Beneteau First 40.7 Smile and Wave's skipper, Jaime Torres, may not be the most experienced skipper that is making preparations for the upcoming edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which is now under two months away, but he certainly is one of the most passionate.
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta 2012
Torres and his Smile and Wave crew sailed their first Heineken event last year—they finished fifth in the ultra-competitive Class 5 division, and led the pack of five Beneteau First 40s in that 15-boat fleet—and are scheduled to compete in the full slate of Caribbean regattas this spring. Last year, the team notched a half dozen top three finishes in nine regattas throughout the islands. Considering that Torres purchased the boat, his first, less than a year before, it was an impressive season.
Of all those events, however, Torres has a favorite. 'I tell my crew that if we could only do one regatta, it would be the Gill Commodores Cup (the one-day series on March 1st that kicks off the 3-day St. Maarten Heineken Regatta) and the Heineken,' said Torres.
'It has the perfect mix of challenging courses—windward/leewards and point-to-point races,' he continued. 'There are so many good sailors, and you’re surrounded by guys who’ve sailed in the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, who’ve dedicated their lives to the sport. That’s a rare and wonderful gift. The race committee is first-class and the parties are out of the park. All the elements are there.'
And for Torres, it’s not just the venue that makes the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta a winner. 'What’s unique about the event is that you’re not just welcomed by the race organizers, you’re welcomed by the whole island,' he said. 'The people and businesses on the island are very friendly and make you feel special from the minute you arrive at the airport or pass through the bridge to Simpson Bay.'
The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, however, will not be the year’s first event for the Smile and Wave crew. Before then, they will compete in the 'offshore' Caribbean 600, a distance race that starts and ends in Antigua beginning on February 12th, which will leave Torres plenty of time to make his way to St. Maarten.
Though he admits it’s a different discipline than the inshore competition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, he recommends the Caribbean 600 for other Heineken skippers. 'It will be a big challenge for us but it will also help us get ready for the Heineken Regatta,' he said. 'The pace is different, but the two events complement each other. When it blows 35-knots in St. Maarten, we will be very well prepared.'
Smile and Wave’s 2011 record could serve as inspiration for other fledgling racers looking to break into top-flight Caribbean racing. Though Torres was a lifelong sailor and Heineken veteran—he’d raced aboard the famous Caribbean maxi Titan several years ago—other than his right-hand man and crew chief, Carlos Hernandez, many in his crew were not experienced racers…or even sailors.
'We had a steep learning curve,' said Torres. 'There was a lot of on-the-job training.'
This year, his crew—key personnel include fellow Puerto Rican sailors Jose 'Yoyo' Berrios, Javier Andrades and Raul de la Torres; Caribbean ace Peter Kingsbury; and pro sailors Anson Mulder and Joe Goulet, among others—are hungry and committed. It’s just about time to go racing.
'Right now I’m stoked,' said Torres. Yes, Smile and Wave will be there on the starting line of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. So the question is: Will you?
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta website