Kate Cope's Purple Mist is racing with an all-female team, including her double-handed racing partner Claire Dresser and Claire's daughter Emily © Laurens Morel
SIMPSON BAY--The famous Around the Island Race at the 43rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta took place this year on Saturday, the penultimate race day. PRO Mark Townsend had made an early call to shift the race, which traditionally takes place Friday, by 24 hours to take advantage of the stronger wind forecast for the 31.6NM route.
With the wind from the east and ranging from 18 knots with gusts up to 20 knots, there were looming clouds threatening some short sharp squalls and some ‘liquid sunshine’ for the competitors. But the sun prevailed, and Saturday drew the crowds on the water, many in awe of the mighty Volvo 70s and 65s dwarfing the sports boats and Diam fleet. There were cheers of support for many of the local teams as they did their pre-start preparations, sailing past family and friends watching them from the water against the backdrop of the stunning coastlines of both Dutch and French St. Maarten/Martin.
A dark sky consumed the fleet as they tacked through Marigot Bay, but all competitors held fast with full mains in over 20 kts of breeze © Laurens Morel
With quick efficiency, the race committee got every start off cleanly. Kate Cope and Claire Dresser in Purple Mist got a great start in CSA 7, but in the CSA 6 start, Cricket (First 35) bailed out of the line, with L’Esperance winning the start. In CSA 5, Bella J had an eye on the forecast and started the day reefed, while technical issues left Taz racing behind time to get across the line. Technical difficulties also plagued CSA 4, with Team Island Water World II also missing her start due to rigging issues that subsequently forced her to retire from the race.
Then it was the turn of the pocket rocket Diam fleet, with ultimate race winner Cry Baby also missing their start by some considerable margin. Nico Ramis admitted they simply misjudged the start time. “I looked up and said, hey Pierre, I think there’s something going on over there. It was our start.” But with over 30 miles of racing ahead, they fought hard and caught up some of the lost time on the reaches.
It was GFA Caraibes who led the fleet round the turning mark, but then set off a 90 degree angle as if heading for an off-set mark used in last year’s round the island race. However, it was the female team on board Purple Mist who, having read the race instructions correctly, turned 180 degrees to pop their kite and head straight back downwind to the next mark. Spotting their error, the leading boats executed a quick adjustment on their course to also set off directly downwind.
Finally, it was the start of the biggest beasts to set off from the start line to play catch up, eventually meeting up with the rest of the fleet by the leeward turning mark off the south coast of the island. Seeing hundreds of yachts racing downwind, with their colorful spinnaker kites set, was a treat for the spectator boats, who scrambled to keep clear from mixed fleet and odd angles between the asymmetric and symmetric kites across teams.
There were a few early disasters, with J-Aguar’s bright green kite remaining knotted for a full mile before the crew got it sorted. Even the fully-professionally crewed Volvo 70 I Love Poland had an inadvertent broach downwind. “I suddenly heard a shout” said crew member Boris Michniewicz, “then it just happened. Luckily everyone was OK and then we just worked really hard to make up for the lost distance.”
With the smallest boats reaching the downwind turning mark at Plum Point at the same time as many of the larger fastest boats, it was a matter of crew skill combined with the nerve of the helm to see who held their kit up longest to manage the best rounding. Some chickened out early to ensure a close mark rounding, whilst others suddenly found themselves having to give water to a mighty trimaran defiantly maintaining their windward boat right of way.
As the majority of the fleet yachts started the upwind beat through the Anguilla channel, the St. Maarten weather turned momentarily menacing, with a large black cloud creating a wind squall and rain shower. But for most of the crews battling upwind, they were more focussed on watching for starboard right of way boats, with some choosing to head as close inshore as possible.
The two leading Volvos, Wind Whisper and I Love Poland maintained close cover, until the superior speed from the VO70 gradually clawed over the smaller VO65. Owner Marcin Sutkowski said, “It was a lot of fun. We make everything as perfect as possible, but we cannot fight the rating. The modifications on the VO70s make them about 4% faster, but the handicap is only about 0.5% different. It’s impossible to beat them. But the most important thing is we had a lot of fun, and this is especially important for the young sailors that we have on board.”
Female crew members Arianne van de Loosdrecht and Liz Wardley agreed that it was a great race. “It was super good,” said Arianne. “It was really, really hard work though. Going around the island meant a lot of sail changes. I reckon we changed the head sails at least three times, and the stay sails four times.” For Liz, a three times veteran of the Ocean Race, and who was in St. Maarten in 2020 as skipper of Maiden, the racing at St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is a good opportunity to teach skills to the younger crew members. “She’s our boat captain and brings a huge amount of experience to the team,” says Sutkowski. “She loves the boat and teaching the youngsters, she’s a great mentor.”
For many of those racing, the Round the Island race brought them into close quarters with fleets they don’t usually get that close to. Jordan Pietersen, 17 years old, helming her first Round the Island race found herself battling amidst the big cats at Plum Rock. “We had a great downwind leg, just by taking the shortest course. We had a good few spinnaker runs and it was a lot of fun. But it was tough from Creole Rock up to Grand Case.”
For the team on Beneteau 47.4 Dauntless, the race was “fantastic.” Sailors David Krum and Lisa Skluzacek said: “The boat worked and the team worked. It’s so beautiful to be able to see all around the island from the water.”
For Kate Cope and her team on Purple Mist, there was the excitement of sailing amongst the VO70s and VO65s. “It’s not often we’re racing in such close proximity to those type of boats,” she said. The conditions took their toll on the team at the top of the island. “It was pretty rough up there,” said Emily Dresser. “But we played it safe. We reefed ahead of the squalls and they were not as bad as they looked.”
With a long reach down the eastern side of the island, it was after just 2 hours, 33 minutes and 57 seconds that VO70 I Love Poland crossed the finish line, with the fastest Diam, Cry Baby just 20 minutes later in 2 hours, 53 mins and 54 seconds. In CSA Class 2 it was Hooligan Racing who won their fleet, with Flying Jenny taking the honors in Class 3. With just one point now splitting the leading Melges 24 against the Cape 31, this will be a fleet to watch on the final day.
There was a close battle between Ossiana and Fatjax in Class 3, with Fatjax maintaining their winning streak across all races. In CSA 5 Liquid gave it their all; so much so that owner Pamala Baldwin turned up solo at the prize giving as the youngsters were sent off for an early night, letting Dauntless own their victory on stage at the evening’s prize giving. With just two points between them, it looks set for an epic battle on the final day.
One of the early race leaders, Lodigroup, took victory in Multihull 1, which now leaves them with equal points against 2 2 Tango, also promising a close battle on final race day on Sunday. La Novia came first in Multihull 2, and Lamne (Baywatch) victorious in Multihull 3. Island Time class saw Tramontana, a Swan 56, getting their first result having retired/DNF’d from the previous days’ races.
Spectators were invited to a special race viewing day party at top of the island venue Elev8 for a bird’s eye view of the entire fleet. As the competitors returned from a long hot day out on the water, they were refreshed by an ice-cold Heineken or glass or celebratory Veuve Clicquot Champagne at the Regatta Village at Port de Plaisance. Top place teams in each class were handed a personal bottle of Tito’s Vodka, with gift certificates from Budget Marine, FKG and Shipwreck Shops awarded to podium positions. The party continued Saturday night at the Village with an all-female talent line up to celebrate honour and empower women in the industry. Later the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta headed back to the French-side for a special Green Zone event at Bikini Beach featuring international talent Tayc.
Today is the fourth and final day of the 43rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta Follow all the action on and off the water on instagram and Facebook @stmaartenheinekenregatta.