The 25th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta Starts With The 33-Mile Round The Island Race

There are few places as fun to race sailboats in as the Caribbean, and one of the best and longest-running regattas held there is the St. Maarten Heineken regatta. Now in its 25th year, the Heineken is a great mix of grand-prix raceboats, multihulls, and bareboats chartered from some of the many charter companies that call the Caribbean home. This year's event is the largest ever, with 261 boats competing. The bulk of the fleet are bareboats that sail with no spinnakers, including the 28-boat Bareboat 2 class, all 50-foot Beneteaus. There's also a healthy big boat class; Tom Hill's RP 75 Titan 12, Joe Dockery's R/P 81 Carrera, Peter Harrison's gorgeous 115-foot ketch Sojana, a Volvo 60, and Stuart Robinson's Swan 70 Stay Calm. There are two reasons to come to the Heineken Regatta: for some, it's a chance to race and go trophy hunting, for others it's a party with some sailing mixed in. There are trophies for racing well, and there's a trophy for partying well. If you attend every regatta party with everybody in the crew wearing the same crew gear, drink nothing but Heineken, and stay until the band stops playing, you're in the hunt for the best party crew trophy. Of course, if you do that every night, there's a high probability that that's the only trophy you'll get. The first race of the event was the round-the-island race, with different classes sailing different course lengths. Bareboats with no spinnakers don't get around the course all that quickly, and there's a 6 p.m. time limit deadline, so they sailed a shorter course. For those of us racing in the spinnaker classes, it was a 33-mile jaunt with wind conditions ranging between 4 and 11 knots-which meant a long, but fun day in the Caribbean sun. We're racing in Spinnaker 2 on the Swan 45 Plenty, skippered by Alex Roepers of Stonington, Conn. Last year at the Heineken, Plenty won its class, and we're looking for a repeat this year. Our regatta has started out well; we had a great start and managed to keep the other Swan 45, Vixen, and the very quick R/P 43 Storm behind us, despite a race that had at least three re-starts, thanks to the light, fluky wind conditions. Geoff Ewenson, of Annapolis, is our tactician, and he put us in all the right places on a racecourse where there were plenty of opportunities for disaster. There were big holes in the breeze, lots of current, and sail choice was an important factor. We did our best to keep the boat rolling and always seemed to have enough boatspeed to stay in front. Our big worry was Edgar Cato's Hissar, a chartered Swan 56 also known as Lolita, which has a well-deserved reputation as a hard boat to beat and was ahead of us all day. But waterline length wasn't as important as a light boat today, and we managed to stay close enough to Hissar to probably beat them on corrected time. The results haven't been posted yet for us to know the outcome of today's race, and we're worried about Carlo Falcone's Vallicelli 44 Caccia alla Volpe, which we lost sight of soon after the start, but we're hoping that we saved our time on. Tomorrow we'll sail two races, and end up on the French half of St. Maarten [The island is owned by two countries, France and The Netherlands] in Marigot Bay. This regatta doesn't have windward/leeward racecourses, and the zig-zag courses we sail for the next two days will test our tactical, navigational, and boat handling skills. The forecast calls for 11- to 13-knot winds, which will help us keep in touch with Hissar, and hopefully make the day a bit shorter than today. For full results, see www.heinekenregatta.com