Let the party begin
In the big-boat fleet, the early favorite certainly has to be Tom Hill’s Titan 12, but she will be up against the two Andrews 70s - Donnybrook and Renegad - and Irving Laidlaw’s Swan 112 as well as the Swan 60, Fenix, for these are all quick and well-sailed boats, as well. Still, many observers feel the combination of preparation and experience aboard Titan 12 will be impossible to beat. Then again, that’s why they sail the races, instead of just talking about them.
In the production-yacht category, many eyes will be on the six-boat-strong Beneteau 40.7 class. This division is truly an international one, with a Dutch boat; one each from the U.S., Italy, and Puerto Rico; and a pair from the U.K.
The Heineken Regatta always attracts a fleet of Bareboat charterers eager to test their mettle on the race course, and this year is no different. Well-known Dutch yachtsman Jan Baartmans is back with another of his 'Gruppo Sportivo' teams. So, too, are regular visitors including 'The Giants', 'Primates of the Caribbean', 'Team Golden Dog', 'Team Breaking Wind', 'BVI Yacht Charters', 'Team Ghelamco', 'Sail and the City', and 'Zeilen'.
Noted South African singlehanded round the world sailor JJ Provoyeur is scaling down his efforts for the Heineken sailing a 35-footer called After You. But Provoyeur is no stranger to Caribbean sailing - he’s made his presence known in several Antigua Sailing Weeks - and he’s bringing along some top South African sailors with plans to once again make his mark.
Taking a look at other notable entries, US sailor Graham Smith will bringing a Ker 11.3 called Vellamo. Previous Vellamos have been well-prepared, top-performing Swans, and this one is likely to follow that trend. Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy is sailing a Swan 56 that has a fine record in the Caribbean, and with an able, experienced team, look for her to do well, too. The German Jodel/Vrolijk-design, Bank von Bremen, will also be angling for podium finishes.
Antiguan yachtsman Hugh Bailey is back with his Hugo B, and no one will be surprised if he isn’t once again mixing it up with Bobby Valasquez - after all, these two sailors have been waging an epic, honourable battle around the Caribbean for years. Whichever one comes out on top, the true winner will be the sport of sailing, for the Bailey-Valasquez rivalry has always been about sportsmanship, as well as fine competition.
There will be plenty of excitement in the smaller classes is well. George Bol is bringing his Lutra 24, Bolwerk - built in Estonia, and similar to a Melges 24 - in via container. Bolwerk will compete against a pair of real Melges 24s, a B28 from Martinique, and the First Class 8, Sam Jang.
Up a notch, size-wise, will be the Melges 32, Chippewa; an Open class boat sailed by Jan van den Eynde; and a Kiwi 35 from St. Lucia. Local entry Kick em Jenny will put up a strong fight, as will a class of Sun Fast 37s chartered from Guadeloupe. Another Guadaloupe charter boat, an Opium 39 chartered to an Austrian entrant, will hope to hold her own in a tough field that also includes two J-Boats, the J/109, Vrijgezeilig, and the J/105, No Rubber No Glory. Both Js will be skippered by Dutch sailors with previous Heinken experience.
The classic entries always make for a picturesque scene. Top contenders are the 12-Meter Kate; Alert, the beautiful Phillip Rhodes design; the Robert Clark 64 Lone Foxl and Hans Lammers’ Rhodes Bounty, Sunshine (which can and will compete with modern boats on any race course).
Add it all together and the 2007 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, scheduled from March 1-4, will again be one of the year’s most memorable and best-attended events on the yacht-racing calendar.