Heineken Regatta, St. Maarten - 2004

How To Sail It

The bareboat divisions are large and competitive with boats basically rating the same. The top 3rd of the fleet will be quite experienced but with a bit of careful race planning it is possible to get a good result. The regatta is known for its strong NE winds (20-24knts gusting to 30+). Seas are generally choppy with the possibility of large swells on the Eastern side of the island (3M). Racecourses are set mostly on the west side with one round the island race - the finishing leg being down the east side.

Starts

Bareboat fleets are generally generous and you can get away with a lot. Being aggressive will give an edge. With heavy boats it is important to keep up speed at the start. Key points are:
  • Minimize tacks and slow/fast speed maneuvers
  • Reach to the line with speed then harden up over the line
  • Clean air can be more important than the favored end
  • With a ten-minute gap from the previous start it is possible to watch the prior class boats for some time after their start to see what strategy is winning out.

West Coast Beat

Beating into a N/NE swell with a little current is the predominant condition here. You can sail close to shore to minimize current, find some flat water and lifts. Be careful when doing this not to sail into large pressure drops or overall fluky conditions caused by the land topography. There will be more pressure off shore so itís a trade off. A topographical chart will help determine which bays you can sail into and how close to get to shore.

The enemy with staying out to far off shore is leeway. The wave action and wind action on the side of the boat can produce a big sideways action. Make sure to sail as far to windward as possible without being blanketed by the shore.

Again, minimize tacks because the boats are slow to tack. Staying away from other boats is key Ė ducking rather than tacking is preferred. And maneuver tactically to stay to the favored side of the course (to windward Ė right hand side).

The gusty conditions can be tricky to handle and can result in slow speed if not handled effectively. Steering the waves vs. footing and powering through them is a consideration. Any sort of pinching can have a dramatically slowing effect on boat speed so footing can be a surer way to proceed.

Avoiding round ups is also important. Gusts if handled effectively can produce a major advantage if you can convert them to drive forward. Boat balance here is the key to control. Make sure the center of effort (CE) is over the keel by keeping the mainsail flat and deepening the headsail. That is, move the mainsail draft forward and the headsail draft back. Also ensure to have a headsail trimmer in place to ease in the gusts giving the maximum drive forward. Some traveler ease will be necessary but most drive will come from the headsail. In consistently gusting conditions above 25 knots consider a reef in the main. Go for a reef before headsail furl to ensure balance is easier to maintain and maximum headsail area is retained for boat drive forward.

Keeping the boat flat through the gusts is essential to driving forward so get that weight hiked out on the rail. Pick up some extra crew for ballast if you feel you are a bit under weight. Get a lightweight headsail trimmer to go down and ease during the gusts, the weight is equally important.

Bare boats may have large rudders so minimizing over helm through better boat balance is vital for speed.

On the Northern part of the island stay off shore as the shallower water close to shore produces some pretty big waves and adverse leeway. Unfortunately, you donít see the breakers until you are close and require two tacks to get around them

East Coast

This will be a downhill run in some large waves. Steering down the face of the waves and playing the main is the key to speed here as well as trying to maintain headsail shape when goose winging.

When rounding the southern part of the island, be careful not to get too close to shore and get caught in its lee. Itís better to stay a little off shore by running down further than you would expect then approaching the finish line at a better angle with more wind.

West Coast Downhill Runs

Day 2 and day 3 courses will most likely require a downhill segment on the west coast. Waves are not as large as on the East coast but are choppy with gusty conditions. A good opportunity to catch boats if you can handle the gusts and waves a little better. Go for inside position on the rhumb line. With the NE breeze you will be able to take other boats wind and pass on the inside. Get down on the gusts to establish inside position. Some boats in this fleet may not be all that aggressive about protecting their wind so take it.

Inside position at the bottom mark is crucial to protect your wind on the next reach at the bottom of the island so be aggressive and go for the inside overlap.

From then its almost a soldiers course to the finish line so good trim in reaching conditions and protecting your wind will be key. Again have someone on headsail for the gusts to get the drive forward and donít round up. There will be a lot of boats around and you may get caught with boats to windward and leeward. If you cant get to windward then foot for speed and trim aggressively.

The Finish

This is crucial as all your good work may be undone if you donít sail the last 2 Miles well. The biggest factor here is the fan affect of the breeze coming out of Simpsons Bay . You absolutely need to sail the windward side of the course and close to shore. If you sail the lower part of the course you will get knocked significantly as you try to approach the finish line and boats who take the inside run up the shore will get their well ahead of you.

It may seem strange to take a tack into shore when you seem to be laying the finish line. But this will give you a huge advantage and will allow you to take boats at the last minute.

You will knock as you get progressively close to the line, donít wait too late to get into the shore.

The Boat

The bareboat rules require you to leave everything on board they give you, and yes they will check. There is no poling out the headsail downwind Ė use the foredeckís hands.

You can try to remove the bimini Ė it gets in the way, empty the water tanks (careful you may need water if staying on the boat). Shifting the anchor chain to the center of the boat helps but is painful to deal with, as you are required to anchor after the race most nights.

These tips should enable you to finish high in the standings, as most of the boats will be learning the secrets when they get there. You will have a jump-start!