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Posts Tagged ‘Heineken Regatta’

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Soma Bow

Thanks to a European feel, long, reach courses, and the most festival atmosphere of any regatta, the Heineken continues to be one of the only regattas in this hemisphere to attract a vibrant big-boat multihull racing scene. Nils Erickson’s quick M&M Formula 40 cat Soma has owned that scene over the past few years, and he checks in with the best race report we’ve seen in a long time.  We’re not sure if Soma is still doing charters as her website advertises, but if you ever have a chance to get aboard, jump on it.  Top shot from YachtShots, the rest from Soma’s co-owner Meredith and Gunboat crew Jamie.

I learned an old German proverb a few years ago that I think applies to multihull racing in general, and this year’s Heineken Regatta in particular: “A smart horse jumps only as high as it has to”. If you remember the first season of the Extreme 40 class not a single boat flipped. By year two, a handful. Nowadays it seems like a boat flips every race. On a racing multihull you’d better be ready to press harder than your competitor and peer over the edge into the abyss we call the ”mineshaft” if you want to win. Just don’t go further than you have to, or you’ll be that dumb horse.

This year’s Heineken Regatta in St Martin saw the best, most modern assembly of multihulls in its history. The five Gunboats entered have (rightfully) gotten lots of love and press with their stories from Multihull Racing 1, but in addition to them were another 24 multis in 3 other classes. In Multihull 2 we had a Seacart 26, a sexy new Toro 34, a wicked fast Open 40, and perennial attendee and threat Carib Cat. We rounded out the fleet on our 30-yr old Formula 40 catamaran, Soma.

Not only was the list of boats formidable, but there were some industry bigwigs in attendance. Out of the blue, two weeks before the event, we got an email from Gino Morelli asking what it’d take to get an invite to sail on Soma. I doubt anyone doesn’t recognize the name, but Gino is the designer and builder of Soma, as well as, um, sum lesser-known boats like the first generation Gunboats (48, 62, 66, 90), Playstation, Stars and Stripes ’88, Alinghi and those quick little AC72s ETNZ and Luna Rossa/Prada.  Why one of the greatest designers in the history of sailing would want to slum it with a bunch of rank amateurs like us was beyond me, but it was an honor we couldn’t refuse. He was Soma’s Dad, and we’ve just been borrowing her.

We gave Gino his choice of jobs aboard and were happy to have his expertise on the mainsheet. Also sailing with us was multihull guru Torbjorn Linderson (ex-Marstrom, currently Future Fibres). Calle Hennix, owner of Seacart was racing his Seacart 26, Gunboat company owner Peter Johnstone was back on his 1st Gunboat, Tribe (GB6201). Designer David McCullough was racing on Slim (GB6606), multihull legend and the sailmaker for Soma and just about every fast multihull in attendance Paul “Whirly” Van Dyke was on Tigerlily (GB6603). Elvis/Team Argo (GB6204) had more collective world championships aboard than the rest of the 215-boat fleet combined. This wasn’t the usual collection of rum drunk Caribbean sailors like us on Team Soma. We needed to come correct.

The first day’s race was the Around the Island Race. There’s something pure about an around the island race.  No handicap squabbles, no BS, first to finish. That’s been our trophy 8 out of 9 years and we had no intention of letting it slip away this year. Conditions were on the high side of what’s comfortable on Soma with a puffy 18-22, and big gusts in the low 30s. Full main weather, but marginal in the puffs. The Gunboats had the first start in the 215-boat fleet; we followed 5 minutes later. After a short mile-long beat to weather we turned downwind for a run to the west tip of the island, Basse Terre. We had piled bodies at the back of the boat trying to keep her nose out of the water, and the wind was nuking. We were quickly reeling in the frontrunners Coco De Mer and Elvis. Just as we evened up with Coco we had our first HARD stuff, both bows digging in and the rudders coming out of the water. Torbjorn, the giant 105 kilo Swedish mast designer, was launched from the aft beam right through our tiller cross bar, breaking it like a finish line tape. The boat came crashing back down suddenly. In full-power, downwind conditions I only had the use of the weather rudder. I jumped to leeward and drove off the leeward rudder/tiller that was more likely to stay in the water as the crew scrambled to effect a repair. We used every scrap piece of spectra aboard and lashed a boat hook to the cross bar as a splint. I had a sinking feeling we wouldn’t last the race. “Are we pushing too hard?” I wondered. We got back on the throttle and began the upwind leg past Marigot. Conditions were great, flat water and reasonably steady wind.

