Serious Sailing, Serious Fun

Published on August 22nd, 2017

Herb McCormick shares a memory in Cruising World magazine of his winter escape to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta for that perfect blend of competition and parties.

It was an early Thursday evening in the beginning of March at the St. Maarten Yacht Club, on this occasion perhaps the busiest watering hole in the entire Caribbean. The club’s two bars were packed three deep, and it was impossible to find a place to stand on the deck overlooking the water.

As the clock ticked ever closer to 1730, the sense of anticipation and excitement was almost palpable. When the moment arrived, nearby vehicular traffic came to a standstill and everyone at the yacht club turned their attention seaward, ready for the show to begin. The bridge at the entrance to the Simpson Bay Lagoon was opened for business.

And the moveable feast of what amounted to an amazing boat parade commenced.

The next morning, the 37th running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta would begin. Many of the boats coming back to the lagoon were flat-out racers returning from competition in a pre-regatta series called the Gill Commodore’s Cup. Others were bareboat charter craft that would be competing in the Heineken, coming back from a day of practice.

Then there were the cruising boats, many of which would also be racing against one another in a special division for cruisers called the Lottery class. A superyacht or two slipped through, as well as a fleet of state-of-the-art catamarans. If you love boats, it was a treat for the eyes.

The crews, many wearing costumes, hula skirts or crazy hats, were a big part of the spectacle. So were the self-appointed “judges” stationed at the club’s railing, who hoisted placards scoring the boats, much like the judges at an Olympic figure-skating competition: 10, 8, 5 and so on. It was all quite a scene.

The Heineken Regatta’s motto is “serious fun,” an apt description of the annual happening that blends terrific on-the-­water competition with memorable shoreside parties and live music, which attract not only the racers but seemingly the entire population of St. Maarten. There’s nothing else quite like it in the sailing world.

Full report… click here.

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