(Phillipsburg, St Maarten)- The Sint Maarten Yacht Club was a beehive of activity as competitors arrived for the 37th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The racing action kicked off on March 2nd with the Gill Commodore’s Cup, a one-day windward leeward racing event, allowing sailors to practice and perfect their racing without influencing the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which runs March 3-5.
The 2017 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta once again featured the largest collection of yachts racing at a Caribbean regatta since the 2016 edition. J/crews sailed in the various CSA Racing classes. The weather forecast for the start of the regatta was described as “fresh to frightening.” With strong easterly trade winds all weekend long, the powerful and easy-to-manage J/Boats certainly reveled in the conditions.
GILL COMMODORE’s CUP
Here is how it was all initially setup for the GILL COMMODORE’s CUP Regatta. The CSA 3 contained seven well-matched yachts, with many teams highly experienced at the regatta. Nevertheless, the standout team to match was the 2016 Most Worthy Performer, the American J/122 EL OCASO.
In CSA 4 Class, Sir Robbie Ferron’s J/39 MICRON 99 OSSENFEFFER from St. Maarten was looking forward to a battle with childhood friends from the island.
Then, CSA 5 Class, it looked to be a fantastic battle with well sailed boats right through the class. From St. Barths were two equally-matched J/109s- Dave Cullen’s POCKET ROCKET and Sophie Olivaud’s all-girls team on ALBACOR IV. And, Peter Lewis’ J/105 WHISTLER from Barbados would undoubtedly cause the J/109s much consternation.
As it turns out, it was far more competitive than anyone had bargained for! Pewter skies and a viscous rain squall preceded the start of racing; 20 knots of solid trade winds, with bullets of 25-30 kts of pressure firing up the wind speed! It was an exciting day of racing for a record fleet of 89 yachts. The feisty weather soon improved, to provide glorious sunshine and a brisk 15-20 knots later in the day.
David Pritchard, President of Gill North America, was racing on Robbie Ferron’s J/39 MICRON 99 OSSENFEFFER in CSA 4, placing second in both races to take the silver.
After racing Pritchard, was enjoying a cold Heineken in the Sint Maarten Yacht Club. “I really enjoy coming here, I’m especially enjoying the sailing and having been involved for so many years, I have made so many good friends here,” commented David. “I love working with Heineken, John Leone and his team are always pushing to do better. You just have to take a look at the regatta village and the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ (the regatta stage on Kim Sha Beach), and you realize the energy and effort that goes into this regatta. From a business perspective, the sailors here are our customers, this is where they hang out, and they are associating Gill with having a good time. We are also spot-lighting our new Gill Race Series range, and at the awards tonight winners will get these brand new high performance Gill products.”
CSA 3 proved highly competitive with three teams claiming race wins. Pamala Baldwin’s Antigua J/122 LIQUID was 53 seconds ahead in Race 2, with Bob Hillier’s American J/122 EL OCASO tying for second place with Team Boston. In the last race of the day, EL OCASO corrected out to claim the bullet by 17 seconds. LIQUID won the class by just half a point from Team Boston, with EL OCASO third.
CSA 5 produced another cracking battle between two equally matched J/105s- Peter Lewis’ WHISTLER and Jordan Mindich’s SOLSTICE crew from America. Tied on points after three races, WHISTLER won the last race to snatch the class win on countback. Rob Butler’s Canadian J/88 TOUCH2PLAY RACING took third.
After a spectacular day on the water at the Gill Commodore’s Cup, the Prize Giving was held at the Princess Pavilion, Port de Plaisance. With over a thousand competitors taking part in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, and many more joining in the fun at the “Green Sensation Party,” the venue was soon jumping to the rhythm of four of the island’s top DJs!!
On the first day of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, 164 yachts experienced strong trade winds and four metre seas on the windward side of the island. The Round St. Maarten Race produced a new record, a full on foam up, and sailors grinning like Cheshire cats at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
With an enormous fleet of yachts taking part in the Round St. Maarten Race, and the breeze pumping up to over 20 knots, safety was of paramount concern. Race Director, Paul Miller meticulously analyzed the various speeds of the classes to avoid over-crowding on the course at crucial areas. The math worked out with the fleet evenly spread out around the race course, but less than an hour separated the first and last finishers. However, mistakes were made by some that resulted in collisions and have a material outcome for CSA 5 class.
In CSA 3 Class, Mitch Padnos (a J/122 owner in Macatawa Bay, MI) chartered the J/122 EL OCASO and crossed the line just five seconds ahead to win the class on corrected time. Sam Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE was second after time correction. The 15-strong class of evenly matched race boats produced the most competitive start of the Round St. Maarten Race. In CSA 4 class, Ferron’s J/39 MICRON 99 was third.