Sprit CrushThe course takes the fleet into the full brunt of the Atlantic as you head up around the NE corner of the island, past the offshore island Tintimarre, and down the East coast to Phillipsburg. Seas and breeze were up, with ESE winds above 20 knots and gusting much higher. We had pulled one daggerboard up on our last tack to the weather mark, then cracked sheets and began the hot reach down the lumpy east coast of the island. We tried to crank up the weather daggerboard while barreling along at 25-28 knots but it didn’t want to budge. We blew up the uphaul line, then hurried to get a halyard to the top of the board to try to get it up. In the meantime my wife was sharing driving duties with me, getting blasted by spray sitting to leeward supporting the splinted tiller cross arm and following my lead on helm. The trimmers were ready to blow sheets at a moment’s notice in the marginal conditions, while our “floaters” were working on getting the board up. There was a LOUD crack and without looking I knew it was the daggerboard. I turned and, sure enough, saw the bottom half of our board roiling out of our wake. That sinking feeling again; we were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it was getting really expensive. I pushed those feelings away. We stacked bodies aft and pressed on. A steep sea was running, making the just-past-beam reach difficult in full power. If we sailed the course to the corner of the island we’d bury a bow and be upside down for sure. If we heated a touch we’d get fully airborne launching off the waves. If we dove deep we’d end up on the beach at Orient. We’d commit high for a mile or two (so we could shed power), then dive deep and soak down to the route, and repeat. We were living, but it was hairy.

At the end of the reach we met the current running around the S tip of the island and the waves got steeper. We had stuffed the bows several times already, but she had popped up unscathed each time. One mile from the finish we had our hardest nose dive yet, parking the boat, burying the bows to the main cross beam, and totally submerging our 22’ sprit. The sprit snapped just aft of the jib tack attachment. Both our furled code zero and screecher and half our sprit were underwater. The drag at the bow wanted to heat us up into the death zone and wanted to pull the bow under. The jib tack was 5’ in the air and to leeward. It was mayhem. I dove deep trying to depower. We pulled and yanked but nothing we did could get the sprit and sails out of the water. We turned head to wind, got the main off the lock, dropped the main, and began floating haphazardly in the vague direction of the finish line. We cut all the spectra lashings holding the sprit on and recovered the broken pieces. After 15 minutes of damage control we lifted our heads to see 2nd place Elvis sail around us. That was it. The trophy would be lost. The regatta would be lost. That sinking feeling was here to stay. A black pit in our stomach, we had gotten too close to the edge. Not only was the weekend going to be a total waste (the flights, hotels, effort to get to the start line), we had done thousands of $$$ in damage. Keep in mind, Soma is paid for on professional boat crew’s wages. My wife and I aren’t wealthy, we don’t have trust funds, and we just sank all of our money into buying our first house on a nearby island. She looked at me with tears brimming her eyes. We do this because we love it. The name Soma is a drug reference, it’s means the perfect drug, in this case the high you get from sailing fast. It’s an expensive addiction, and luckily my wife shares the addiction. This time the addiction got the better of us.

Just as we contemplated starting the motor and leaving in defeat, someone shouted out that Elvis had started 5 minutes ahead of us, and they were only a few hundred yards ahead of us with ½ mile to the finish. There was a chance! We dragged the main up 1/3 of the way, holding the leech away from the shrouds and limped across the finish line doing 10 knots. We later learned we finished 3m30s behind Elvis, but pulled off the fastest elapsed time by a mere 1m30s. We were elated. The weekend may be lost, but the Around the Island trophy would be ours!

