St. Maarten Heineken Regatta - Gill Commodore's Cup day 1.
On a day that began with rain and drizzle and gave way to blue skies and fresh breeze—in other words, a perfect day for yacht racing—39 boats in six classes gathered off Simpson Bay today to compete in the Gill Commodore’s Cup, the traditional kick-off to the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta sponsored by the popular brand of foul-weather gear and sailing apparel.
Though the weather was gray and drizzly all morning, as the fleet assembled for the high-noon start of the event, patches of blue appeared above. Soon after, in a 12-14 knot southeasterly breeze, racing commenced in a lumpy, leftover sea. But by mid-afternoon both the 'sou’easter' and the seaway had moderated and the racecourse was bathed in sunshine and winds hovering around ten knots. For many of the serious racers who came out for an extra day of competition and to shake off the cobwebs in advance of this weekend’s three-day St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which begins on Friday, the conditions were simply ideal.
There were plenty of highlights and colorful images in all six divisions. One of the more memorable moments came during a leeward mark-rounding in the second contest of the three-race series, when a pair of Class 2 boats—the Melges 24, Budget Marine/GILL, and the Open 750, Panic Attack, with its distinctive square-topped main—finished their first windward leg just as the fleet’s largest boat, the Dubois 90, Genuine Risk, completed their second. The juxtaposition of the three wildly divergent boats, with Genuine Risk’s five-spreader rig towering over the action, was emblematic of the range and variety of the assembled racers.
The big winner today, however, was Britisher Chris Bull's canting-keel Cookson 50, Jazz, which made her impressive Caribbean debut with three straight victories to top Class 1 in striking fashion. Jazz (formerly known as Evolution Racing) has traveled halfway around the world, mostly via freighter, since winning the IRC-0 class in the recent Sydney-Hobart Race. And with her victory in the GILL Commodore’s Cup, she has served notice that she’ll be a force to contend with in the upcoming St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
'She sails quite well in windy conditions,' said Jazz navigator Mike Broughton, one of several Aussies on the crew. 'So today was encouraging. We had light conditions and we did quite well.'
In Class 2, Mark Plaxton’s Melges 32,Team INTAC, also recorded three bullets to easily win the division. Plaxton, who was a key crewman in Gavin Brady’s victory in the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup earlier in the week, today had U.S.V.I. legend Peter Holmberg onboard. Ironically, Brady and Plaxton beat Holmberg’s team in the finals of the match-racing event.
'That’s what I like about Peter,' said Plaxton. 'He knew we were racing the Commodore’s Cup and the Heineken Regatta together and he was like, ‘You’re going to be with Brady in the match race?’ But that’s just part of the fun.'
Other winners today included Stephan Lehnert’s 56-foot Passion 4 C in Class 4; William Wester’s Grand Soleil, Antilope, in Class 5; and Kick ‘em Jenny, Ian Hope-Ross’s Beneteau First 36.7, in Class 6.
'The Gill Commodore’s Cup is one of three components of the race week,' said Robbie Ferron, chairman of the event’s steering committee. 'It really works well. The GILL Commodore’s Cup is a one-day event that lets crews get back together on the racecourse, especially the ones coming out of the cold who haven’t raced together recently.'
Now, with the 2011 editions of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup and the GILL Commodore’s Cup in the books, it’s time for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta—and the Serious Fun—to begin.
Gill Commodore’s Cup and the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta http://www.heinekenregatta.com