The 39th edition of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta took place on the first weekend in March offering four days of spectacular sailing. This unique event attracted 1500 sailors from 22 different countries including a high pedigree of competitors; from Olympic champions to Paralympians, to world champion sailors and around-the-world racers.
Way beyond yacht racing
The experience of being at a St Maarten Heineken Regatta goes beyond the adrenalin of racing. It’s also the boats jostling to get through the lifting bridge playing their loud music and dancing with crews wearing outrageous outfits. It’s the cheers, the jeers and water-pistol shooting from the crowds excitedly observing from the St Maarten Yacht Club. The boats tie-up alongside each other in the lagoon’s marina with new-found sailing mates cracking open ice cold Heinekens against the stunning backdrop of St Maarten. All these elements combined are what make this Caribbean regatta so popular and so different. The dockside fun sounds like a combination of the opening of the Royal Cape Yacht Club’s sailing season and the Mykonos Offshore regatta in Cape Town, South Africa. The one big difference is the climate and water temperature!
Racing for all
From the combined efforts of four race committees, the regatta is tailored to many sailors whether they are racing incredible Maxis and Performance Multihulls or whether they are cruising on bare-boat charters and live-aboard cruising yachts. There is a mixture of windward-leeward courses and longer coastal races. All in all, the regatta caters to everyone and anyone.
The second day of the regatta is a race around the island, which is a highlight offering a unique opportunity to see the whole island from the sea. This year’s race was a day for records as Fling 16, with many South African’s sailing aboard, was the fastest monohull with a spinnaker, Ineffable was the fastest multi-hull, Lascaris was the fastest bare-boat and Eliza Vastgoed was reportedly the fastest non-spinnaker sailboat.
The final day of racing (Sunday, 3 March) featured courses of differing lengths to get as many boats as possible sailing toward the finish line together in order to create a wall of sails . For many classes, this final race would prove crucial to overall results. With trade winds of 15-18 knots, almost all boats chose to close- tack up the shore. The shifting winds and choppy seas approaching the famous Pointe Blanche provided plenty of opportunity to win or lose places.
The parties associated with the regatta are also a huge draw to the island of St Maarten. Every night after the day’s sailing, a big music and entertainment show is put on by the Heineken Regatta team. These are not just your average parties though; in the past they have featured some of the biggest names in the music industry such as The Black Eyed Peas, UB40 and Shaggy, with each night’s party being held at a different location to provide the opportunity to further explore the island.
The Heineken regatta does good too. The initiative called Kidz at Sea offers teenagers the chance to sail in the regatta too, opening a door to them to be involved in our sport. Kidz at Sea Foundation co-founder Garth Steyn told The Daily Herald, “To be part of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta means that our up-and-coming sailors, all age between 15 and 19, are treated warmly and with welcome. That helps them cross over the feeling of being a ‘newbie’ outsider to being ‘belongers,’ as we say in the Caribbean”.
Kidz at Sea Foundation is dedicated to providing young people with access to the opportunities that exist within St. Maarten’s marine industry, including water-sports and other water-based activities. The projects and programmes are geared toward teaching participants life skills to help them succeed both on and off the water, developing skills such as teamwork, communication, accountability and self-reliance.
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta Race Director Paul Miller said, “Supporting the Kidz at Sea Foundation encourages young people to get out on the water, which is essential to the future of the sport and the island. We wish them every single success as they put their hard work and training into practice and experience the thrill of racing in our stunning waters.”
This St Maarten Heineken regatta is known for its champagne sailing with roller-coaster downwind legs and crashing upwind sailing, spraying the crews hiking the rails. It’s also known for the epic parties, sunshine and fun; all packaged neatly into four days.
Find full results of the regatta here.
Images: Laurens Morel