David and Goliath

Will PlayStation or the famous yellow 60ft trimaran Paragon win the Heineken Regatta's Round the Island race asks Dick Johnson

Thursday March 6th 2003, Author: Dick Johnson, Location: Caribbean
From the moment that it was announced that Steve Fossett's 125ft catamaran PlayStation was coming to St Maarten's Heineken Regatta, the talk has been of nothing else than the new record she would set on the the round the island race, starting 9 am Friday. But the 200th boat to enter this year's regatta, the 60ft trimaran Paragon owned by Austrian ex-pat Jurgen Epple, might put a spoke in PlayStation's wheel.

Paragon is no stranger to round the island records. Owned by Michael Whipp and sailed by British Olympic Gold Medallist Rodney Pattisson, she blistered the waters round the Isle of Wight in England in 1986, beating home 1,500 boats in the process and setting a time of 3 hours 55 minutes 13 seconds. The record stood until the conditions were just right once again in 2001 - 15 years later - when a French trimaran, steered once again by Mr Pattisson, knocked a healthy 47 minutes and one second from Paragon's time.

Now spending a lot of her time in the Caribbean, Paragon is, despite her age, still capable of setting records and could conceivably show PlayStation a clean pair of heels on Friday.

How can a boat less than half PlayStation's size beat her on the water?

Well, the secret is in the smaller boat's agility. PlayStation is designed to sail the open ocean where there aren't too many corners to go round. She will blast off in a straight line, but in the confined waters of the Anguilla Channel will struggle to maintain that speed, especially if the wind forces her to tack against the wind to make progress.

On the other hand, Paragon, shorter and lighter, will change direction much faster and will accelerate to maximum speed in less time. Every time the boats have to tack Paragon will gain.

Watching this contest will be one of the highlights of this year's regatta.

At the start south of Cole Bay, expect PlayStation to hang back a little to avoid conflicts with smaller boats, then to wind up to speed as she heads for the first mark south of Fort Amsterdam. Expect Paragon to lead here and also at the next mark just west of Proselyte Reef. After this tight section of the course PlayStation should get into her stride as the fleet heads for Basse Terre.

After Basse Terre, PlayStation might head out across the Anguilla Channel to minimise the number of tacks she has to make. Paragon will probably stay closer inshore to take advantage of the slacker current and to play the wind shifts that could give her the lead. At the top of the island the boats should come together again and we will know the answer to the question: Which is faster? Brute power or agility? PlayStation or Paragon?

Between the main island and Tintamarre, and down the eastern shore, the wind should be in PlayStation's favour. If she has managed to stay in touch at the top of the island, expect her to stretch her legs and reach her top speeds of the day.

Unless Paragon was way, way ahead at the top of the island, the 125 footer should scorch past on this offwind leg. Round the bottom of the island, across Great Bay and on to the finish in Simpson's Bay, again it should go PlayStation's way. She will be flying in a cloud of spray on the sheltered waters. A sight to remember and definitely a photographers delight.

Who will win? Don't ask me, but it will be one of the fascinating events of the regatta, David and Goliath on the water.

If you get the chance to watch, make your way to the shore between 9am and probably no later than 11am.

At 9 am the start gun goes and from then, anywhere between Philipsburg and Basse Terre will be the places to be, and again probably some time after 10.30 am in the same places as the boats speed to the finish.

On the other hand, the wind could drop and all bets are off.

Final boats are registering at the St Maarten Yacht Club, a full 201 boats with just less than an hour to go. Preparations for the first party of the regatta are almost complete at the Port de Plaisance resort on the north shore of Simpson Lagoon. Sound checks for bands 420 and Barbwire rattle the red pantiles of Post de Plaisance, water taxis are standing by to ferry competitors across the lagoon - we are counting down and in fine shape for ignition and blast off!

St Maarten Heineken Regatta No. 23 is GO!

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