The biggest drama of the day took place in CSA 5 class. After leading their fleet by a significant margin, and easily winning on time, Jordan Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE got t-boned by a massive 40 catamaran that was on port tack. No amount of maneuvering by SOLSTICE could get them away from the fast approaching catamaran. As a result, they had to drop out of the race to execute some quick repairs; thankfully, no one was hurt. In the meantime, sistership J/105 WHISTLER, skippered by Peter Lewis followed up on their narrow win in the Gill Commodore’s Cup with another close encounter in Round St. Maarten Race with one of St. Barth’s most famous sailing families. WHISTLER took the win on corrected time by just 29 seconds. Then, in CSA 6 Class, Tanner & Shari Jones’ J/30 Caribbean Alliance Insurance, completed an all-Antiguan podium by taking third.
On the second day, the competitors enjoyed truly gorgeous conditions. Bright sunshine and 15-20 knots of trade winds with a relatively flat sea state. The CSA Classes raced outside Marigot Bay with the wind funneling down the mountainous shoreline, a perfect windward leeward course was set for some epic racing in turquoise blue water. The remainder of the fleet enjoyed a superb playground, flat water, and a tactical race course, taking in the lifts and accelerating zones of the bays along the south coast.
The battles continued in CSA 3 class. The J/22 EL OCASO continued their winning ways in a highly competitive class posting two bullets. However, the team faltered on the last race of the day, scoring a fourth. EL OCASO still led the class, but Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE was just a point adrift in second.
Mitch Padnos, who owns a J/122 in Michigan, decided to charter EL OCASO and bring his race crew to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for the second time. “EL OCASO is virtually a sister ship to my boat in Michigan, so it was a no brainer as it has been so easy to organize, bringing the crew here to come and enjoy the regatta, especially as it is no more than 32 deg back home right now. The regatta is very user-friendly, between the marinas and the race committee. We are getting ready to sail back home on Lake Michigan, so having a blast here is great preparation for that, we are ready to go,” commented Padnos.
Meanwhile, in CSA 4 Class, Sir Robbie Ferron’s J/39 MICRON 99 put in a great shift today, scoring a 1-1-3, elevating the team to the top of the class.
The titanic battle of the 35-footers in CSA 5 class continued. The J/105 WHISTLER scored a 1-2-6 to hold a slender lead over Dave Cullen’s J/109 POCKET ROCKET. Butler’s J/88 TOUCH2PLAY RACING was in third just a point ahead of Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE. Then, in CSA 6 class, two bullets and a second lifted Tanner and Shari Jones’ J/30 Caribbean Alliance Insurance, into second.
The stage at Kim Sha Beach sprouted into life during the evening with top acts entertaining thousands of revelers at one of the biggest Saturday nights in the island’s calendar. One of the Caribbean’s best-known bands, Asher Otto & Itchy Feet performed and, as the main attraction, Collie Buddz from Bermuda hit the stage. An awesome evening of reggae jazz-fusion!
For the last day of racing, Mother Nature smiled on the race course with exhilarating conditions to test the competitors. One race was completed by all classes. For CSA 3 class, that meant the J/122 EL OCASO secured their position as the winningest boat ever in class, winning the last race by just 43 seconds to clinch the class win for the regatta. Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE, was second in the race and for the regatta. In CSA 4 class, Ferron’s J/39 MICRON 99 lost the regatta on a tie-breaker and had to settle for the silver!
“Till death do us part,” might have been the motto for CSA 5 class. And, yet another collision! So close was the racing in this class that no one was sure who won until they all hit the dock and had enjoyed a few “greenies” and resolved a few “course navigation protests” that saw the two J/105s tossed out of the final race! In the end, Cullen’s J/109 POCKET ROCKET was 6th on the day, but that was enough to secure the class win with Lewis’ J/105 WHISTLER disqualified. Butler’s J/88 TOUCH2PLAY won the race to move up to second overall with WHISTLER in third for the regatta. The truly “hard luck trophy” must go out to Mindich’s crew on the J/105 SOLSTICE; having been hit in race 1 while winning the race, then getting tossed in the last race while getting 2nd on corrected (note- the issue was a NOR/SI’s issue regards navigational aids).
The Irish ex-pat Dave Cullen is a real fighter, and despite a damaged boat, the team finished the last race, to win the class, against all the odds. “I have never won a regatta with such terrible results, a 6th and 8th, and we still won! We got holed by a boat in another class in the last race. We decided the best thing to do was to race on!,” commented Cullen.
Meanwhile, no one was surprised to see that, yet again, Tanner & Shari Jones J/30 Caribbean Alliance Insurance win the CSA 6 class by a single point!! Time for celebration!
On Sunday, March 5th, over 3,000 people gathered on Kim Sha beach for the Prize Giving and a dance-the-night-away party with the chart topping British reggae band- UB40- and R&B diva- Mya- performing live, closing the regatta for another year! Sailing photo credits- Tim Wright/ photoaction.com. For more Heineken St Maarten Regatta information Add to Flipboard Magazine.