St Maarten wrap

Dick Johnson looks back at the highlights of this year's Heineken regatta

Tuesday March 11th 2003, Author: Dick Johnson, Location: Caribbean
Steve Fossett¹s 125ft mega catamaran PlayStation was the boat that everybody wanted to see as soon as it was announced that she would be taking part in the event that the organisers ­ and the competitors ­ call; "Serious fun".

PlayStation certainly towered over the rest of the 205 boats at the regatta, and managed to show a clean pair of hulls to the rest of the boats in the Multihull class on the water. After the handicaps had taken their toll, however, it was the smallest catamaran in the fleet that had achieved three straight wins, Claude Thelier¹s Formula 28 An Nou Ay.

Steve Fossett did, however, have the consolation of a record run around the island, 2 hours, 4 minutes and 23 seconds, to take home with him. As a guest aboard PlayStation, Sir Richard Branson was seen enjoying the sailing ­ if not his stints on the grinders ­ and as there has always been intense competition between Branson and Fossett we cannot help but wonder if the bearded tycoon might be turning up at St Maarten next year with his own version of PlayStation.

For the first day the wind peaked at something over 20 knots, giving a good initial test to the competitors, though for the middle day it had softened considerably to just 12 to 15 knots. On the final day. however, things livened up again, with about 18 knots as a maximum. Luckily there were few incidents caused by the conditions. Damage was mainly confined to a few sails sacrificed to the wind gods and only one collision caused noticeable damage to any boats, luckily without injury to any human competitors.

Dominating the big boat class, and the first event in the 2003 Caribbean Big Boat series run within the St Maarten regatta, was the new Judel and Vrolijk-designed Sotto Voce II, built for Arien van Vemde in the Cookson yard in New Zealand and having top Dutch sailor Bouwe Bekking as tactician. Sotto Voce II didn¹t put a foot wrong, winning all four of her races. She was given a run for her money by the Santa Cruz 70 Equation II owned by Bill Alcott, particularly on Saturday, but a blown spinnaker put paid to her
chances and Equation II didn¹t manage to appear for the final race. Second place in the class went to Clay Deutsch¹s Swan 68 Chippewa.

For the first time this year, there was only an overall winner in the Bareboat classes, as the other divisions, Spinnaker, Non-spinnaker and Multihulls, were sailing a variety of course distances, making it impossible to compare like with like. The five Bareboat classes were hotly contested, as might be expected, with the overall winner, Jan Soderberg in Lofoten I, showing great consistency with three wins. Interestingly, three of the Bareboat classes were won by competitors from the USA, despite a vast preponderance of Netherlands sailors in the regatta.

An island derby was on throughout the racing with Antigua pitted against St Marten in Non-spinnaker class 2. At stake too was the honour of two of the Caribbean¹s most colourful figures and two of the Caribbean's marina owners. St Maarten's Bobby Velasquez was up against Hugh Bailey from Antigua. Both were sailing boats that had been rebuilt from hurricane wrecks, the difference being that Hugh Bailey had been sailing Hugo for some time and his crew were experienced both in the regattas and in the boat. Bobby's L'Esperance was only recently in the water and the crew were not used to the boat, though they did have local knowledge on their side. In the end the
final race went to Bobby, but the class win went to Hugh. History does not record the extent of the wager.

With parties at the Port de Plaisance resort on Thursday, on Kim Sha beach on Friday, Marigot waterfront on Saturday and a fantastic bash on the Claude Whathey Pier, St Maarten¹s new cruise liner pier, on Sunday, the "Fun" side of the event was assured. As usual, headline bands including Holland's Intwine and Carlos Santana's backing band Puro Bandido provided the entertainment, Puro Bandido being particularly well received at the prize giving and closing party which rocked on until the early hours.

As the boats sailed away and the planes lifted off for home, the regatta winds down, only to prepare again for year 24, 6th, 7th and 8th of March 2004 when the formula will be repeated and another regatta to remember will take place.

We look forward to seeing you here in 2004 for more "Serious Fun"

Dick Johnson

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