Even more wind...
On the first day of the 32nd St Maarten Heineken Regatta, the breeze was sharp and steady. On the second day of the annual Caribbean sailing festival, it blew harder still. But today, on the third and final day of competition, the wind gods truly unleashed their power. And the result was one of the more stirring, sensational days of racing in the grand and storied legacy of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
To put it another way, if you didn’t like sailing today, on a racecourse lashed with staunch 25-knot winds and roiling, turquoise seas flecked with whitecaps, well, you’ll never like sailing.
Nearly 200 boats in 16 separate classes set sail today on two race circles off Marigot, on the French side of St Maarten. On the A circle, race officers designated a pair of courses that included a long weather leg to the northern end of the island before a downwind stretch before the steady easterly tradewinds to the distinctive landmark off the island of Anguilla called Blowing Rock.
Coincidentally, the race committee on the B circle also designated a course that would take most of its fleet across the Anguilla Channel to, yes, Blowing Rock. As it happened, at midday today the entire fleet - the B boats reaching up from the south, and the A divisions running downwind under spinnaker from the east - rendezvoused at the low-lying outcropping known as Blowing Rock.
And, man, it was blowing at Blowing Rock.
The wild scene at the windswept rock, with spray flying and boats converging from divergent directions, was the signature moment of this latest edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The top boats - including the VO70 Gran Jotiti; the Class 40 entrant Icarus; the Grand Soleil 46 Antilope; and the Melges 24 Budget Marine/Gill, all surfing to the mark before 4-6 foot seas and registering double-digit boat speeds, along with dozens of other competitors - handled the conditions with confident ease and skillful aplomb.
Not every crew could say the same, and there were countless close calls as competitors closed on Blowing Rock, gybed, and set a new course for the finish line off Simpson Bay. Through a happy combination of luck and skill, however, everyone made it around cleanly. And when the racers crossed the finish for the third and final race of the 2012 running, a new roster of St Maarten Heineken Regatta champions was crowned.
In CSA 1, on the strength of their second straight victory in today’s racing, that honor belonged to skipper Ernesto Cortina, who assembled an all-star crew of Spanish America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veterans aboard Gran Jotiti, the former Telefonica Black. John Wilson’s Reichel-Pugh 78 Idea took second place in class.
The Multihull 1 winner was Peter Aschenbrenner’s graceful 63ft trimaran Paradox, a birdlike craft that indeed sometimes appeared to be flying atop the waves, rather than sailing through them. While Paradox won all three races in her class, Katherine Mullins’ handsome Gunboat catamaran Coco de Mer added three second-places, to take the runner-up berth in Multihull 1.
Today’s winner in CSA 2 was Klaas van Duuren’s X-612 De Wilgen Vastgoed, but in the overall standings, it was too little, too late, to overcome Bill and Carolyn Titus’s magnificent Swan 100 Virago, which earned a second today - along with two firsts in the previous two contests - to record a comfortable win in the 'Big Boat' division.
At the outset of the regatta it was clear that two Melges 24s - Andrea Scarabelli’s Budget Marine/Gill and Coors Light, co-skippered by Frits Bus and Peter Houtzager - would be vying for the title in CSA 3 right up until the final day. Indeed, both boats placed first or second in class for the entire series. But on the strength of their win on Sunday, Budget Marine/Gill broke the tiebreaker between the two boats to win the highly competitive 10-boat class.
The 16-boat CSA 4 class was another stacked division, with many boats - including Willem Wester’s Antilope, Sergio Sagramoso’s Lazy Dog, Jaime Torres’s Smile and Wave and James Dobbs’ Lost Horizon - all considered pre-regatta favorites. But when all was said and done, the best, most consistent effort belonged to the crew of Richard Wesslund’s J/120 El Ocaso, which closed out the regatta in style today by winning the final race to top the leaderboard.
CSA 5 was another back-and-forth affair, which came down to two boats: St. Maarten’s own Bobby Velasquez and his Beneteau 45F5, L’Esperance and Jack Desmond’s Swan 48 CR Affinity. Today’s windy weather, and a fair bit of local knowledge, favoured L’Esperance, which wrapped up the division title today with a victory in the deciding race.
In CSA 6, Magras Raphael’s X-34 Maelia proved to be a force to be reckoned with, winning two races, on Friday and today. However, Maelia’s fate was sealed on Saturday, when she lost a protest and was disqualified, earning maximum points for the day. That left the door open for Ian Hope-Ross’s Beneteau First 36.7 Kick ‘em Jenny, another St. Maarten boat that shines at the Heineken Regatta. Ross’s crew did not win a race, but their solid scores - a third, a second, and today’s third - earned them the CSA 6 victory.
In one of the closest battles in this year’s event, Matt Brooks’ classic beauty, Dorade - which won Race 1, and followed that with a third and today’s second - nipped today’s race winner, Valerio Bardi’s Swan 46 Mk2 Milanto by a single point to win CSA 7 in her St Maarten Heineken Regatta debut.
In Multihull 2, today’s winner, Dave Nelson’s Catana 471 Pas de Deux, also earned the division’s overall title. In the Lottery Class, Maine boatbuilder Leonard Beckwith won Sunday’s race aboard yet another classic wood yawl Saudade. But it was solid scores throughout the event that gave the class title to Jim Brooks aboard the Hunter 44DS Harmony.
In the Bareboat classes, the winners were Frederick Walters’ Team Kincsem (Bareboat 1), Martijn Baartmans’ Harten Heer (Bareboat 2), Marieke Poulie’s all-women-crew Something Hot (Bareboat 3); Arnie Feyling’s Sangria (Bareboat 4); Tim Goebel’s and Neil Harvey’s Chillin’ The Most (Bareboat 5), and Jeoffrey Scheffer’s Team Argos (Bareboat 7).
With the 2012 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta in the books, race officer David Campbell-James, in his first year on the race committee, was asked his impressions. “I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was seriously fun.”
Serious. Fun. Indeed it was.