Monday, March 12, 2018

Gorgeous, Chill Heineken St. Maarten Regatta

Heineken St Maarten regatta stage (Simpson Bay, St. Maarten)- The 38th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta wrapped up on Sunday, March 4 with hundreds of sailors gathering at the event’s “Regatta Village” at Princess Port de Plaisance in St. Maarten to celebrate victors in the event’s 16 classes.

Ever since Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean island of St. Maarten this past September, the support from the yachting community has poured in, and the regatta welcomed an international fleet of 100 boats for spectacular racing on the crystal-clear waters of the Northeast Caribbean Sea. With another epic event in the history books, organizers announced that the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s 39th edition has been scheduled for February 28 – March 3, 2019.

The turnout of teams was impressive. They represented 25+ countries and participated in four days of stellar competition. Every day, racing concluded off Simpson Bay and boats were greeted with cheers and champagne spray from fans at the St. Maarten Yacht Club as they paraded to Simpson Bay Lagoon by way of the famed Simpson Bay Bridge opening. From there, the sailors headed shoreside to top off their “Serious Racing” with some "Serious Fun” that included a series of concerts and performances culminating on Sunday with a performance by Grammy Award winning musician Shaggy.

The battle began for the four-day Heineken St. Maarten Regatta on Thursday, March 1, 2018 with the Gill Commodore’s Cup. Set in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, powered by the cooling northeast trade winds and run by an experienced, friendly race team, the sailors were hoping for four days of world-class racing in idyllic conditions. However, that was not going to be the case for the 2018 edition, as light airs uncharacteristically plagued the race courses for three days before a highly unusual westerly settled in at 12-18 kts for the finale on Sunday.

J/111 sailing St Maarten Heineken RegattaJ/111 Wins Gill Commodore’s Cup
In the light, but consistent easterly breeze, all fleets sailed series of stadium-style racing off Simpson Bay, competing in short around the buoy courses. Taking home the event’s coveted “Most Worthy Yacht” trophy was Sam Talbot and his team racing the J/111 SPIKE, which finished the three races in fiercely competitive CSA 3 Class with straight bullets.

“We were up against a lot of very competitive boats that are well known on the Caribbean circuit, so we were excited with this outcome,” said Talbot whose team – of U.S. and BVI sailors – is probably one of the younger ones competing, with the average age onboard being 30.  “This is my second time racing in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and we are so happy to see such an incredible turnout of competition. We owe today’s win to some great crew work onboard, and will have to stay on our ‘A Game’ for the remaining three days, as we now have a target on our back with the competition.”  Rounding out the top four in CSA 3 Class were the new J/121 APOLLO (Don Nicholson) in third place and the J/121 EL OCASO (Chris Body from the United Kingdom) in fourth place.

J/105 Soltice sailing St Maarten regattaHeineken- Day One
It was a fun but challenging day of racing for the 100-boat fleet at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The light breeze and tricky conditions resulted in only the larger boats completing the regatta’s famed 26-mile around the island race, while the remaining classes completed a shorter coastal race.

The CSA fleets took off on a 15.0nm course, on the western coast of the island, starting and finishing off Simpson Bay with turning marks north of the island in the Anguilla Channel.

“It was really nice going downwind at the start and then around the western side of the island, but on the way back toward the finish, the conditions were a little chaotic,” said tactician Colin Symes, whose team on Peter Lewis’ J/105 WHISTLER took the win in CSA 4 Class. He added that many boats got parked with no wind off Baie Longue. “We were lucky and managed to sniff out the wind and stay in it. The whole team was better today and we hope to take that momentum through to the next few days.”  Fourth in CSA 4 Class was the J/30 BLUE PETER/ CARIBBEAN ALLIANCE INSURANCE and 5th was Jordan & Shannon Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE.

In the CSA 3 Class, it was a runaway win for Nicholson’s J/121 APOLLO, finishing fifteen minutes ahead of the next boat on elapsed time.  They not only won class on corrected time by nearly 9 minutes, but also earned the overall win over all CSA classes. Taking second was Body’s J/122 EL OCASO and third was Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE- a clean sweep for the day by J/Teams.

