St. Maarten Heineken Regatta - Catching up with Robbie Ferron

St.Maarten Heineken Regatta - Robbie Ferron
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta - There are few people who have experienced and shaped the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta quite like Budget Marine’s Robbie Ferron, who was there at the beginning some three decades ago and continues to serve as the Chairman of the Steering Committee for the event to this very day. With two weeks to go before the 31st running of this annual event, we caught Robbie for a few moments to get his take on the upcoming edition of 'Serious Fun.'

So, Robbie, for sailors coming from Europe and Northern climates, how about a weather report?
RF: It’s absolutely perfect. We’ve had really amazing weather – ten to fifteen knots of breeze every day. It’s been that way for a while and we hope it continues. It’s more than good.

With two weeks to go, there are 160 entries and counting. Considering that so many other regattas have suffered recently, that’s an amazing number.
RF: I’m very happy. If we hit 200 boats, that’s grand. If we don’t, I’m still perfectly happy. It’s looking very good. It’s funny, at this point we can’t tell how the classes will be divided. Last year they really came together. Very often you find that the classes are a little imperfect for racing in the Caribbean because everyone is having such a good time just being here. But last year, in the spinnaker classes, particularly, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have an amazing set of competition.

The one area that’s down is in the bareboat classes but that’s not going to affect the level of competition with the real racing boats. So while the total numbers are down somewhat, the mix is going to be so good in the spinnaker classes that we’ll continue that high standard. And that’s the important thing for the serious racers.

There certainly are an impressive number of big boats – lots of big Swans, Genuine Risk, Aegir, Sojana, Kialoa V – some real powerhouses…
RF: We’ve certainly been able to attract those big yachts and those are our calling card. So we’re happy with that. But besides the big boats, the fleet is very strong in the smaller classes as well.

Give us a preview of the Budget Marine Match Racing event, which kicks everything off on March 1st.
RF: The big guns, of course, are Peter Holmberg and Gavin Brady, and last year Brady came close to beating Holmberg…he certainly gave him a lot of pressure. So the question will be whether Holmberg can do a clean sweep for the third year in a row. Last year was so interesting because it just showed the skill level of the top guys…how there’s such a delta between really skilled sailors like Holmberg and Brady and guys who are really good, but not at their level. It’s a great event to bring people together before the actual regatta and get activity going.

There are several boats doing the Caribbean 600, the 600-mile race that begins from Antigua next week, as well as the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The events seem to dovetail together nicely.
RF: Yes, quite a few boats are doing both. It’s a nice event for us because it’s two different sides of the same discipline. People can go out for a few days of ocean racing and then come to St. Maarten for some round-the-buoy racing so it’s a nice balance. Some crews enjoy the ocean racing and some prefer the Caribbean regatta party racing. And it focuses it all within the same time frame for the boats. It’s working out very nicely.

Through it all, Heineken has been a great sponsor, haven’t they?
RF: Yes, and they don’t seem to let up, in terms of creativity and input and resources. We just keep steaming along and I think that’s a big part of our strength, the fact that we’ve had that continuity that builds on the past. Not many regattas have enjoyed that kind of support.

The Race Committee has made some changes to the racecourse, with the introduction of offset marks for the windward legs and more options for laying out courses. What was the reasoning?
RF: The basic idea was to address situations we’ve had in the past when the wind shifted but we had pre-set starting lines and courses so we ended up with no real weather (windward) starts. So the classes didn’t really split enough before the first weather buoy. So now we’ve created a situation and made it as understandable as possible so that we have some versatility when conditions change, and increase the safety and level of competition in that first part of the race. I think the Race Committee has come up with a very good, smart solution.

So, on the eve of the 31st St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, are you looking forward to it as much as ever?
RF: It’s all looking very good. The St. Maarten Yacht Club has taken great strides forward, and the island is doing well. The funny thing is, the atmosphere here changes as the sailors and the people arrive. I don’t think visitors appreciate that when they come here they bring so much to the island. We’re always looking forward to the moment when they come with all their energy and expectations. It all sort of meshes together into a very productive, pleasurable event.

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