Tuesday, March 17, 2020

J/Crews Sweep Two Classes @ St Maarten Heineken Regatta

J/111 sailing St Maarten Heineken Regatta
(Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten)- Over 100 yachts from thirty-five countries competed in the 40th St Maarten Heineken Regatta. A key event on the Caribbean race schedule, the regatta attracted some of the world’s elite sailors and crews, with fast and furious racing in monohulls, maxis and multihulls.

There was no question that it was a glorious four days of "Serious Fun" from March 4th to the 8th. Crystal clear waters and east-northeast trade winds provided fantastic conditions for spectacular racing just off the coast of St. Maarten. And with Heineken as title sponsor, the racing days blended seamlessly into four nights of exceptional parties and even better concerts from top acts across the Caribbean. The surprise performer at the Awards Finale on Sunday was none other than the famous pop rock rapper "Flo-Ri-Da”.

J/109 sailing St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
Day 1- Perfect Trade Winds
The regatta started on Thursday and the PRO's managed to get in two long races for the fleet. The ENE trades settled in around 10-20 kts on a simply spectacular day of sailing, sunny, warm, with puffy white tropical clouds scudding across the sky. The J/Teams all sailed Course #13 of 17.5 nm, basically a 1.5nm beat, then a tour around the west/ southwest point of the island.

In the CSA 3 Class, Sam Talbot's J/111 SPIKE sailed two excellent races and posted a 1-2 for 3 pts to lead their class. Tied for second was Pamela Baldwin's J/122 LIQUID with a 2-3 tally for 5 pts. Then, Peter Lewis' J/121 WHISTLER posted a 5-6 for 11 pts to be tied for fifth.

The CSA 4 Class commenced with an epic battle for the top of the leaderboard. Just two point off the leaders that are both tied with 4 pts each were Jordan Mindich's J/105 SOLSTICE and Tristan Marmousez's J/109 SANG NEUG, each with identical 2-4 records.

Finally, in CSA 5 Class, Tanner Jones' J/30 has a 1.5-2 for 3.5 pts total to sit in second place.

J/122 Liquid sailing St Maarten Regatta
Day 2- More Perfect Round the Island Weather
It’s an annual highlight not only of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, but of the entire Caribbean yacht-racing circuit. The Round St. Maarten race has something for everyone; challenging currents and geographical features; wildly varying wind speeds and directions; inshore and offshore seaways; and this year, 148 competing yachts, all of which at times seem to be rounding the same mark at the same instant. The round-the-island race has something for every sailor, and appropriately, this year’s running, under sunny skies and ideal 14- to 18-knot breeze, was nothing less than an instant classic.

For such a seemingly complicated set of circumstances, the basic premise for the top racing classes competing on the 39-nautical-mile course decreed for the Race Committee A circle were deceptively simple: keep the islands of St. Maarten and Tintamarre on your right.

For the A fleets, the race was actually like a theatre production or play staged in four acts. The first was from the starting line in Cole Bay, with a short windward leg of less than a mile, and then a spinnaker run down to a turning mark at the island’s southwest corner. From there, Act II was the long beat to weather up the Anguilla Channel and around Tintamarre. The third stanza involved easing sheets and setting reaching sails for the windy stretch down St. Maarten’s east coast. Finally, the fourth and final act commenced after jibing and negotiating a pair of turning marks down the southern flank of the island to the finish.

From the very outset, one thing was immediately clear. "Local knowledge" (the phrase sailors use when describing the home waters they know like the back of their hand) would play a huge role in the outcome. It was a day tailor-made for the formidable crews from St. Maarten and the Caribbean, who regularly ply this liquid territory, to play to their considerable strengths. And play to them they did.

For the Day 2 round-the-island contest, Race Committee A reversed the starting order from Day 1, when the Grand Prix Ocean Racing and Multihull 1 classes kicked off the proceedings, followed by the smaller CSA 1-4 race boats.

Today, CSA 4 was the first to go, and a pair of J/Boats (Jordan Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE and Tristan Marmousez’s J/109 SANG NEUF from Martinique) showed excellent pace from the outset.

CSA 3 was next, and Antiguan Pamala Baldwin’s flashy J/122 LIQUID; Sam Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE; and Peter Lewis’s J/121 WHISTLER, immediately mixed it up. LIQUID and SPIKE were locked in some of the regatta’s closest competition, as SPIKE won both races over LIQUID on Day 1 by an aggregate time of less than 25 seconds. Already, an early pattern was emerging: all the leading boats played the shore aggressively, with multiple short tacks up the beach; and it looked like it would be a very, very good day for both Caribbean sailors with that priceless local knowledge, and those sailing J/Boats.

At the first major turning mark, the wind had eased considerably as the fleet dropped their kites and began the long slog up the Anguilla Channel. Soon, however, the breeze was back on. And it was readily apparent that there were two very clear, and different, approaches to negotiating the channel. The Ocean Racing 1 boats chose to stay outside, in the bigger wind and seas, opting for clear air and straight-line speed while limiting maneuvers. Meanwhile, the smaller boats like LIQUID and SPIKE played a more tactical game, short tacking up the shoreline by the French beachfront towns of Marigot and Grand Case.

As the fleet emerged from the lee of St. Maarten into the open waters surrounding Tintamarre, it was true, blue-water ocean sailing and a stern test for all the competitors. Yachts including the X-402 MYXY and Whistler continued to hold an inshore route, tacking near the breakers off the pristine and empty wilderness of St. Maarten’s northwestern shoreline, far removed from the resorts and cruise ships. Meanwhile, powerful competitors like the Swan 80 Umiko shredded their way past the barren northern flank of Tintamarre. It was all a visual feast.

Once past Tintamarre, it was time to turn-and-burn down the east coast, with spinnakers and reachers once again the sail call for the blazing final legs of the eventful race. When the spray had settled, the day’s big winner was J/122 LIQUID, with a decisive victory in CSA 3 and a third overall in fleet, behind the Ocean Racing 1 yachts I Love Poland and the pesky Cookson 50, Grace O’Malley.

LIQUID owner Pamala Baldwin was effusive in her praise of her longtime crew, but deflected any strategic questions to tactician Hugh Mills, who said local knowledge gleaned from racing in the recent Caribbean 600, where LIQUID was second overall in their class, played a huge role in the day’s results. “We had basically that same tactical beat up the Anguilla Channel and learned a lot,” he said.

“The first leg was just a matter of keeping our speed and short-tacking up the shore to cover the fleet,” he said. “The long downwind stretch was just staying vigilant. The conditions were quite tough out there around Tintamarre, but we ended up laying it spot on. From there we were trying to hold our line inside of SPIKE, they’re giving us some really good competition.”

“It was beautiful,” said Baldwin, speaking of both the sailing around St. Maarten, and of course of the day’s winning conclusion.

J/105 sailing St Maarten Regatta
Day 3- Perfect Round-the-cans Day of Sailing
There comes a point in every regatta, after several races have been recorded and the top contenders have begun to establish their supremacy, when the competition becomes especially critical. For the crews jockeying for the podium, it’s time to put it on the line and make their move, hopefully up the rankings, though that’s not necessarily always the case. For the 40th edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the third day of competition, with a pair of races, was a huge opportunity to either put up…or not.

It was, as racing sailors like to say, “Moving Day.”

From a starting circle off Cole Bay, Race Committee Boat A sent the two CSA Ocean Racing classes and the Multihull 1 division on a pair of 14.2-nautical-mile races around Pelican Rock with a finish in Simpson Bay. CSA Divisions 1-4 and the two CSA Sportboat classes competed in two slightly shorter 10.4-nautical-mile contests that also wrapped up in Simpson Bay.

Meanwhile, the morning’s early sprinkles gave way to clearing skies and fresh breeze topping off in the high teens. The new wind brought lumpy, confused seas, keeping everyone on their toes.

In CSA 3, all the momentum seemed to be on the side of Baldwin’s J/122 LIQUID after their dominant winning performance in Friday’s round-the-island race, which put them in a tie with American Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE. But LIQUID got "spiked", as they finished second in both races to Talbot’s team, who maintain a slender two-point lead over the Antiguans with a final day of racing ahead.

A mere two points separated the top three contenders in CSA 4 as the day began— Mindich’s J/105 SOLSTICE and Speedy Nemo and MaĆ«lia CEPAC Antilles. With a fourth and a third, however, Speedy Nemo was speeding in the wrong direction, sliding into fourth, while the J/105 SOLSTICE moved into a commanding position at the top of the class with a pair of victories.

J/121 sailing St Maarten Heineken Regatta
Day 4- Sensational Finale
After four sensational days of racing, parties and entertainment and some of the closest competition ever seen in the long history of this storied Caribbean event, the 40th Anniversary Edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta concluded in the same fine fashion with which it started, with the waters south of the isle dotted with tall, white mainsails and billowing, colorful spinnakers of every size and description. With a huge spectator fleet soaking in the visual feast, and a fleet of racing sailboats encompassing everything from Melges 24s to Volvo 70s to cruising catamarans to veteran America’s Cup 12-Meters, it was literally a waterborne Festival of Sail and a fitting way to wrap up the milestone event.

Meanwhile, stationed off Cole Bay, Race Committee A sent the top racing classes on a pair of windward/leeward races south of the island. The folks cramming those spectator craft surely got their money’s worth.

The CSA 3 class consistently engaged in the regatta’s tightest and fiercest competition, and fittingly, it continued on the final day of the event. Talbot’s J/111 SPIKE and Baldwin’s J/122 LIQUID traded places on several occasions on the first, twice-around-the-course race. SPIKE's fifth in that race looked to be the death knell to their hopes for overall victory. But, they roared back with a first in the final race, evening the score at 14 points in a tie with LIQUID, who recorded two seconds on the day. The crucial final win gave SPIKE the tiebreaker, in what was easily the event’s closest class!

St Maarten Heineken concert bands
“This regatta was just so much fun,” said Talbot, whose crew is based in the British Virgin Islands. “And it was amazing racing with LIQUID, they’re a really, really good team. This is the first multi-day regatta we’ve sailed with SPIKE. We’ve got a great crew that we’ve put together over the years. It’s been a long, slow process, but we made it happen, and I couldn’t be happier.”

CSA 4 Class had incredibly close-racing as well over the course of the four days. Starting in off the first day in fourth place and climbing steadily to the top was Jordan Mindich's New York-based crew on the J/105 SOLSTICE. They closed the final day with a 2-2 to clinch the title in their class.  Meanwhile, their incredibly competitive stablemate, Tristan Marmousez's J/109 SANG NEUG, closed their day with a pair of bullets to simply smoke the rest of the class to garner the silver on the podium.  Yes, a pair of J/Boats swept both podiums in both CSA 3 and CSA 4 Class, a first ever milestone for the regatta!

Meanwhile, in CSA 5 Class, the venerable J/30 BLUE PETER/ ABSOLUTE PROPERTIES sailed by Tanner Jones podiumed for perhaps their 40th time in the regatta, a record that is unassailable in the Caribbean offshore racing circuit!  Sailing photo creditsTim Wright/ Photoaction.com and Laurens Morel/ SaltyColours.com.  For more St Maarten Heineken Regatta sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.