Late Night Carbon PartyWe returned to the dock thrilled about our elapsed time win but dejected about the reality of our breakages. To add insult to injury, our French competitors protested us about our rating. Our rules adviser/tactician Jim Ryan and I went off to the yacht club to defend our name in the protest room. Waiting for the protest we learned that we had taken 1st on corrected despite the disasters on the water. Suddenly defeat didn’t seem inevitable. I rushed back to the boat to see if anyone was up for a late night. Gino, Chris Curreri, and Chris Hanson were a step ahead of me. While Jim and I had gotten the protest thrown out they had scrounged materials for a repair. The Gunboat crews had graciously offered tools, materials, shop space, expertise, whatever we’d need. We had a pizza party in the parking lot as the wives and girlfriends cut carbon and peel ply and mixed epoxy, the boys took a grinder to the carbon sprit and laminated a repair. Gino pitched in ‘til the very end and we walked away at 1:30 AM with hopes of sailing again.

At 5:30 AM we were back at the boat groggy and tired for a final hot-mixed layup. We bolted her back together, shoved the broken stump of a daggerboard down as far as we dared (and past Gino’s recommendations) and limped out of the bridge for race 2. We managed a 1st on day 2, a downwind course that avoided our weak point of too little daggerboard. Day 3 turned into a lottery. A short beat, a long run, then a big rain cloud that sucked out all of the wind. We saw the big brains on Elvis chase the gradient to the south, and watched as Highland Fling and Peter Holmberg found the same escape route. We followed, found some breeze, and secured a comfortable 1st for the 3rd day in a row to win Multihull 2.

Looking back, this was probably our best Heineken yet. No despite of the breakages, but because of. We went through hell and high tide. Our “shore crew” of friends, wives, and girlfriends (Sasha, Tara, Jill, Mindy, Jamie, Matt), the Gunboat crews that helped (especially Elvis), Gino’s expertise, advice, and good humor. What breakages? All we’ll remember are the good times and great people.

daggerboard recoveryIn hindsight, we probably drove the boat a little too hard day one. Alright, maybe a lot too hard. As we learned, a smart horse jumps only as high as it has to. I guess that makes me a dumb horse. Good name for a boat, that. Hmmm….

Epilogue: The Tuesday after racing my wife and I were motoring in glass calm conditions from St. Martin to Virgin Gorda aboard the Gunboat 62 we work on. She called out, “look, a shark, err, wait, no, a log, wait, no, our FRIGGIN’ daggerboard!” That’s right, 4 days later and 15 miles to leeward we almost ran over our stump of a daggerboard. We recovered it, but I doubt it can be fixed. Maybe we’ll make a bench out of it for our new house. Our first piece of furniture. Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

 

March 18th, 2014 by admin

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Sailing videographers have been fighting with drones for years now.  Fighting to try to get them to fly reliably in 15+ knots, fighting to get them to deal with salt spray environments and boat launching, fighting to keep their $2000 toys from turning into melted circuit boards when they inevitably hit the drink, and fighting against local and national governments who don’t want them up there unless they’re spying on you for the NSA.

But from this excellent video, it looks like the guys at Pigeon Vision may have solved many of these problems.  The video is so good that we’ve lifted our lifetime ban on any videographer who uses the most uncreative, overused song in the history of sailing videos as a soundtrack.  It’s nice work from one of the Caribbean’s great regattas, and a good opportunity to congratulate Miami’s Rick Wesslund’s and his all-conquering El Ocaso (in a new-to-him J/122 for ’14) on winning yet another overall Caribbean regatta with core crew Bob Hillier from Line Honors on the mainsheet and the world’s best 40′ handicap cruiser/racer tactician, Anson Mulder, calling the track.

