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An interview with Michele Korteweg on the 2022 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

by David Schmidt 1 Mar 2022 08:00 PST March 3-6, 2022
Maxi competition at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta © Laurens Morel

Few things are finer than stepping onto a palm-tree lined tarmac after flying in from somewhere seasonally awful (sorry, “cold”), getting that passport stamped, and finding your crewmates for a long weekend of Caribbean racing. For years, the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta (March 3-6, 2022) has attracted sailors from both sides of the Pond with its fantastic sailing conditions, well-run courses, competitive fleets, and popular nightlife.

Like so many international regattas, the 2021 edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta fell victim to the pandemic.

But—like with so many other cancelled-2021 regattas—the organizers of the 2022 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta have been working hard to ensure that the 42nd edition makes up for lost time while being as safe as possible.

Sail-World checked in with Michele Korteweg, general manager of the St. Maarten Yacht Club, via email, to learn more about the return of this late-winter Caribbean classic.

What kinds of numbers and interest levels are you seeing ahead of the 2022 edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, compared with the 2020 edition?

All things considered, we are very pleased with this year’s registration numbers for the 2022 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, with 90 entries so far, and quite a few new registrations just this week!

As a benchmark, the 2020 Regatta had 130 entries; so while we are not exactly at our pre-pandemic levels, we are certainly making a very strong comeback.

In terms of the kinds of boats that will be populating the starting line(s) once the guns begin sounding, are you anticipating mostly smaller boats (IC24s, Melges 24, etc), or do you think you will see the same kinds of boats represented that one might have encountered at, say, the 2019/2020 editions of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta?

We are excited to be welcoming back a very diverse fleet, akin to that of regattas past. Without an official tally, you wouldn’t even notice the difference!

The big-boat classes have many returning Volvo Ocean Race boats: a few VO65s who competed in 2020, plus three VO70s. St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is also part of the newly established IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge, which has attracted competitors such as Farr 100 Leopard 3 and Wendy Schmidt’s new Botin 85 Deep Blue.

But it’s not all big boats; we have a nice collection of Class40s, J/Boats, the usual Melges, and a robust bareboat charter fleet that will guarantee great competition for all!

What represents a bigger slice of your fleet—bareboats from the different charter fleets, or race-charter boats that people rent from private owners? Can you give me an idea as to what percentage of the overall fleet these categories represent? Also, are race-charter boats gaining in popularity over bareboats if you look at recent trends?

I would say about 20-percent of the fleet this year are bareboat charters, and at least 10-percent are race-charters. The numbers are certainly converging, as it was roughly 30-percent bareboats in 2020.

Bareboats are always a popular choice, but the fleet of race-charters is definitely trending upwards. More owners are making their boats available, and with most race-charters having an owner’s representative onboard, sailors are getting more access to higher-performance boats.

A majority of the Volvo fleet is operating under this model, with a safe mix of Pro and paying amateur crew and/or sponsors onboard to help fund their campaigns. The “ProAm” race experience was a big hit during prior Volvo Ocean Race events, and we are happy to see that enthusiasm continuing in the Caribbean regatta circuit.

What kinds of on-the-water racing can attending skippers and crews look forward to? Are we talking about mostly W-L racing, or will you also run races that use the islands as turning marks?

Our race committee is committed to running dynamic courses that complement our expansive fleet. There will be plenty of offsets for all, and long reaches down the East and West coasts of the island for the big boat classes.

In years past, we’ve taken the Ocean Racing fleet all the way over to a mark off Anguilla or into a challenging offset off Phillipsburg. We also have our annual Round the Island Race where the entire fleet makes a circumnavigation of the island, so all boats can expect to see all points of sail and dig into their sail wardrobes!

Are there any new additions or important changes to the 2022 regatta, compared to previous editions?

In a world of change, one thing that hasn’t changed is the beautiful Caribbean sailing conditions we are known for! Of course we‘ve all had to make adjustments to our lives, and the regatta is determined to make the event safe for all with any changes as seamless as possible.

This year we will not be hosting the big concerts we are known for, in order to keep crowd sizes controlled and within set government limits.

We’ve also created a pre-registration health survey and registration process that will ensure all sailors are vaccinated or recently tested negative. At registration, all cleared crew will receive their Heineken Green wristbands, which will serve as a health pass for racing and “Green”-zone local bars and restaurants.

What about onshore entertainment? What can sailors look forward to, once the finishing guns have gone silent?

Despite not hosting concerts this year, we are still prepared to live by our motto and have some “Serious Fun!” We will host post-race hospitality and prizegiving at a race village in Yacht Club Port de Plaisance, where moored boats can enjoy special bottle service and a VIP experience with their teams.

We are partnering with other local bars and restaurants in the “Green”-zone to offer specials for sailors to enjoy the island in true Heineken-style. More updates on “Green”-zone festivities will be announced in coming weeks on @stmaartenheinekenregatta Instagram and Facebook.

I realize that the pandemic is a fast-moving target, but can you please tell me about any lessons that you and the other organizers have learned about safety running a regatta amidst a global heath disaster? Also, given that the 2021 edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta was cancelled because of the pandemic, how have you guys learned these lessons? Specifically, were there any valuable lessons that you learned from watching how other regattas were run in 2020/2021, or is it driven more by government advisories/policies?

What we’ve all learned from the pandemic and hosting events is that you must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Most event organizers, ourselves included, spent the whole year making plans, health protocols and adjustments to safely host 2021 events. But ultimately, we all cannot do anything if the government decides it is not within the public health interest to host a large international event. We have seen how quickly the situation can change, so we must all be flexible.

We’ve always worked in partnership with the local government who graciously supports our events, and we know that open and clear communication is key. Same with our sailors. We are all in this together, and we appreciate our sailors being accommodating to necessary adjustments for public health.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the club has made over the last year or two to further green-up the regatta and make it an even more sustainable event?

Our team of sailors and water enthusiasts are dedicated to making St. Maarten Heineken Regatta a more sustainable event. This year, we will have one starting zone in Simpson Bay, reducing the amount of RC boats on the water.

In the race village, sailors will meet at our sustainable (and straw-free) bar, made of recycled materials. All race-related materials will be available on yachtscoring.com, which is a great platform to manage paperless race assets and communications.

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