ABN AMRO on a roll

A report from today's action at St Maarten Heineken Regatta with photos from Steve Arkley

Sunday March 4th 2007, Author: Heather Tackling, Location: Caribbean
The clear, azure waters surrounding the green peaks of the island of St. Maarten were dotted with sails of all sizes, colours and descriptions today when racing began for all 20 classes comprising the mammoth 239-boat fleet that has gathered here for the 27th running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Sailing under sunny blue skies and fueled by ideal trade-wind breezes, the racers enjoyed perfect Caribbean conditions for the challenging around-the-island race that’s a perennial feature of the annual event.

In what had anxiously been billed as the 'Clash of the Titans', spectators and sailors alike were treated today to the duel between the Volvo Open 70, ABN AMRO ONE, and Tom Hill’s lean red rocket, the 75ft Titan 12, in the five boat Bigboats 1 class. Titan 12 was forced to withdraw from Thursday’s opening action with a damaged forestay when seven classes of all-out racing yachts set sail to contest the event’s inaugural Commodore’s Cup sponsored by Budget Marine.

This morning, however, Titan 12 was on the starting line and in fighting form when racing began in 18-20 knots of steady easterly breeze. Starting just to leeward of ABN AMRO ONE, Titan 12 and skipper Mike Sanderson’s Volvo winner both hit the line at speed and each held to a long starboard tack into shore in search of current relief. Upwind, at least from a vantage point in a media helicopter 500-feet above the fray, the boats seemed fairly even. But Titan was forced to tack first and at that juncture ABN AMRO ONE crossed easily in a controlling position. And that is where she’d stay.

The race committee set a course with a short windward leg and an even shorter reaching leg for the seven St. Maarten Heineken Regatta racing classes. Once around the second mark, the fleet could hoist spinnakers for the initial run on the round-the-island racetrack. It was at that top mark, when ABN AMRO ONE hoisted its big asymmetric kite, that its dramatic speed advantage was revealed.

It has to be noted that with its tall, five-spreader rig flying a veritable cloud of sail - a full-hoist main, high-cut headsail, and billowing white symmetrical spinnaker - Titan 12 was a stirring sight as it roared down the race course. But the downwind battle with ABN AMRO ONE, whose long, white wake looked like a jet contrail, wasn’t a fair fight. ABN AMRO ONE sailed the roughly 33-nautical mile course in a blistering 2 hours 49 minutes 20 seconds to win Bigboats 1 as first boat to finish and first on corrected time. Titan 12, a little over 17 minutes behind, was second in Bigboats 1 in both categories.

Remarkable visuals weren’t the sole domain of the Grand Prix racers, however. In the aptly named Bigboats 2 division, the ketch-rigged Farr 115, Sojana, owned by former British America’s Cup campaigner, Sir Peter Harrison - and Sir Irvine Laidlaw’s Swan 112, Highland Breeze, quite literally dwarfed their competition as they started cleanly on opposite ends of the starting line. Sojana rolled the Carpenter 64, Van Ki Pass, like she was standing still. But when all was said and done, it was Anders Johnson’s well-sailed Swan 70, Blue Pearl, which corrected out to first in the division, with Sojana in second place and Highland Breeze holding on to third.

On the opposite end of the racing-boat classes, the yachts may not be as grand, but the competition is no less fierce. The winner of Spinnaker 6 was Dave West’s Melges 32, Chippewa 32, with John Bishop’s J/100, Expensive Habit, taking second and No Rubber No Glory, Rene Bultena’s J/105, in third.

The Spinnaker 7 class also produced quick, tight racing, yet the top three spots went to a trio of quite different, but very versatile, racer/cruisers - Ian Hope-Ross’s Beneteau 36, Kick ‘em Jenny; Michel Heidweiler’s J/109, Vrijgezeilig; and Jean-Michel’s Dufour 54, Lynx Optique.

To prove the point that small boats and big fun are not mutually exclusive, check out the top two boats in the Beach Cats class: Both Hobie 18 Tigers, Pascal Marchais’s Snickers-Dell-Quicksilver and Guillaume Dabreteau’s Twixx Team, which finished first and second, respectively, each got around the island in less than 3 hours and both finished within 30 seconds one another. That’s great racing.

Other notable performances on Friday were put forth by Les Crouch’s Soca 44, Storm, which edged out Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy’s Swan 56, Noonmark VI, to take top honours in Spinnaker 3; Robert Bottomley’s Beneteau 47.7, Sailplane, which corrected out just ahead of Alexandre Schwed’s Grand Soleil 50, MAD IV, in Spinnaker 4; and, in Spinnaker 5, Rick Wesslund’s J/120, El Ocaso, which upset class favorite Lazy Dog, Sergio Sagramoso’s Beneteau 40.7, setting up some dramatic action for the weekend’s racing.

Winner of the 'sliding-scale' Open Class, where ratings are addressed and updated over the course of the event to reflect the performances on the water, was Jorge Lopes skippering the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40, Infinito.Non-Spinnaker 1 was won by Mark White’s Grand Soleil 56, Petite Lune, while the victor in Non-Spinnaker 2 was veteran local sailor Bernie Evan-Wong from Antigua on his Cal 40, Guilt.

The multihulls always provide plenty of spray and excitement for their skippers and crews, and that was certainly the case for St. Thomas sailor’s Formula 40 cat, Soma, which stood atop the Multihull 1 division. Multihull 2 was won by Jean Pierre Abetel’s Dreamcatcher.

The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta always attracts dozens and dozens of bareboat charter entrants, which compete on a slightly abbreviated course of about 25 nautical miles, and the 2007 edition continues that tradition. The winners of the six separate divisions were Irek Zubko on the Jeanneau 49, Guilt, in Bareboats 1; Arwin Karssemeijer on the Moorings 505, Nautica, in Bareboats 2; Jeffrey Sochrin on the Beneteau 47, Team Goldendog, in Bareboats 3; David Saeys on the Moorings 515, Papillon, in Bareboats 4; Robert van der Beken on Insel Air 1 in Bareboats 5; and John Pinheiro’s Moorings 403, Scooby II, in Bareboats 6.

Tomorrow’s schedule calls for a morning of close-course racing for the spinnaker classes, followed by a point-to-point race for all divisions to the French port of Marigot, where a full slate of post-racing activities are planned.

More photos on the following pages...

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