 

March 11th, 2014 by admin

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mosquitoMany will remember the Dengue Fever outbreaks in the Florida Keys a couple of years ago, but a similar mosquito-borne virus ground-zeroed in awesome St. Maarten threatens to become a far bigger health problem in the Americas than Dengue, if you believe Yale University professor Dr. Durland Fish.  It’s called Chikungunya, and like Dengue, symptoms include high fevers, severe joint pain, and a host of other nastiness.  Also like Dengue it is rarely fatal, and there is no vaccine.  Chikungunya has been known to spread further and faster than Dengue including in more temperate climates, leading Yale to call for major attention from the CDC – attention the outbreak is not yet getting.  “An outbreak of chikungunya on French-owned Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean during 2005 caused 255,000 cases, over one-third of the entire population, within one year. Since the Reunion outbreak, chikungunya has appeared in India causing millions of cases and in Italy, which has a temperate climate,” Fish notes.  Too bad more people didn’t pay attention to this article in the New Yorker…

Should you cancel your trip to one of the most excellent destinations in the Caribbean?  Get into the thread to make your own decision.  We think a liberal daily dose of DEET tempered by a larger dose of rum should cover you for now, and instead of sleeping aboard in nasty, foul Simpson Bay Lagoon, get a room or anchor outside in the usually nice sea breeze.

 

January 10th, 2014 by admin

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We rounded about four boat lengths behind the same boat we’d followed around the course for three days, but on the final day of the four-race Heineken Regatta we’d picked up a bit of a secret weapon; former Bliksem World Champ mastman and 18-foot skiffy Pauly Atkins joined the ragtag crew of the Melges 32 Smile and Wave for just one race.

After three days of finishing close behind the talented crew of of Mark Plaxton’s INTAC, Pauly’s knowledge and enthusiasm had our team fired up as we set the reaching kite on the long leg from Marigot to the reef, and with the first real breeze-on conditions of this St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, we knew it would be a fun ride regardless.  We caught the first big puff rolling off the mountains during our gybe, and stayed in it as we worked our up to Plaxton’s line.  Whether it was inspired driving from skipper Jaime or the extra 200 pounds of man-meat INTAC was carrying for the long upwind leg I don’t know, but we were finally breathing down their necks, and we rolled over the top of them as five-time Olympian and tactician Richard Clarke called for the kite drop to reach up to the next mark.  We might not have rolled them had they not been doing something a lot of people did last week – going for the wrong mark – and we might have won the day if we’d held on to our kite for another quarter mile before stretching and blowing our way up to the turning mark, because we didn’t know which mark to round either.

Eventually we all figured out where to go, and by just a few boat lengths, we rounded ahead of INTAC. Could we hold them off for the long close reach and even longer beat to the finish at Philips Bay?  No one else in our class was even visible; new-to-them M32 Kick ‘Em Jenny had shown some brilliant moments earlier in the regatta but the bigger breeze had them back with the 24s on this one.  We had only INTAC to worry about, and finally – FINALLY! -  the Smile and Wave handicap racing team was ahead of the stacked pro crew on INTAC and our morale was at an all-time high.  Our ‘A-Team’ had beaten INTAC and a few other boats during some of the one-design races at the first Virgin Island Sailing Series event a few weeks earlier, but that was one-design, ultra short-course stuff, where a great start can get you a long way up the course.  And that was with the brilliant Marty Kullman on the main instead of me, and with Italian M24 racer Riccardo Papa on tactics instead of a combination of me, Pauly, Fernando, Nano, and Ivan.  It was looking good for a while, but when Plaxton sailed up to our lee and fought to break through, I clearly heard INTAC main trimmer and umpteen-time multiple class national and world champ Max Skelley easing and trimming the four mainsail controls like an octopus while I struggled to keep the boat on her feet, and I heard Olympic silver medalist Mike Wolfs working the jib through each puff and lull while hiking out.  And I leaned down and saw Bermuda Gold Cup and Monsoon Cup champion skipper Taylor Canfield calling puffs and hiking like only a pro does…and I knew we were screwed.

