by Louay Habib
Fast, cool, and designed for the ultimate thrill, the spectacular Gunboats will be out in force at the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. Five of the high performance multihulls are expected for a Caribbean rendezvous of electric racing and legendary parties. The Gunboat posse will be ripping through Caribbean surf by day and partying Gunboat-style by night.
Multihull in action during the St Maarten Heineken Regatta
'It was a blast in St Maarten last year,' commented Peter Johnstone, CEO and founder of Gunboat. 'The regatta has it all, a great racetrack, a gorgeous setting, huge beach parties and a really friendly atmosphere. Talking with Gunboat owners about where to meet up this year, it was a no-brainer; for Gunboats this regatta rocks.'
Jules Verne, Round the World record holder, Brian Thompson is a phenomenal sailor having broken an astonishing 27 world records. Brian is a self-confessed Gunboat fanatic and has raced the class in ocean races and inshore regattas. Here are some tips from one of the grand masters of multihull racing.
Brian Thompson on the helm
In the pre-start, the principal of not being over early is important, and not getting caught in irons at the start - both of those will see the other boats disappearing over the horizon!
The start can often be crucial and the bigger the fleet - the more important that becomes. A Gunboat has plenty of righting moment so the air is quite affected by the turbulence behind a boat, so if you are caught behind it will be worth clearing your air. Tacking is fairly slow on a big cat, so in the two tacks to clear your air you can lose a lot. The other option is to crack off until you are out of the dirty air and with the rapid acceleration of a Gunboat, this might not lose too much. Clear air and speed at the start, and a little space away from the other boats, particularly to leeward is important. You can then decide when to manoeuvre, rather than it being forced upon you.
A big cat is slow to tack relative to a monohull, so the penalty for understanding the windward mark and having to make two quick tacks is very high. On the other hand, if you overstand the mark, the penalty is small as the increased speed from cracking off a few degrees means your velocity to windward is only marginally lower. So if you get the perfect layline, good for you, but probably better to overstand a little and make sure you can get around the mark in one.
If you have a spinnaker, whether with a sock or not, you need to start the drop early enough to get the kite completely down before heading upwind. The penalty is huge for not getting the sail down with the speeds of the Gunboat downwind, so it's worth practicing this one and also planning well ahead in the downwind leg so that you are coming in on the correct gybe to make the rounding as simple as possible for the upwind leg to come.
If you have a gennaker it's possible to roll it up a little closer to the mark and drop it on the upwind leg, but this all depends on how it furls.
Big cats at the St Maarten Heineken Regatta
I love sailing the Gunboats in the Caribbean, they go to windward fast, but it's reaching and downwind where they really can fly!
Gunboat racing is close, you don't need an army sitting on the rail, so those who sail on the boats have to be multi-talented and are kept busy through a race, which is the way it should be…and the owners and sailors are a really interesting, fun group to be with.
Three days of hot racing in the sublime waters off St Maarten are complimented by some of the best party action in the Caribbean. With over 200 yachts racing last year, The Heineken St Maarten Regatta is the biggest regatta in the Caribbean by participation. The Gunboat Class will head the multihull division, forming the fastest fleet of yachts at the event.
In 2013 at the Heineken St Maarten Regatta, Gunboat 62, Elvis was the king, winning the Gunboat Class outright. Elvis is back this year to defend the title.
Gunboat 66, Tiger Lily came close to beating Elvis last year but it was 'Heart Break Hotel' for Tiger Lily, as Elvis took the last race to wear the crown. Based in the British Virgin Islands, the wisteria-blue livery of Tiger Lily is a regular site in the Caribbean. However, it has been quite the adventure to get Gunboat 66, Slim to the Caribbean. The ice scrapers were out on the 18th December to launch Slim from her home in Belfast, Maine. Icy winds in the 30-40 knot range was a real test for the crew and the boat. Slim came through with flying colours to reach St. Barths to celebrate New Year's Eve and will be racing at Heineken St Maarten Regatta. Gunboat 62, Tribe has sailed south to race in the Gunboat Class, The Tribe crew is a family affair with multiple generations and captain Spike Abram and Anna Clarke. Rounding out the class this year is Gunboat 66, Coco de Mer, a fixture on the Heineken racetrack and a boat known for its song writing skills and amazing coconut costume creations.