ABN thunders home
The first boat to finish in the first race for the Commodore’s Cup was, fittingly, the Volvo Open 70 ABN AMRO One, the winner of the recent around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. However, the match-up of ABN and Tom Hill’s Reichel/Pugh-designed 75 footer, Titan 12, failed to materialise when Titan lost its headstay and was forced to withdraw from racing just minutes before the start.
With a fresh squall carrying breezes of up to 20-knots bearing down from the southeast as the race committee fired the starting gun for the four boat Bigboats 1 class, ABN skipper Mike 'Moose' Sanderson executed a faultless start just to weather of Jim Swartz’s Swan 601, Moneypenny, which also crossed the line charging hard and with sails trimmed perfectly. But Moneypenny could not maintain the rapid pace of ABN, and quickly fell astern as the boats legged out towards the first weather mark.
The second start for the five boat Bigboats 2 Division quickly became a duel between a pair of handsome, well-sailed Swans: Clay Deutsch’s 68-footer, Chippewa, and Anders Johnson’s 70-footer, Blue Pearl. As the pair swapped tacks under drizzling skies, the race committee continued starting sequences for the remaining 48 boats competing in five respective spinnaker divisions.
By the time the lead boats rounded the weather mark and hoisted spinnakers for the first run on the twice-around windward/leeward course, ABN was well ahead of the fleet and sailing its own private race. It was instructive to compare ABN and the Whitbread 60, Zest Hexe, another Bigboats 1 entrant that’s being chartered for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for a German syndicate, and which was built for Chris Dickson’s 1992 Tokio around-the-world campaign. Zest Hexe’s fractional asymmetric spinnaker seemed like a handkerchief compared to ABN’s massive, powerful, masthead kite, and the differences in boatspeed were dramatic. It was a stirring example of the rapid evolution in yacht design in the long-distance arena in just over a decade’s time.
With wind speeds in the mid-teens, there was some terrific sail-handling on the first run, but there were also moments that some crews will be happy to forget. Jim Muldoon’s Santa Cruz 72, Donnybrook, endured a comedy of errors gybing and dropping its kite, and one of the sport boats, which shall remain nameless. somehow avoided a costly sail repair after running over its chute during a messy douse near the bottom mark. But at that same mark, the Melges 24 Budget Marine overtook its sistership, Carib/HIHO, by cutting smartly inside with a sharp, well-executed manoeuvre while HIHO struggled to coral its spinnaker.
When the squall passed the breeze temporarily went soft and the fleet was challenged to maintain boat speed in light air and sloppy seas, but the wind filled in soon after and two more races were conducted in perfect Caribbean conditions, with breezes in the mid-teens under sunny, blue skies.
ABN swept Bigboats 1 with three bullets in what was a dominating performance. “We were a little bit rusty,” said Sanderson, in what was certainly a startling comment. It would be scary to see the crew of ABN when they were on top of their game.
Moose added: “It was great to be back out on the water today aboard ABN AMRO One. We had some great sailing conditions which suited us really well. Anything under 12 knots we would struggle with but the breeze we had today was great for us, letting us show everyone on the island what this boat can really do. The courses were pretty short for us on ABN AMRO One, the length of the upwind leg didn’t even allow enough time for us to pack the 550sqm kite so the whole crew had a lot on, but we enjoyed some great racing.”
With two firsts and a second, Anders Johnson’s Swan 70 Blue Pearl, took top honors in the Bigboats 2 class. The other class winners were Carlo Falcone aboard the Vallicelli 44 Caccia alla Volpe in Spinnaker 3; Robert Bottomley’s Beneteau 47.7 Sailplane in Spinnaker 4; Sergio Sagramoso’s Beneteau 40.7 Lazy Dog in Spinnaker 5; John Bishop’s J/100 Expensive Habit in Spinnaker 6; and Ian Hope-Ross’s Beneteau 36.6 Kick ‘em Jenny in Spinnaker 7.
Tonight, following the Commodore’s Cup prize giving, ABN AMRO One skipper Mike Sanderson auctioned off a place to sail aboard for one day during the regatta, with all proceeds - US$2000 - going towards the St Maarten Yacht Club’s youth sailing programme, helping to get youngsters of St Maarten out on the water.
The crew line up for ABN AMRO One is: Mike Sanderson, Brad Jackson, Justin Slattery, Simeon Tienpont, Sidney Gavignet, Mike Quilter, Neil Cox, Phil Harmer, Jared Henderson, John Kostecki, Chris Nicholson, Emma Sanderson and Francis Tregaskis.