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Sailing Poland on top as Leopard steps on to the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge podium

by James Boyd / International Maxi Association 7 Mar 22:28 PST 3-6 March 2022
After strong results in the RORC Caribbean 600 and St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Sailing Poland now leads the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge © James Tomlinson /

Following one of the biggest wind inshore regattas where racing pressed ahead regardless, this year's St Maarten Heineken Regatta will be one which competitors will recall with a wry smile, bragging about 'how they survived it'. It was also the second of the International Maxi Association's new four event Caribbean Maxi Challenge, following on from February's RORC Caribbean 600.

The four days of racing culminated in Sunday's ultra-lively course around marks starting off the Franco-Dutch Caribbean island's Simpson Bay. As Chris Sherlock, skipper of the Farr 100 Leopard 3 described it: "We had 35 knots at the start. It was probably the hairiest start in my 27 years being involved with the Leopard program and probably the hairiest day's sailing for an inshore regatta...but we loved it!" Quite an admission for a skipper who, since Leopard 3 was launched in 2007, has campaigned her relentlessly across the planet, mainly through Mike Slade's long ownership of her.

Sherlock continued: "It was great fun. 25-26 knots of boat speed downwind. It couldn't have been better." More importantly Leopard 3's enthusiastic Dutch owner also relished it. "He just loved it - driving a 100ft maxi downwind in 25-30 knots, matching wind speed. You don't get it much better than that in t-shirts and shorts..."

In this week's brisk conditions it was the boats geared up for sailing around the planet that prevailed. The event attracts many former Volvo Ocean Race yachts and competing this year were four VO70s and four VO65s. Ultimately it was three of these that owned the podium, separated by just one point after four races. Robert Gwózdz and Marcin Sutkowski's Gdynia-based VO65 Sailing Poland claimed both Saturday and Sunday's races to win on countback from the Jelmer van Beek-skippered Janssen de Jong - DutchSail.

Ironically calling tactics on board Sailing Poland was Volvo Ocean Race legend Bouwe Bekking, who found himself racing against his old steed (Janssen de Jong - DutchSail Bekking had skippered to second and then third place respectively in the last two editions of the fully crewed round the world race as Team Brunel).

"It has been a very good week and a lot of fun, because it has been a very competitive class with all the VO65s and VO70s, plus Leopard and Deep Blue," Bekking said. "We were very rusty in the beginning, but we had a fantastic week and winning is always nice, especially for the owners and their guests."

Having finished second maxi in the RORC Caribbean 600 when she was skippered by triple Farr 30 World Championship Deneen Demourkas, Sailing Poland now leads the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge at its halfway stage. The IMA CMC leaderboard currently has a Polish 1-2 with the Polish National Foundation's VO70 I Love Poland (ex-Puma), skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, currently holding second, three points from first.

A St Maarten Heineken Regatta regular over the years, Bekking complimented the race committee: "They did a really good job on the courses - they sent the big classes on big courses and kept them away from everyone else. It was three hours of sailing, which is excellent. We enjoyed the sailing."

For Wendy Schmidt and her crew on Deep Blue, it was a challenging week racing in brisk conditions for the first time in their still relatively new Botin Partners 85. Sadly on the final day, they suffered their first significant technical set-back. Deep Blue's American tactician and project manager Rob MacMillan explained: "Today was fun. We knew it was going to be squally. We got off to a great start, but after we tacked on to the lay line to the mark we started to have some hydraulic gremlins and we couldn't trim any of the sails, so we had to sail most of that beat with the sails not trimmed.

"We were able to get around the mark first and did the reaching leg and the team did a spectacular gybe set. It was still pretty windy. Then the same hydraulic issue popped up and we had to shut the entire system down." They got up and running again but rounding the leeward mark and attempting to head back upwind they once again were unable to trim on and chose to retire.

Wendy Schmidt and her team are St Maarten Heineken Regatta regulars. While this was their first time here in Deep Blue, they previously competed in Schmidt's Swan 80 Selene, winning the Maxi class in 2019. MacMillan said of the event: "It is one of our favourite events in the Caribbean - big wind, blue water, bright skies. There is a good energy with the mix between bareboats and maxis. Sailing in a 10-boat class is always fun with boats this big. This is a good event for more maxis to come do."

The IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge continues over 17-23 April with Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille.

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