The excitement on the docks and bustling through the streets of Simpson Bay is palpable as competitors make final preparations for the 38th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which kicks off tomorrow. Despite the island of St. Maarten still being in recovery mode post-Hurricane Irma, the support and camaraderie surrounding the four-day (March 1-4) Caribbean favorite is at an all-time high as organizers prepare to welcome a 101-strong fleet – representing 25 countries and eight Caribbean islands and racing in Maxi, Ocean Racing, CSA, Bareboat, Melges 24, Multihull and Island Time Classes.
“This is our first time ever racing in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and our first year campaigning the boat on the Caribbean regatta circuit, so we’re looking forward to what this week brings,” said Samuel Albrecht, a two-time Olympian and tactician for Brazilian team Camiranga, which will be racing in the Maxi Class. Led by owner/driver Eduardo Plass, the team has been campaigning for ten years, racing in South America and Europe. “Our first event this year was the RORC Caribbean 600, where we experienced extremely rough conditions and broke our mainsail. It is looking like we will have the exact opposite experience this week, with very light air forecasted. It will be good to see how we perform.”
The regatta commences tomorrow with the optional and separately scored Gill Commodore’s Cup, where Przemyslaw Tarnacki’s Polish team racing VOR 70 Green Dragon are returning to defend their class win in the Ocean Racing Division. “We’ve chartered a number of different boats and last year competed with Ambersail, but we really like the performance of the Volvo boats,” said Tarnacki, adding that the team is fresh off the Rolex Sydney Hobart in Australia, where they raced a VOR 80. “St. Maarten is a very special place for us and this is our sixth consecutive time competing in the regatta. We are really happy to be back here and are pleasantly surprised with the condition of the island, as we expected much worse after the Hurricane.”
Tarnacki’s team is joined by a slew of regatta veterans, including St. Maarten local Jan van den Eynde who has raced in the event every year but one since its inception in 1980. “It is a very special event and as you can see from the turnout, there are a lot of people that are very supportive of the island and the regatta,” said van den Eynde who lost his Open 750 Panic Attack to the hurricane in September and will be racing this week in the CSA Class with his brand new boat, Esse 850 Wanna B. “I raced the Open 750 for eleven years. It was super fast and in the right conditions we could finish an hour before the other competitors. The Esse 850 is the complete opposite of my previous boat. It was built out of Switzerland and designed to be raced on lakes. We’ve only sailed the boat three times, but its strong points are supposed to be light winds, which is good news for this week.”
Image: Laurens Morel