J/122 El Ocaso- Chris Body- sailing St MaartenDay Two- Light & Squirrely
It was game on for competitors on Saturday, with many class leaders holding onto their positions by just a thread. Punctuated with abnormally light breeze from due south, the 100-boat fleet took to the water for shorter buoy-to-buoy racing off Simpson Bay. All CSA Classes were able to get two races off while the rest of the fleet finished with one.

In the event’s highly competitive CSA 3 fleet, Nicholson’s J/121 APOLLO was holding onto a two-point lead. “This class is very well sailed with really high quality crew onboard,” said Nicholson who finished the first race of the day in fourth, but came back in race two, to take the bullet. “There was definitely an absence of wind today. We’ve never sailed this boat in light air, so we weren’t quite sure of settings and sail choices. We were underpowered with the kite we used in the first race, but for the second race we made some adjustments to the boat and that got us moving.”  Posting a 2-4 and holding on to third place was Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE.

In the CSA 4 class, the best J/crew was Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE, posting a 4.5-3 to jump into third position with the J/105 WHISTLER in fourth place.

J/122s sailing St Maarten Heineken regattaDay Three- Gorgeous Finale
A gorgeous westerly breeze of 12-18 kts made for a spectacular grand finale of racing, and with lead positions still up for grabs in several classes, many teams were eager to make their final claims on class victories.

Chris Body’s J/122 EL OCASO sailed a brilliant final day, posting a 1-1-4 to take their very competitive class by three pts.  “We had a really tough class, so for us to be on top today means a lot,” said Bob Hillier who raced onboard with owner Chris Body. “There was no one dominant boat in the fleet, and taking the overall win came down to the last race.”  Taking third in class was Nicholson’s J/121 APOLLO with 15 pts net.  Then, not able to maintain their momentum from the Gill Commodore’s Cup, Talbots’ youthful team on the J/111 SPIKE took fourth place with 15 pts net, losing the tie-breaker to APOLLO.

Nicholson commented on their performance with his new J/121 APOLLO after the regatta:

J/121 sailing off St Maarten“I’m extremely pleased with our first regatta in Apollo (J121 hull#2).  We placed 3rd in CSA class 3 of both the Gill Commodore's Cup and the Heineken Regatta in diverse and challenging conditions against a fleet of extremely well-sailed boats.  Being scratch boat in the class and crossing the line first in most races was a thrill.  The J/121 handles extremely well, with dinghy-like responsiveness and quick acceleration.  She pointed higher to weather than I expected and we routinely found ourselves both higher and faster than the other boats in the fleet, giving us many tactical opportunities, especially in close quarters at the start.  Downwind she was delightfully fast and competently handled all the sail area we put up.  My crew was awesome and the J/121 provided them a great opportunity to experiment with trim, weight distribution and boat handling so that we got up the learning curve quickly.  Our next regatta will be the St Thomas International Regatta in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the adjacent British Virgin Islands Spring Regatta, where we hope to hone our skills and push the boat to its full potential.  After that, Apollo will return to her homeport of Newport, RI in preparation for the Newport-Bermuda race.  I’m a big fan of the J/121 already and it’s great to be able to reduce our crew numbers and simplify the logistics of the Apollo program.”

The CSA 4 racing class was able to sail four quick races- all windward-leewards with a finish leg that consisted of sailing through the “Heineken Gate” to the finish near the harbor mouth.  With a course setup just off the Simpson Bay point, the winds were blowing offshore and were quite shifty.  After missing the first race of the day and scoring a DNS, Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE nearly ran the table, posting a 1-1-2 to win the day on points and also leap onto the podium, taking the silver with 16.5 pts net.  Just behind them was Lewis’ Barbados team on the J/105 WHISTLER, posting a steady 5-4-2-3 to take third with 19 pts net. Fourth place went to the Antiguan J/30 BLUE PETER/ CARIBBEAN ALLIANCE INSURANCE with 21 pts net.  Sailing photo credits- Laurens Morel  For more Heineken Regatta sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.