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St. Maarten Heineken Regatta – Recipe for success

by Louay Habib on 16 Feb
2017 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta © Louay Habib
What it is like to take a bow on the big stage, in front of thousands of sailors, at the Caribbean's biggest sailing regatta? Four of last year's winning yacht skippers reveal how to win at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.

The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta attracts a wide variety of competing yachts and competitors, high performance racing yachts crewed by professional sailors, bareboat teams often with family and friends, and a huge assortment of production racer cruisers racing in the CSA classes, usually crewed by passionate Corinthians. There are usually six CSA classes, where similar yachts are given a rating to correct their finish time to decide the winner. As yachts of similar performance are grouped together in the CSA classes, the result is an extremely competitive contest with seconds deciding the overall winner.

For the last two regattas, the British Oyster 48 Scarlet Oyster, has won class. Skipper Ross Applebey has been competing at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta on twelve occasions and has always taken to the stage for an award. An amazing accomplishment considering that Scarlet Oyster is a charter yacht, and often the first time the crew has sailed together is the regatta itself.

“The Gill Commodore's Cup is a good warm up to bring the charter crew up to speed and fairly well drilled before we start the regatta proper and then we have the Round St. Maarten Race, which we have performed well in many times. So psychologically, it is important that we get a good start and believe that we can win, right from the beginning. The really key thing is not to mess any races up, because there is no discard, if you have a bad race you are not going to win. Taking to the stage at the prize giving is unique for just about any regatta in the world. Thousands of people are in the crowd, it is like being the band in a pop concert and to get your trophy like that, gives you a real buzz. I have seen crew moved to tears by the experience.”

Last year's Most Worthy Performance at the 36th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta was El Ocaso and although the J/122 is back, it is now under new ownership. However, the boat captain remains the same, Bob Hillier from Florida.

“Boat prep is key, the El Ocaso program prides ourselves on showing up on the line with a well-prepared yacht. The other key is solid crew work, we are fortunate to have a number of crew that sail with the program every year and it makes all the manoeuvres so much smoother. Our crew are also very well disciplined, knowing when to say - last Heineken for the night boys. Our goal when we enter the regatta is to make the stage for the prize giving ceremony. The regatta offers the absolute best awards stage anywhere, having been fortunate to collect some awards there, you really want to do it again. Team El Ocaso has tasted some ice-cold Heineken beers on the walk up to the stage, needless to say, we are thirsty for that again.”

Last year in CSA 4, Ben Jelic’s Kiwi 35, Wild Devil, nailed the final start to win the class on countback by a single second. St. Maarten's Ben Jelic returns this year with a different yacht, his J/120 J-Aguar.

“This year we will be competing with a lot of well sailed 40ft yachts, and I think it is the most competitive class at the regatta. The recipe for winning is very simple, we put the boat into top condition, in preparing the hull, the sails and all the equipment. We have assembled a great crew, who are all good friends. We push the boat to the limit but there is not much talking or any arguing on board. We each have our own area and we concentrate on doing that in the best possible way. This means that I can concentrate on my area, which is driving the boat. This combination means that we can push the boat to its limits. Winning at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is a great achievement, for me after so many years of trying it was like reaching the top of Everest, it gave all of the crew a fantastic feeling of success from a lot of hard work.”

Local celebrity sailor Sir Bobby Velasquez won his CSA 5 class sailing his tried and trusted L’Esperance, a Beneteau 45. He will attempt to take the win again in the 37th edition.

“The competition is very challenging! Every year there is stiff competition, skilled captains and crew and someone is always trying their very best to dethrone me, (like Robbie Ferron!) but this makes it a great and exciting challenge!”

When asked what the recipe for success is he stated “Answering this question would be like a chef disclosing his secret ingredient, but, ensuring a good start and perfectly timed tactics straight through the race is vital!”

“Winning on home turf is great! There’s no place to win like home! It’s also a great example for the youngsters, to show them that you can do if you try! As my father always said to me: “failure is not an option!”

For the 37th edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the winning yachts in the CSA classes will take to the stage to receive their class trophies, and will have the added bonus of qualification for a new event. Each invited team will nominate a crew member to take control of a remote controlled Laser for a beach dust-up at Le Sand Restaurant in Nettle Bay and the winner will be the first ever Heineken Star.

For entry and full information about the 2017 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta visit event website.
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