Photo: Bob Greiser /

Monster Project first around the island

St Maarten Heineken Regatta sets sail

Friday March 7th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The 34th St Maarten Heineken Regatta started this morning, the fleet of 211 racing and bareboat charter yachts sent off on the traditional opening day round the island race. In 14-18 knot easterly trades, with gusts into the low 20s, the race committees on the two racing circles sent the majority of the fleet on a clockwise lap around St Maarten.

The top monohulls and multihulls sailed an extended 32 mile course with an extra leg around Tintamarre on St Maarten's northeast coast. Most of the other classes raced slightly abbreviated courses with a mark set inside Tintamarre.

The fastest elapsed time in the monohull fleet was recorded by Andy Budgen's VO70 Monster Project, with a time of 2 hours 57 minutes and 13 seconds, but this time was seven minutes short of the monohull course record set by the VO70 ABN AMRO One, in 2007. Budgen's largely British crew might have bettered the time of the 2005-6 VOR winner had they not missed a turning mark off Tintamarre forcing them to tack back and re-round it. "That was a bit of an error," admitted Budgen.

Monster Project sailed much of the race in close quarters with Irvine Laidlaw's Reichel Pugh 52 Highland Fling XII. Budgen conceded he sailed conservatively at the start: "We wanted to keep it simple, basically," he said. After a one tack beat to the windward mark, the VO70's crew hoisted their A4 for the run down to a turning buoy off the southwest corner of St Maarten. At one point, a surfing Highland Fling surged into the lead, but when her crew was forced to execute one more gybe before rounding the mark, Monster Project regained first place and never looked back.

Once the handicap allowances were factored in, Monster Project finished fourth in CSA1, with Highland Fling XII atop the leaderboard, followed by William Coates's Ker 43 Otra Vez and John Wilson's R/P 78 Idea of London.

Highland Fling was one of several boats that fared well in Thursday's tune-up event, the Gill Commodore's Cup, but several competitors who scored highly in that pre-regatta series proved that their earlier performance was no fluke, and they did indeed represent the cream rising to the top.

That was the case in CSA3, where Jim Madden's J/125, Stark Raving Mad IV was Friday's winner, and also in CSA4 and CSA5, won by Richard Wesslund's J/122 El Ocaso and Andrea Scarabelli's Melges 24 Budget Marine/Gill, respectively. In CSA2, Youri Loof's Swan 82FD, Alpina, topped the six boat class.

In CSA7, local legend Sir Bobby Velasquez aboard the Beneteau 45 L'Esperance returned to his usual winning ways; his feat was matched in CSA8 by Jean Michel Mariziou's Dufour 45 Classic Triskell.

There was plenty of hair-raising excitement in the multihull divisions, as well, including Multihull 1, a.k.a. the 'Gunboat class'. Five Gunboats hit the line almost in unison for the start of the round the island race. Gunboat 62 Tribe won the start by inches, but Gunboat 62 Elvis controlled the fleet heading into Pelican Bay and came out on top at the turning mark. But the lead was short lived. Elvis' spinnaker failed to deploy properly and Coco de Mer took full advantage, passed Elvis to leeward. Elvis fought back and just got inside Coco de Mer at the Long Bay mark and into clear air. Shortly rounding Tintamarre, Elvis unfurled her screecher and took off, hitting 27.7 knots of boat speed. Elvis finished the 32 mile race in 2 hours 44 minutes and 22 seconds to take line honors. The two Gunboat 66s, Slim and Coco de Mer had a photo finish for second place. Coco de Mer took the line just three seconds ahead.

Nils Erickson's Formula 40 Soma won Multihull 2 while Petr Kochnev's Lagoon 500 Belisima was top boat in Multihull 3 and Ermolenko Viacheslav's Lagoon 400 Ruby was the winner of Multihull 4.

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