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Serious Fun at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

By Colin Rath

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a series of dispatches from the Rath family (Colin & Pam, daughters Breana, Meriel and Nerina, dog Aspen and cat Wasabi), who departed Stamford, CT last fall for a worldwide cruise aboard their Hanse 545 Persevere. You’ll find previous articles at The Most Important Rule of Cruising: Let the Weather – Not Your Timetable – Determine the Schedule and Cuba Libra!

Hanse 545 PersevereIt’s always on the nose from Virgin Gorda to St. Maarten, but this time it was blowing 25-40 knots with 7- to 9-foot seas. Not an easy trip for the family; all the girls were seasick and on deck with me for the 16-hour motor on this 80-mile leg. We knew the 35th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta (March 5-8, 2015) was going to be a good event, because when you have a rough passage like that you have earned it.

Team Persevere finished second in class in the Around the Island Race despite a broken running backstay and a broken finger.  ©persevere60545.com

Persevere did this regatta last year, but we were fighting to stay out of DFL (we succeeded by one boat). At least we won the Yachtshopsxm.com Serious Fun Bridge Show, a judged event in which regatta participants are scored on originality, effort and crowd reaction (see below). Our goals for 2015 were to win the ‘Bridge’ at minimum and be competitive. In anticipation, I bought five new sails from North, got the bottom redone in Nanny Cay and recruited a great crew of 14 (who wish to remain anonymous, since we won the Bridge again this year for obvious reasons revealed in the picture below).

This was the first regatta on our journey. It was great way to see what things about relocating the family worked and what did not, so when Persevere does the NYYC RORC Transatlantic Race, Rolex Fastnet Race and Rolex Middle Sea Race later this season, things will go more smoothly on the transition from cruising home to race boat. 

Our base for the regatta was in Simpson Bay Marina, and my family and cat Wasabi were stationed in a three-bedroom condo I had reserved on Airbnb.com. It was a nice place 100 feet from the marina, so moving in was easily done with dock carts and completed within a few hours. The crew started arriving Tuesday to change out the cruising sails and install the square-top racing main and pack the five spinnakers, five jibs and staysail spinnaker. 

The Rath family PersevereAspen, our Alaskan Malamute, wasn’t allowed in the condo, so he raced aboard Persevere, breaking a 26-year absence of animals on the racecourse in the Heineken Regatta. That worked out reasonably well. We were put into a competitive division, with an X-55, a Swan 65 and a Swan 68 as our main competition in our class of nine boats.

Aspen sailed every race of the regatta and loved every minute.

The regatta started Thursday with the Commodore’s Cup and it was blowing 17-24, with gusts to 30. We took a second in the first race, but blew out one of my new chutes. The mainsheet block at the mast exploded going upwind in the second race when a gust came in at 47 knots. The broken block went whizzing past me while I driving. Luckily no one was hurt, but that ended us for the first day and we withdrew to begin what would become daily ritual of repairs. We ended up with third place in the Commodore’s Cup. Not a bad start, with a tally of one sail repair and new mainsheet and block for the first day.

The Around the Island Race was on Friday, and this year we did it counter-clockwise. There were heavy winds and seas again, but this is weather that Persevere does her best in, especially in distance races. The crew was finally beginning to mesh and my daughter Breana was holding her own doing the running backstays. The racing sailor within her was awakened this week, and she loved the starts and the fellowship of being on the crew. She wants to do the Transatlantic Race with me, and proved she could handle herself in this regatta.

We were jibing back and forth downwind on the back side of the island when the running backstay got caught by the boom during a wind shift in the middle of a jibe. This knocked a crewmember and I to the deck and shredded the running backstay. It still worked and we finished the race, taking a second. But, the runner block had hit my hand, breaking the index finger on my left hand, so I was out of it for the rest of that race and we had to get a new runner for the next day.

Upon reaching the dock, a crewmember who is a nurse got me in a cab and went with me to a medical clinic to get the hand X-rayed. Had the incident happened in the U.S., this would have been a three- or four-hour process, with insurance bills for the next six months. Not in St Maarten. We gave a $100 deposit at the door, got five X-rays, had a doctor examine my finger and put it in a splint, and paid another $150 before leaving in 45 minutes. Two weeks from now I’ll take off the splint and see how well it set. Nice, clean and simple health care – too bad we don’t have that back in the states.

Saturday brought more of the same weather – blowing and gusty. We did three buoy races, taking a fourth, second and another fourth, which kept us in third place in our division.

The Heineken is a great sailing regatta, but it’s more than that, with teams from around the world competing not only the water, but on shore and at the bridge. The Sint Maarten Yacht Club has a large deck right on the canal entrance to the drawbridge that all the boats must go through daily to get from the harbor to the racecourse.

The Rath family PersevereAt the end of each day, there are judges that give you a score based on the quality of your skit or your crew’s outlandish outfits. The prize for first place in the Yachtshopsxm.com Serious Fun Bridge Show is a gift certificate to a local restaurant, a mini keg of Heineken and a bottle of rum, although what everyone really wants is bragging rights.

The judges in the Yachtshopsxm.com Serious Fun Bridge Show competition awarded Team Persevere a perfect 10.© yachtshopsxm.com

Everyone’s act therefore gets a little better each day. We, however, went progressively downhill from the onset until the entire crew was wearing Borat bathing suits and string bikinis, and our finale on Saturday was a Splashdance skit on the bow. We scored a perfect ‘10’ and drank all the winnings before dinner. 

Persevere succeeded in her goals, taking a third in our division and winning the ‘Bridge.’ Best of all, my crew came together and confirmed that she’s a competitive boat with Breana leading the charge.

The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta was the first event on the Rath’s very ambitious racing calendar, which also includes the NYYC RORC Transatlantic Race in July, the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October, and the RORC Transatlantic Race (Lanzarote, Canary Islands to Grenada, West Indies) in November. Look for updates on Persevere’s journey in future issues of WindCheck, and track their progress on Facebook page, “Persevere60545.”

Editor’s note: Colin Rath’s book, Green – A Manhattan Real Estate Horror Story with a Silver Lining, will be released on June 2.


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