The 34th annual running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta got off to a magnificent start this morning as a solid fleet of 211 dedicated racing boats and bareboat charter yachts commenced competition with the traditional opening-day round-the-island race. In sweet easterly tradewinds hovering in the 14-18 knot range, with gusts in the low 20s, the race committees on two racing circles sent the majority of the fleet on a clockwise spin around St. Maarten.
The top monohulls and multihulls sailed an extended course of 32 nautical miles with an extra leg around Tintamarre on St. Maarten's northeast coast. Most of the other classes raced slightly abbreviated courses with a mark set inside of Tintamarre.
The fastest elapsed time in the monohull fleet was recorded by the Volvo 70 Monster Project, skippered by U.K. sailor Andrew Budgen, with a time of 2h, 57m,13s. Monster Project's blistering time was just 7 minutes behind the course record for monos set by another Volvo 70, ABN Amro One, in the 2007 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The New Zealand boat, skippered by Mike Sanderson, was on a victory tour after winning the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race.
Budgen's largely British crew might have bested the Kiwi's mark had they not missed a turning mark off Tintamarre that forced them to tack back and re-round it. 'We didn't spot it until we were past it so we had to quickly go back,' said Budgen. 'So that was a bit of an error.'
Otherwise, Monster Project sailed a mostly flawless race, much of it in close quarters with Irvine Laidlaw's Reichel-Pugh design, Highland Fling XII. Upwind, however, Monster Project had a decided speed edge. Was Budgen surprised about his advantage? 'No,' he laughed. 'It's called a canting keel.'
Monster Project was conceived for long-distance racing, and Budgen conceded that he sailed conservatively at the start. 'We wanted to keep it simple, basically,' he said. After a one-tack beat to the short windward mark, Monster's crew hoisted their big A-four asymmetric kite for the run down to a turning buoy off the southwest corner of St. Maarten. At one point, a surfing Highland Fling surged into the lead, but when they were forced to execute one more jibe before rounding the mark, Monster Project regained first place and never looked back.
Creaming down the island's east coast on a close reach before rounding Point Blanche and making for the finish line in Great Bay, Monster Project was hauling the mail, topping 20 knots of boat speed in bursts in the building afternoon breeze. 'That was very good,' said Budgen, in a moment of understatement.
Still, once the handicap allowances were factored in, Monster Project finished fourth in CSA1, with Highland Fling XII atop the leader board, followed by William Coates's Ker 43, Otra Vez, and John Wilson's R/P 78, Idea of London.
Highland Fling was one of several boats that fared well in Thursday's tune-up event, the Gill Commodore's Cup, but several competitors who scored highly in that pre-regatta series proved that their earlier performance was no fluke, and they did indeed represent the cream rising to the top.
That was the case in CSA3, where Jim Madden's J/125, Stark Raving Mad IV was Friday's winner, and also in CSA4 and CSA5, won by Richard Wesslund's J/122, El Ocaso, and Andrea Scarabelli's Melges 24, Budget Marine/Gill, respectively. In CSA2, Youri Loof's Nautor Swan 82FD, Alpina, topped the 6-boat class.
In CSA7, local legend Sir Bobby Velasquez aboard the Beneteau 45, L'Esperance, returned to his usual winning ways; his feat was matched in CSA8 by Jean Michel Mariziou's Dufour 45 Classic,Triskell.
There was plenty of hair-raising excitement in the multihull divisions, as well, including Multihull one, a.k.a. the 'Gunboat class.' Five ballistic Gunboats hit the line almost in unison for the start of the round-the-island race. Gunboat 62, Tribe won the start by inches, but Gunboat 62, Elvis controlled the fleet heading into Pelican Bay and came out on top at the turning mark. But the lead was short lived. Elvis' spinnaker failed to deploy properly and Coco de Mer took full advantage, passed Elvis to leeward. Elvis fought back and just got inside Coco de Mer at the Long Bay mark and into clear air. Shortly rounding Tintamarre, Elvis unfurled their screecher and took off like a scolded cat, hitting 27.7 knots of boat speed. Elvis finished the 32-mile race in 2h, 44m, 22s to take line honors. The two Gunboat 66s, Slim and Coco de Mer had a photo finish for second place. Coco de Mer took the line just three seconds ahead of Slim.
Nils Erickson's Formula 40, Soma, won Multihull two; Petr Kochnev's Lagoon 500, Belisima, was top boat in Multihull three; and Ermolenko Viacheslav's Lagoon 400, Ruby, was the winner of Multihull four. In the Lottery Classes, the victorious boats on Friday were Unwind (Lottery one) and Amideau (Lottery two).
For over three decades, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has showcased the top boats and sailing-and has become equally famous for its world-class slate of parties and musical entertainment-in the Caribbean. 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.
For full information on the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, including results, photos, videos, party and band information, and much, much more, visit website
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