The St Maarten Heineken Regatta entry list is expanding with each passing day. In six short weeks, the 34th edition will commence in the fresh Caribbean breeze and turquoise waters for which the annual festival of competition and camaraderie has become so well known. Which means there's still time to ensure your place on the starting line.
2013 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
An international fleet of over a hundred boats - from flash one-design racers like the Melges 24s to Lord Irvine Laidlaw's state-of-the-art Grand Prix 52-footer, Highland Fling XII - have already registered for this year's running of 'The Heineken,' which this year is scheduled for March 6-9. Those boats will be joined by a growing roster of slick, quick catamarans, including a quartet of luxury dual-purpose Gunboats that have already filed their online entrance forms, as well as Nils Erickson's always dangerous Formula 40, Soma.
Consider that dozens of bareboat charter yachts of all sizes and descriptions will also be joining the ranks, and it's easy to understand that the coastal waters of St. Maarten will once again soon be dotted with sails.
Each year, an incredibly diverse collection of boats and competitors descend on the island for the racing and parties, and judging from the first hundred entries, that trend will continue in 2014. Many sailors can't resist attending year after year, and that includes Lawrence Aqui aboard the Dufour 40, Wild Ting. Aqui's experienced crew hails from all points on the compass: the Virgin Island, France, Canada and the U.S. 'We've been sailing together for seven years, and I've participated in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta at least ten times,' said Aqui. Last year, Wild Ting finished second in her class. This year Aqui hopes to move up and capture the top prize.
Wild Ting is a Caribbean-based boat, with a homeport of St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. Many of the other yachts have travelled a good distance further. Take Dirk Vael's Dufour 485, Gabian IV. Vael, from Belgium, has put over 10,000 nautical miles on his 48-footer since purchasing her in 2008, including a transatlantic adventure in the ARC Race. His six-man crew, also from Belgium and the Netherlands, are all experienced boat owners, but not necessarily fanatic racers. 'I have no racing equipment on my boat, just a cruising spinnaker,' said Vael, who nevertheless has strong incentive to enter. 'I want to participate in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for the fun and to be part of the event,' said Vael, who is definitely coming to the correct place and for the right reasons.
So, too, is young Mikkel Hagelund, skipper of the X-Yacht, Khaleesi. 'My crew consists of four of my friends,' he explained. 'We are all 24 years old, we come from Norway, and we like to sail.' Hagelund and his mates hadn't actually done much voyaging before buying Khaleesi, but they've quickly gotten the hang of it. 'We fixed the boat up a bit and sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. So now we've got good experience and skills. We are looking forward to testing those skills in a competitive environment.'
2013 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta Day 3
Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, many of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta entrants are vastly accomplished racing sailors. That description would surely include American Jim Madden, the skipper of the J/125, Stark Raving Mad IV. Madden's crew, in some instances, have been together over a decade, and during that time have won their class twice in Key West Race Week, and sailed the classic West Coast race from Newport Beach, California, to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. 'This will be our first appearance in the Caribbean,' said Madden, serving notice to many of their upcoming competitors.
Michael Maholchic's team aboard the Swan 44, Stormy Weather, is also a veteran crew of, he says, 'primarily ocean racers that have been crewing with me for the last two- to 20-years.' During that time, they've seen plenty of blue water, including five Newport-Bermuda Races, four Annapolis-Newport Races and a Caribbean 1500, among other offshore events.
That brief cross-section of the first hundred entrants is also a fine representation of the sorts of sailors who sail the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Some are young and eager, some are veterans with scores of miles under their keels. But they all have one thing in common. They are bound for St. Maarten, and ready for action. And you can join them. At the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, there's always room for those who love sailing.