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Goats and Breakdowns in Paradise

My first trip to the Caribbean for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta involved a bit of the unexpected, especially when it came down to the racing.

March 8, 2012
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A few days ago, I was driving up a steep, winding road in St. Maarten past a couple of grazing goats on the way back to my beachside lodging for a quick dip before the Heineken Regatta party.

Wait… Goats? Really?

My first trip to the Caribbean went along those lines: a bit of the expected, with a bit of the unexpected.

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To start with the expected—it was gorgeous! Every day brought sun and big breeze to the racing. The regatta took different routes around St. Maarten each day, which allowed for a good look at the hilly, beach-filled paradise (for those of us who didn’t have our noses glued to the telltales).

The turquoise water was perfect for a quick dip after the racing, and paired with some creole cuisine or fresh seafood with a cold beverage (after the swim, of course!), it wasn’t hard to relax.

And now, the unexpected.

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I sailed on Equation, an STP 65 Farr based out of Detroit, Mich., on Saturday. We had another breezy day at hand, and were looking forward to a nice, fast spinnaker run. The 35-mile course started in Simpson Bay, went out between St. Maarten and St. Barts, around the top of the island, and then downwind to Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Maarten. Here’s a peek at the boat I shot Thursday from the press boat–stay tuned for some onboard footage from Saturday.

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After a great start, we got out into big waves by St. Barts that were made somewhat unpredictable by converging currents. We approached one large wave, went over the backside, and landed with a BANG!

“Rig! That’s the rig! Main down!”

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As quickly as the racing had started, it was over. The unsettling noise was the middle windward spreader shearing in half. The team got the sails down efficiently, and we motored back to St. Maarten, disappointed but at least unharmed. No fast downwind ride for us today…

Bill Alcott–co-owner of Equation with Tom Anderson and Ed Palm–chatted with me on the ride back to the island: “When I heard that, I thought, not again!” The boat, which was formerly Rosebud, lost its rudder in last year’s Bayview Mackinac race.

In spite of these unlucky breaks, the team’s looking forward to completing their Caribbean circuit and then bringing the boat back to the Great Lakes for the summer. Stay tuned for more on Equation in a future article in Sailing World.

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I certainly hadn’t expected to be out of the racing. Fortunately, the rest of the unexpected wasn’t so negative.

The legendary parties turned out to be much more than I expected. Every night in a different location on the island, a huge stage is set up, along with a strip of tents and booths for booze, food, and photos. It felt like the entire island was there to party.

And the goats were unexpected. In addition to goats, dogs and cats also roam free-range around the island. Some even attended the parties!

Lastly, I promised my best friend I’d bring her back some Ting. Amazingly, it made it through customs and didn’t explode in my bag.

It’s no wonder that some sailors attend the event religiously (like Alcott—he’s been there for many of the past 16 years). The racing might not always go as expected, but hey, it’s the Caribbean in March!

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