There are few sailing events that forge stronger bonds with the community than the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The event is proud of its long heritage and association with the residents of St. Maarten, who join the sailors and race organizers each year for the island-wide festival of music, parties and competition. But the 2013 regatta, scheduled for Feb. 28-March 3, has added a new wrinkle, one aimed directly at the youth of St. Maarten.
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
For this year, thanks to an innovative partnership and sponsorship program between the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, IGY Marinas, and the St. Maarten Sailing School, two boats crewed by ten youthful islanders will be on the starting line when the action begins.
'We support this project because it's key to us to get the local community involved, especially the younger ones,' said Regatta Director Michele Korteweg. 'Getting them to go sailing is more than we could have hoped for and hopefully their enthusiasm will be infectious and we will see more local kids sailing in the coming years.'
The ten youth sailors, students at Milton Pierce College (MPC), a St. Maarten High School, range from ages 16-19. They will compete on two boats, the Catalina 36, MoonDance, and a Beneteau 30, Vanille. With dedicated on-the-water training from instructors at the St. Maarten Sailing School, as well as online courses from NauticEd, they are literally learning a boatload of new skills. To underscore the lesson that nothing comes for free, each of the youngsters involved are also enrolled in a community service program at the St. Maarten Yacht Club. And it's clear to everyone, they are making the most of the unique opportunity.
'I went out sailing with them for their first practice race,' said Korteweg. 'It was great to see how enthusiastic they were and how keen to win. To see the interaction with the instructors and the boys is amazing. The instructors are patient and serious with the kids, which results in some major respect from them. Of course the instructors make sure that it's fun, which is a big part of the sailing as well.'
Garth Steyn, who runs the St. Maarten Sailing School, said he was originally contacted by a MPC teacher who inquired about sailing orientations for some of his students. That was two years ago, and since then, the school has introduced sailing to about 80 MPC youngsters. When one of them asked about participating in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, at first Steyn thought he was joking. When he realized the student was serious, Steyn told him it would require a strong commitment. He has not been disappointed.
Luke O'Connell - OK Nationals - 2013-14.
'The group of students have 'over-excelled' in all respects,' said Steyn. 'They are learning all the fundamentals as well as the basic concepts of racing, and that one of the most important things is working together and being part of a team. They are definitely serious, which is part of the regatta's slogan. And it's a good pun, because 'Serious Fun' is what they're having!'
Off the water, the learning continues with a complete set of online courses from NauticEd, including such subjects as Sail Trim and Rules of the Road. Steyn and NauticEd's Grant Headifen are committed educators, and both hope some of the young sailors will be inspired to take their new knowledge and pursue careers in the marine industry. Either way, sailing in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta will surely be an experience they remember for the rest of their lives.
On one further note about the unique relationship between the event and the community, the main act in the musical line-up for the Thursday evening kick-off party at Port de Plaisance will be well-known island musician Fred York and an all-star band composed of artists from other St. Maarten groups. Billed as 'The Musicologists,' they are one more example of the strong link between the regatta and the residents of beautiful St. Maarten.
For over three decades, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has showcased the top boats and sailing in the Caribbean, and has become equally famous for its world-class slate of parties and musical entertainment. 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