Up close at the Heineken Regatta

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by Daphne Pronk-Kruse

In March, I got the opportunity to experience one of the largest regattas in the world, up close and personal: the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Our Netherlands office books approximately 70% of the entire Bareboat Class, so this was an excellent opportunity to experience the regatta as our customers do. The Heineken Regatta’s very famous in the Netherlands and, after selling it for nine years, this was my chance to find out what it’s all about first-hand!

This fantastic regatta always takes place the first full weekend of March, but our clients book a charter for a minimum of 7 days, usually from Tuesday to Tuesday, giving them the chance to get some practice in beforehand.

There are different racing classes, from very professional, with huge boats and catamarans, to the Bareboat Class that Sunsail customers enter. This class is further divided, so that everybody can race against the same type of boats to make it fair. For example, there is a separate class for our Sunsail 44i, a very popular choice for regattas.

As Sunsail doesn´t have enough boats on St. Maarten itself, the remaining yachts are delivered by hired skippers or staff from our British Virgin Islands base in Tortola. With everyone arriving around the same time to check in, you can imagine how busy and crowded the base in St. Maarten gets! Once everyone’s more-or-less settled, they convene in a little bar called ´Dinghy Dock’ – this is THE place to hang out on the first evening and gives sailors the opportunity to get to know each other a bit.

Although Sunsail supports all of their customers throughout the regatta, our Dutch agents were also on-hand to help their clients with any issue or problem they might encounter. During the regatta, Sunsail has a support catamaran moored up in the bay, close to our yachts, packed with spare parts, extra sails, extra winches, tools and technicians. Working tirelessly day and night, these guys are contactable via VHF, and as soon as an issue’s reported, they jump in their dinghies and come to you as soon as they can; whether a sail’s been ripped or a piece of equipment’s broken, they’ll ensure you’re able to continue racing the following day. In one instance there were two Sunsail technicians up in the mast around midnight fixing an issue while the crew on board was partying, to make sure the clients could race the next day.

This year the start of each race day took place from Simpson Bay Marina, where almost all of our agents’ clients stayed, from Thursday night until Monday morning. Not only did this give them easy access to the starting point for the races, but most of the parties took place close-by, so they never had to go far to find the evening’s entertainment. And, when it comes to the Heineken Regatta, the parties run a close second to the sailing in order of importance! They’re free to enter, so the locals can join in the fun as well. And, even though the participants were up until the early hours, at 7am it was ´rise and shine´ as they prepared themselves for another day of racing!

The Heineken Regatta is great for sailing, but there’s more to it than that, with teams from around the world competing not only on the water, but also ashore. There’s a drawbridge that only opens several times a day to enter the Simpson Bay Marina. The St. Maarten Yacht Club has a large bar deck right on the canal entrance that all the boats must go through daily to get from the race course back into the Marina. This large deck was called: Judges Corner – Serious Fun Bridge Show, and a contest was held for originality and team spirit, with lots of boats dressing up for this popular event. The bar provided a perfect spot for the judges and spectators to view the incoming boats. One of our agents’ yachts was even picked as the winner, with the crew dressed in blue and white suits sporting typical Dutch paraphernalia, like windmills, cheese and wooden clogs.

The regatta advertises itself as 'Serious Fun' and this is no exaggeration, with great on-shore parties every night in the best locations on the island. Nothing beats listening to great music as the sun goes down, your feet in the sand and an ice-cold beer in hand. There were fantastic bands and DJs, stages built on the beach and, to finish things off in style, Kool & the Gang closed out Sunday evening’s festivities (for the young people among you, ask your parents).

Needless to say that, when this week was over, everybody needed at least another week of holiday to recover!

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