Heineken Regatta, St. Maarten - 2004
SummaryThis regatta is one of a few in the world that give as high a profile to the bare boats as to the out and out racing boats. This can make for some fun racing and good results. The charter companies are pretty much sold out so you need to lock up a boat early. They do a great job of helping prepare during the regatta and supporting it throughout. Moorings in particular were excellent.
They know all the tricks with trying to turn a bareboat into a race boat so you cant get away with much with the rules stating you need to keep everything on the boat they give you. There is still some room to be sneaky but we will let you figure that out.
There is a heavy emphasis on partying with a high profile award going to the most fun crew. Interesting shirts and obvious extraverted behavior is mandatory.
Heineken obviously put a lot of money into the event that is as much for the locals as it is for the visiting yachties. Some big band names are invited to the event with most concerts open to the locals so conditions can be crowded with a lot going on. This is not a closed quarters sedate regatta!
We found some of this too big for us and found more fun in intimate atmospheres full mostly of yachties such as the Absolute Floating Bar across the street from Kim-Sha bay.
This regatta is also known for big fleets, strong winds and waves. Seasickness pills on board for the East coast run. The winds are great (20-24 knots gusting to 30 plus) and essential to get these heavy boats moving .The key to a good result is the ability to handle these conditions combined with some local knowledge. Beware of the guys on boats who cant handle the conditions stay out of their way.
The charter companies will convince you to stay on the boat but we found it may have been better to have a hotel room as well. After a few days on the boat it can get quite uncomfortable. Not a problem but if you want to keep your energy levels up a hotel room with air conditioning and a fresh shower would help enormously. As most of the boats are anchored it can also be quite time consuming to wait for taxis. This will also allow you to drain the fresh water tanks on board to save weight. An important note is that the anchorages are not that well protected from the big nor Easters which can continue throughout the night. This can make the boat uncomfortable to sleep in with it moving around so much. You should think of leaving someone on board if you are staying in a hotel in case the anchor slips.
There are some great hotels on the island the challenge is finding one well located for the regatta that is not too expensive. We recommend the Great Bay Hotel it is great and well priced but not that convenient to the racing. Taxis are also not cheap on the island. The Atrium on Kim Sha beach is the best located. Most nights are spent at Kim Sha with one night in Marigot on the French side. It is possible to taxi to the Atrium from Marigot for that one night.
Marigot is a nicer setting than Kim Sha with lots to do in this chique little town. You can party at Pure night club which has a lot of locals and surprisingly few yachties. It also includes a nice restaurant downstairs with an open-air view of the bay. If you have time to walk around, check out the chapel at the top of the hill.
In Marigot you might want to check out the Beach Plaza Hotel its well located and very neat.
Overall this is an excellent regatta. The three days of racing with well set courses and great competition is some of the most fun you will have. It is great to be able to get away for a short time to do a great regatta but it also seems to be over so quickly. We would recommend keeping the boat for the Monday as well to just wind down from the intense weekend before going back to work. There are some great beaches and bays to anchor and take it easy with some snorkeling on your way to take the boat back. Water temperature seems perfect for swimming and the outdoor temperature not too hot (about 75F).
There are many outdoor open-air restaurants that serve reasonable priced lobster and other great seafood so its great to take the time to make the most of what the island has to offer. Speaking French on the French side helps but is not essential and English is spoken everywhere on the Dutch side.
At the regatta be prepared to drink a lot of Heineken there are not a lot of other options.