It's been said it 'takes a village' to raise a child. To orchestrate and conduct the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta - slated for March 6-9 - it takes so much more, including countless volunteers and numerous dedicated local organizations. In fact, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is nothing less than a total island-wide effort.
The 33rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
At the top of the list are several organizations that play prominent roles in keeping all the sailors and party goers safe and secure, both at sea and ashore: Coast Guard St. Maarten, Red Cross St. Maarten, and the St. Maarten Sea Rescue Foundation, with posts on both the French and Dutch sides of the island, respectively.
'The regatta sailors sometimes don't realize how much the entire St. Maarten community is involved,' said Regatta Director Michele Korteweg. 'It takes an entire island to throw an event and party this big. For us, when it comes to safety, it's all about prevention. We try to make sure everybody is safe and enjoying themselves. It takes a lot of people in the background to make it all work. We couldn't do it without them.'
When the sailors hoist sail and head out to sea, at the top of that list is the Coast Guard St. Maarten. 'There are a lot more boats than normal so it's a challenge to ensure everyone has the proper safety equipment and nothing illegal is going on,' said Roderick Gouverneur, the Communication Officer for Coast Guard St. Maarten, who noted that the cutter Poema patrols regularly with assistance from a fleet of smaller vessels.
'There are a few things I tell people who come to the event,' added Gouverneur. 'If you're drinking, do not operate a vessel. Just like a car. Make sure you have safety features onboard like life vests for everyone on your boat. Keep your cell phones and handheld VHF radios fully charged so you can communicate with authorities if you have to. And remember that you can always contact the Coast Guard by dialing 913. It's a free call from any cellular phone.'
While the Coast Guard has everyone's figurative back while they're afloat, at the many parties for which the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is so well known, the volunteers at Red Cross St. Maarten handle that responsibility. 'We have 10 people at each venue,' said the group's General Manager, Sharmaine Rivers, who noted that her team was always ready to assist those who may, well, party too hearty. 'We're there to lend assistance and help comfort any people who may need us,' she added.
Back on the racecourse, other 'guardian angels' - the patrol boats from the St. Maarten Sea Rescue Foundation (www.searescue.sx) -- are always close at hand should incidents arise. 'They're all volunteers and they are always there following the races to ensure they're on site in case anything happens or any of the boats need assistance,' said Korteweg. 'They're very important to us in case anything goes wrong.'
Thankfully, for the last few years the services of the Sea Rescuers have not been required for emergency situations. But that's not always the case. 'In 2009 we had some incidents,' said Korteweg about that windy running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. 'We had a couple of dismastings, a bareboat almost went onto a reef, and there was a collision between two yachts that resulted in some injuries to sailors who had to be taken off the boats and then taken to the hospital.'
Thanks to the swift action by the Sea Rescue Foundation, however, all these dangerous and potentially tragic occurrences were quickly and effectively under control.
For at the end of the day, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is nothing less than a celebration that everyone can enjoy. 'It's not just for the sailors,' said the Coast Guard's Gouverneur. 'There are a lot of activities on land as well as the water. Music. Concerts. Food. It's an island-wide party!'
For over three decades, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has showcased the top boats and sailing-and has become equally famous for its world-class slate of parties and musical entertainment-in the Caribbean. Now recognized by sailors around the planet as one of the sailing world's best regattas, each year the event lives up to its worthy motto: Serious Fun.
Heineken Regatta Website