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An interview with Michele Korteweg on the 2023 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

by David Schmidt 28 Feb 2023 08:00 PST March 2-5, 2023
Three VO65s are confirmed to return for the 2023 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta: Team Austrian Ocean Racing, Team JAJO, and Ambersail II © Laurens Morel

If you're looking to race hard all day and party deep into the night, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is not to be missed. The annual event (March 2-5, 2023) has long enjoyed a storied reputation for fantastic on-the-water racing, followed by live music and flowing beverages, and odds are bang on that the 2023 edition will follow in this same tradition.

While each Caribbean regatta is a gem onto itself, one thing that differentiates the Heineken Regatta, as it's called, from the rest is its early-season positioning on the Caribbean regatta circuit. The result, of course, are boat loads of racers, itching to air-out their (metaphoric) sails after long winter months on both sides of the Atlantic.

This year's event is attracting some hardware exotica, including a pair of Volvo Ocean 65s, a Volvo Open 70, a 70-foot trimaran, a trio of Diam 24 trimarans, and a foiling Gunboat G4, while the rest of the entry list is filled with 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-foot monohulls.

I checked in with Michele Korteweg, regatta director of the 2023 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, via email, to learn more about this exciting Caribbean regatta.

The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is one of the biggest Caribbean regattas. Can you please give us a bit of backstory on the event, its culture, and its competition levels?

The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta [was] started by a group of sailors who were looking to race, [and] the first event saw 12 competiting boats. This grew to hundreds in a matter of years, bringing some of the hottest boats and world-famous sailors to St. Maarten.

With Heineken as the title sponsor, an onshore program was quickly established. Creating a post-sailing get together where the racing was discussed and Heineken was consumed, later in the evening live music was added, [and] that developed into world-renowned concerts showcasing world-class acts like Maxi Priest, UB40, Flo-Rida and many others.

The racing has always remained at the core of the event, offering very competitive racing for maxi's, sport fleets, multihulls and bareboats.

Of course, there is also room for the more casual sailor in the Island Time Class. The event is open to everyone, with a casual and laid back feel to the Island and the event!

What kinds of numbers and interest levels are you seeing ahead of the 2023 edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, compared with the 2022 and 2020 editions?

There is always a lot of interest in the event and we see that in our numbers.

Again, I think we will stay around the 100 entries, so much is happening in the world that is affecting people's participation. This will still guarantee good size classes and strong competition.

What kinds of on-the-water racing can attending skippers and crews look forward to? Also, in the ideal world, how many races does the regatta hope to score?

St. Maarten is famous for the Round the Island race, which is everyone's favorite race.

Our races will take the fleet around the southern shore side, and for the larger and faster boats courses are made towards Anguilla and St. Barts.

There will be windward leeward races for those boats who score well in these types of races. Ultimately the goal is to offer multiple races on Thursday and Sunday for most classes, where weather permits of course.

The CSA Monohull division presents an interesting diversity of rides, from a Melges 24 to a VO65. That's quite a spread. What kind of challenges will that present for the race committee?

The Race Committee has been excellent when it comes to class allocation and has been seeing very competitive classes. It has created a large number of courses which offers flexibility for all the different types of boats and race styles.

Likewise, the CSA Multihull division also shows some great diversity, from a cruising-comfortable Leopard 50 to a foiling G4. What kind of challenges does this present?

The challenge is always to have enough boats per class to have enough competition, sometimes you don't have an option and get classes with only three boats. However, these are sometimes the most competitive classes as daily results can change per day.

The CSA rating rule is also upgraded to ensure that newer type boats, like the foiling boats, will still be rated competitively. Distance races is important for the faster boats, each year we still find ways to make it work, however challenging it may be. It's very impressive how it all comes together!

Will Timbalero 3 be the first foiler to compete at this regatta? Also, are there any safety concerns about managing a fleet that ranges from bareboats to a seriously quick cat?

It could very well be our very first foiler! Besides the kite foiling class, [which] we hosted in 2019 of course.

Safety is very important to us and we take it very seriously. Luckily, we are receiving full support from [the] coast guard, the Dutch Marines [and] Sea Rescue on both sides of the island.

Are there any new additions or important changes to the 2023 regatta, compared with previous editions?

We are happy to be back with two start areas and looking forward to offering more races per day where possible. We will also communicate more by WhatsApp to get information out more efficiently.

This year we [will] also emphasize some of our key values through our Next Generation Championship that highlights youth teams from the Caribbean racing in a one design class, sustainability through a mangrove planting project for which we invite sailors to volunteer their time to plant seedlings, [and by] representing women in sailing through a discussion panel and specific trophy, and much more.

Our Race Village will also have a bigger line up of live entertainment with a performance from international Reggae artist Koffee.

Can you please tell us a bit about the regatta art competition?

This event is important to raise awareness about the regatta and its impact on the island among local youth. Through a creative means it allows us to educate them about the event as well as the importance of keeping our environment clean.

The regatta beach clean-up sounds like a great—and green—idea. Can you tell us a bit about this effort, and the kinds of results (and participation) that you and the other event organizers hope to realize?

This event is mainly focused on the local youth in combination with the regatta art competition, but everyone is welcome. It is our way of giving back to the community. We bring a lot of traffic, tourists and business to the island, which also effect the environment as more waste is produced and some of it is not always properly deposited in bins provided.

A beach clean-up allows us to make our beaches cleaner and set an example for everyone. Again, educating the importance of our environment. This year we are adding the Mangrove Planting Project where we plant seedlings for each participating boat. Asking our participants and island visitors to help us plant the mangroves to be part of the efforts.

Can you please tell us about any other 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?

We always make recycling efforts, which is important on our island where this is not as well implemented as in other countries. Using recyclable materials, reducing printed materials, are just some of the efforts we continue to make every year.

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