key West, this provided a great opportunity to learn the subtle differences between the J/120 vs the J/122…most notably, better performance over a wider wind range. Taking a 4th in our section in KWRW was a solid start for the new boat; more importantly, we improved as the week progressed and our knowledge of “go fast” techniques improved.
Back to the St. Maarten; in my opinion, the only downside to the Heineken Regatta is the total number of races you have for the regatta. You have the famous “Round the Island” race on Saturday, a W/L and race to Marigot on Saturday and Sunday you race back from Marigot to Simpson Bay. It’s a long way to come for four races, no matter how fun they are. I could be in the minority (and with over 200 entries, maybe I am), but I’ve always said I would love to see a couple more short windward/leeward races at the Heineken. Can’t have everything, I guess! The event does draw some excellent yachts from around the world, from the Highland Flings to the Volvo 70s. El Ocaso’s biggest challenges came from Y&Y Poland, the First 40s Team Boston & Southern Child, and the very fast J/100 Bad Girl, skippered and crewed by local youth sailors who had a wonderful regatta!
We sailed Friday’s Round the Island race with a solid game plan: Get in the lead and extend (advice from a wise man from Zenda, WI). We led to the first weather mark, rounded the offset, set our kite and pushed hard all the way around St. Maarten. This day race is a lot of fun, sprinkled with some tension as you round the leeward side of the Island. We completed the race in 3:33:15 and took our first of two bullets; the next win was in Saturday’s (one & only) W/L race, while we got 2nd in the race to Marigot. Every night the regatta organizers and Heineken put on the party in different locations around the Island, Friday night is the Boardwalk (Philipsburg), Saturday is Waterfront (Marigot) and the regatta culminates in an all-out party along with the prize-giving on Kim Sha Beach (Simpson Bay) Sunday evening.
As we entered Sunday’s final race we found ourselves with a 4 point lead over the kids on the Bad Girl and the solid crew of the GS43 Yachts&Yachting- Poland and the day provided plenty of drama. After missing a shift just before the start, we found ourselves digging out from the back of the fleet and working hard to find our legs to get to the short weather mark, in usual El Ocaso fashion we dug hard and dug out, and by the end of the third leg, we found ourselves battling for the on-water lead with the GS43. But in typically SXM fashion, the leeward side of the Island threw things into disarray as the wind shut off in the lee of the island, with the fleet compressing right back into us. ”Re-Start”!!
After an hour of changing through some wonderful 90+ degree wind-shifts, we reached the prevailing Easterly breeze and we were able to hold off the most of the fleet to secure our victory. Full marks to our crew for constant gear shifting and the patience of our tactician to keep us going as fast as possible and in the right direction!
Ultimately, we won our section and were told after departing the stage from our section win, “don’t go far”. ”Don’t go far” are magical words at the Heineken Regatta (we heard the same message in 2012) & the team was honored with the “Most Worthy Performance Overall” trophy. The Heineken Regatta is serious fun and I strongly urge everyone to put this on your “must sail regatta” list.
Our crew: Owner/Driver-Rick Wesslund, Boat Captain/Sewer-Mike Caldwell, Tactician- Anson Mulder. Main Trim-Bobby Hillier, Trimmer- Chad Goodwin, Trimmer- Daryl Fitch, Pit- Dave Hampton, Mast- Phil Fleming, Mid-Bow- Michael Meyers, Bow- Christian Dam." Thanks for contribution from Bobby & Sailing Anarchy.com