Clash of the titans
After an extremely close, tactical, race on the opening day of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Tom and Dotty Hill’s custom Reichel/Pugh 75 – Titan 15, managed to hold off George David’s Reichel Pugh 90 Rambler and Irvine Laidlaw’s Wally 82 Highland Fling to take top spot in the St Maarten Round the Island Race.
Peter Isler and team aboard the stunning new, ultra lightweight racing machine that is Tiana 15 enjoyed an extremely testing 32nm race round the island of St Maarten in unusually light, southerly winds which only reached 12kts at best. They engaged in an early bow-to-bow battle with Rambler and Highland Fling from the start and, although Rambler soon powered off in the building gusts on the first spinnaker leg to the western most point of the island, Titan and Highland Fling were always snapping at her heels.
The tactical part of the race for all classes really began in Marigot Bay where choice of headsails was critical. Isler chatting about the race said: “We went with the jib top which is a bit smaller, tighter angle combination and the other two went with spinnakers and a Code Zeros. For a while our combination was better but behind the lee of the island it got quite light. We were headed on starboard tack reach first then when we got to the middle of the bay it started lifting and the Code Zero started to pay which allowed us to overtake Highland Fling.”
Once round the north-east tip of the island at Tintamarre (mark 4) it was a beat back down to the finish at Philpsburg in an ever-decreasing breeze. Titan however, now with about a minute on Rambler and in striking distance of Highland Fling had done enough to secure the first Spinnaker Class 1 race of the regatta.
An impressive race from George David and Kenny Read and team on Rambler, but not quite enough to knock Titan off her perch in these light airs. Reed – Vice President of North Sails, North America, and skipper of VO70 Puma, which took second overall in the in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race, said today’s race was essentially a microcosm of the VOR. “It’s navigation of an island but I have to say, more fun than the VOR. It’s nice to be able to sleep in a bed at night, have good food, and have a beer at the end of the day. It’s those little things in life you take for granted until you do a VOR, and it’s only then you start to really appreciate it.”
Rounding the island is always a challenge for the navigator and Reed said they did get a bit too close for comfort at one point during the race today. “There’s a million little pot holes out there you have to avoid, and whoever does that best, simply wins the race. We got a little close a couple of times, that’s for sure and even had a little scuff but thankfully nothing too dramatic.”
Peter Holmberg, on the other hand, on the helm of Highland Fling said he was playing it safe today. “There are certainly some spots to be careful of in this race, but today there were no real benefits by getting too close, and I’m not going to be the one make the call that risks putting an 82ft Wally on the rocks, that’s for sure.”
The Reichel/Pugh 44 Peake Yacht Services sailed by Peter Peake and team managed to hold off Richard Matthews and team from the UK aboard Oystercatcher XXVI – the fast, and well sailed Tom Humphries design, to take their first win of the regatta in Spinnaker 3, despite a spinnaker wrap round the third mark. These two have been engaged in race long battles in the Caribbean for several years, and this week the battle looks set to continue. Neil Mackley, trimmer aboard Oystercatcher, and St. Maarten Heineken Regatta regular, commented: “These two boats are very similar in speed and the last four years we’ve had a lot of great racing. They’ve won today, but tomorrow’s another day!”
Italian Andrea Scarabelli sailing the Melges 24 Budget Marine is another one to watch out for this week. This racy-looking team managed to beat the other Melges 24s in Spinnaker 7 fleet and finished second in class by just four minutes on corrected time to Dave West and team in the Melges 32 Jurakan. “It was a long race in the light winds for us,” said Scarabelli, “but we sailed well and had good boat speed so we hope to continue to improve throughout the weekend.”
Calvin Reed and his Gill Commodore’s Cup-winning team from yesterday put up another good performance today and won the highly competitive Spinnaker 5 fleet once again. Elandra – one of six Beneteau 40.7s competing in this class – comes from Antigua and Geoff Linton tactician said they hope for more light winds: “Light winds and windward/leewards and we’ll be happy. We have new sails and a good crew who sail together 90 per cent of the time so we feel definitely have what it takes.”
The forecast for the second day of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta looks set to continue with similar light to moderate southerly winds. The 20nm course will take the fleets round the north-west tip of the island up into the Anguilla Channel with a finish in Marigot Bay.