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Let the games begin! 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta underway

by St. Maarten Heineken Regatta 5 Mar 2020 02:54 PST 5-8 March 2020
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta © Laurens Morel

The practice sails are over, the crews have assembled on the island from all around the globe. The race committee has made final preparations, the army of volunteers all have their assignments.

Registration is complete, the media know when and where to board the press boats. In the race village at Port de Plaisance Marina, Resort & Casino, the home base for the historic 40th running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the air of anticipation is almost palpable.

There's only one thing left to do: Go racing.

On Thursday, the teams aboard 149 yachts, competing in 17 classes of monohulls, multihulls, cruisers and bareboats, will set sail to begin four days of competition in the windswept waters off St. Maarten. The forecast is typically sensational. All the ingredients are in place for what promises to be a very special, very memorable edition of this spectacular Caribbean regatta.

On Wednesday, captains and crews of the competing yachts were finalizing plans. Jeremy Jablonsky, the skipper of the Connecticut-based Hanse 43, Avanti, is a veteran of the event, having raced the last eight Heinekens. "We're a crew of ten, with a bunch of friends from St. Thomas, and we're ready," he said. This year, Avanti will sail in the CSA 5 class, a non-spinnaker division that race with mains and jibs. That's because the boat lost its fixed sprit—and with it, its ability to fly kites—in the recent Caribbean 600.

"It will be different, but there are 13 yachts in our class with a wide range of smaller and bigger boats," Jablonsky said. "In heavy air it will probably favor the larger boats, the smaller ones might have an advantage in the lighter stuff. We're the scratch boat so I'm hoping we'll be able to escape from the pack early and save our time. We won our class a couple of years ago and hopefully we'll be back on the podium again this year."

Patrick Bernier and Ludwig Greaux are the skipper and headsail trimmer, respectively, aboard the CSA 4 entry Speedy Nemo, a Dufour 34 that's based in St. Barth's and is a very familiar presence in the Caribbean racing scene. And Speedy Nemo's owner, Raymond Magras, is also an old hand, having raced many, many St. Maarten Heineken Regatta's over the years on a variety of boats, including the very first one. The Speedy Nemo team is also notable for the manner in which they give back to the sport.

"We have 17-year-old and 15-year-old sailors from the French side of St. Maarten joining us for the regatta," said Greaux. "It's a good way for us. We always try to find young crew from the places we sail. This is the way we go. And we are very excited to be in St. Maarten this year. This is my fifth time. It is such a special event. We are very happy to be here."

Another team raring to go is the all-women crew aboard the bareboat entry Something Hot. The international crew, composed of Heineken employees from around the world, is more than ready, having assembled in St. Barth's for a couple of days of practice and team building before arriving in St. Maarten. New Zealander Fee Marston said, "As a company, inclusion and opportunity is very important to Heineken, and we represent that. We're from all different parts of the business, from sales to marketing. We're competitive on the racecourse, but we put almost as much effort into our bridge act, when we leave Simpson Bay lagoon every day. We want to win our class, but we want to win best party boat too."

Something Hot's pro skipper is Angela Brandsma, who said she was looking forward to the social part of the regatta ("I grew up a Heineken lover!") but is also anticipating some great racing as well. "You'd think the bareboat classes would be all about simple sailing, with no spinnakers. But we all have the same handicaps, which also makes it complex. You don't have the rating rules involved with the results, so the racing is very competitive. You really have to fight for your place. And I like that."

Altogether, there are four classes of bareboats, all of which will be fighting for their respective places. But that will be the case with the entire fleet, with a quintet of CSA classes; a pair of sport boat classes; two multihull classes; the Island Time group for cruising boats; and two dedicated ocean racing classes. In fact, one of those, the CSA Ocean Racing 1 class, should be nothing less than epic, with seven Volvo 60, 65 and 70s registered, a tremendous gathering of these round-the-world thoroughbreds. They'll be a visual feast for spectators, ashore and afloat.

The time for talking, then, is over. The starting gun is about to fire. Let the games—and the parties—begin.

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