It’s finally showtime at the 42nd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta with a stellar opening act for the first day of racing. All classes went on one long race course today — splitting the fleets — with big boats and sport boats heading east to St. Barths, while the Island Time and Bareboat classes went west towards Marigot.
There was a lot of action on a tight start line for the CSA1 fleet, essentially 3 fleets in one with two Maxis, four VO65s and four VO70s. A relatively short start line and encroaching depth restrictions near shore on the starboard-tack start called for some smooth moves amongst the fleet. When asked what has been Atlas Ocean Racing’s biggest challenge transitioning from their VO60 they raced in the 2020 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta to their new VO70, Il Mostro, Gilles Barbot shared that the team is “learning how to dance with more components on the boat, and the dance is more complex.”
The two Maxis, Leopard3 and Deep Blue, had their own duet, focusing on their Maxi matchup while maneuvering between the Volvo fleet. “When we start the day we have to make a fundamental decision whether we are looking at Deep Blue as the main competition and racing them around the course, and just seeing how it pans out against the Volvo 65 & 70s; and that’s what we did today,” said Ian Budgen, tactician of Leopard3.
“We’ve sailed against Deep Blue in Maxi Worlds in Sardinia and again in St Tropez, so we have a reasonable gauge of what we think is our performance against her. We sort of knew that we were probably going to be slightly quicker than her upwind, but slower than her downwind, and that’s exactly how it panned out.
“When we went around Ile Fourchue at the top, we were 2-3 minutes ahead, but then by the time we got back down to mainland St. Maarten, actually she was only a fraction ahead of us. Luckily we stuck onto her and basically matched her gybe for gybe within 2-3 boat lengths all the way down to the finish line,” continued Ian.
The big boats aren’t raced by just the boys anymore. While most teams are still predominantly men, crew rule adaptations to the Ocean Race over the last 5 years have opened up more opportunities for women to get onboard. One such young woman, Laura van Veen, has been with the team for over a year, and has certainly earned her place on the VO65 team Janssen de Jong – DutchSail with her hard work and determination.
“Normally we have 1 or 2 more girls onboard, so it’s not a lot, but it’s changing a little bit. I think it’s good for us that we can join and be part of the team. I do mostly trim, but move around the boat a lot, and I think for me what I really add is good communication to the team,” said Laura van Veen, VO65 Janssen de Jong.
Despite having an epic big boat fleet for 42nd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, small boats are putting on a great show. The hyper-competitive CSA7 fleet is packed with well-matched J-boats who can easily gauge their performance right on the water. There’s no room for mistakes in this fleet; and from start to finish, every second counts!
“We didn’t get the best start to the race, in fact we weren’t really in the race for a vast majority of it. So it shows that over a long race like that, you just have to keep pushing and never give up.” said Julian White, Skipper of Liquid, J122. “We came in right behind the other J122, which was good fun, and we had Spike there as well, a J111. I think we just got them by 6 seconds corrected, which just goes to show how close the racing is.”
The best performance on the water for the day has to go to the local youth sailing team from the Sint Maarten Yacht Club, racing on a Melges 24 Island Water World 2. A third place win might not be something everyone would write home about, but these youth sailors should be the talk of the town! Led by their sailing coach, Sam Peeks, the team of two females and two males ages 15-17 made a great debut at their first regatta on the Melges 24. Considering these young sailors are competing against top Caribbean Melges teams and can pull out a podium on their first day, they are certainly a team to watch!