Retrospect to Heineken Regatta

Published on July 30th, 2020

Herb McCormick, Cruising World’s executive editor takes a look back to his visit to St. Maarten to cover the Heineken Regatta in early March 2020. It now seems like a surreal experience in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.


There are several things I have in common with our distinguished regular columnist, one Capt. Gary M. “Fatty” Goodlander. We’re both lifelong nautical scribes; have published thousands of magazine articles, and several marine books; and have a deep, abiding love for sailing. But for the purposes of this little essay, I’ll point to one other experience Fatty and I have shared: We’ve both served as the press officer of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.

There are a lot of fantastic perks to a career in sailing journalism, I’d venture to say that Fatty’s and my collective passport entries over the years are far more extensive and unusual than the average bear’s. But getting rich, alas, is most certainly not one of them. Which is why side gigs, such as books, freelance work, or working for regattas—are very welcome tasks indeed.

And that brings me to my most recent visit to St. Maarten, late this past winter, for the 40th edition of that crazy, wonderful event. (It was actually my second swing to the island in recent months.)

Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that the Heineken Regatta, which drew sailors from Europe, Russia, the US, Australia, South Africa and many Caribbean islands, competing on just under 150 yachts, and which took place from March 5 to 8, was likely the last international sailing event to take place before the planet basically closed for business later that month due to the onset of the novel coronavirus.

It’s hard to believe, just that short time ago, that few of us had any clue that before long we’d all be donning Jesse James-type bandannas for the ever-infrequent dashes to the supermarket.

Was it a surreal experience? In retrospect, indeed. But at the time, there was no real sense that we were all clueless spring breakers, or that we were pushing some irresponsible envelope to have a bit of fun at the world’s expense before it all went sideways. Who knew that all our lives would soon be governed by some bizarre concept known as “social distancing?”

Life on the island, in the bars and restaurants, and yes, out on the racecourses, carried forth very much as usual. On the day that the regatta started, the first positive case of COVID-19 on the island was still nearly two weeks away. Of course, once that happened, St. Maarten quickly went on lockdown, and before the month was over, the international airport was basically closed to passengers. The wagons had been circled. – Full Story

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