Sure enough, they blew through our lee in just a few minutes and we followed them in, somehow missing a mark on the way and losing our second-in-class in the process, but it didn’t really matter; that battle for the lead left its mark, giving us our first really great racing moment in a regatta that is far less about the racing than it is the partying.  In fact, as insanely fun and wild the parties and island were (as usual), it was the first real on-water moment of the Heineken that I’d enjoyed as a racer.  In my second year at the event, I decided the racing here just ain’t my speed, at least as it is today.

The Heineken is the biggest regatta in the Caribbean not because it attracts hundreds of crack teams of windward-leeward one-design racers.  It’s attractive primarily because it is a massively interesting, intensely fun island, and because organizers have worked hard to brand themselves as the event that encourages excessive consumption, endless dancing, and lots of mingling with the opposite sex; “Serious Fun,” as they call it. And exactly what piles of European and American racers and charterers are looking for at the tail end of the dark Northern winter.  But the racing is also tailored to that charter crowd, as well as to bigger boats and multihulls with crews that aren’t looking to turn a corner every 14 minutes.

Compared to the racing at the Rolex, BVI Spring, Antigua, or the legion of other Caribbean events (many of which I’ll be reviewing as
the season progresses), the Dutch organizers of the Heineken sail a paltry four races over the course of the three-day regatta.  The standalone Gill Commodore’s Cup provides three decent windward/leewards the day before, but even those leave a lot to be desired: Long, lazy start lines in the middle of the course with a closed start/finish line, a lack of downwind gates, weird class starting orders that increase the likelihood of nasty mark traffic, and long legs in light air don’t make for the kind of intense racing that I learned to love during my M24 days and that all M32 crews love today.  But for us, it was far better than the long, reachy ’round the island’ race that made up the first light-air day of the Heineken; we had a grand total of about 25 minutes of kite work over the course of the four-hour race.  The Gill event was also better than the long, reachy race to Marigot and the subsequent 3-mile windward-leeward race on the French side of the island.  And despite our moment of glory at the reef, the Gill racing was still better than the long race from Marigot back to regatta HQ in Philips Bay, especially with it ending on an hour-plus long beat into short 5 foot waves and 15-20 knots of breeze.  Oh yeah – we had another kite run of about a quarter mile just before the finish…not enough.

It’s not like I won’t be back though, because the party is just too good, and the attitude of the organizers too inviting. PRO and all-around nice guy David Campbell-James tells me his Race Committee is looking at offering something more for guys like us, especially if the Melges 32 and 24 Caribbean fleet grows the way they seem destined to. To my mind, it would be great if they would add shorter W/L courses for classes that want it, with perhaps a mix of three passage races and three shorter four-leg sausages rather than three passage races and one long windward-return.  Whether that happens or not, he assures me that they will do a better job of communicating on the start line, and that future Sailing Instructions and course layouts will be far less confusing.  And if they do that, and do it consistently, the Heineken should pretty easily attract more of the one-design sport boat and TP52/Maxi crowd that currently ignores it, and climb back to some of their glory days when 300+ boats raced the Heineken.

Gunboats Galore

In contrast to my bitching and moaning, the Gunboats loved it; the reachy Heineken is just about the perfect event for the big multihull fleet, and Peter Johnstone and the Gunboat owners capitalized on this with I think the biggest Gunboat class ever raced – six or seven boats from 62 to 66 feet.  Jason Caroll’s stacked and heavily modified GB 62 Elvis crushed the fleet (with one of our favorites; former SCOTW Molly Baxter aboard), but judging from their smiles and stories as we raided the late night club scene together, everyone on every Gunboat had a ridiculously fun time.  The island’s mouth-watering cuisine, posh villas, and laissez-faire attitude is perfect for what’s become the best cult in the Caribbean, and I may need a few weeks in Gunboats Anonymous after spending a couple of nights hanging out with that group…If I only had a few mill…

Media Matters

I won’t call the daily videos or photos great, but they’re entertaining and SnW features heavily in lots of them.  Have a look at the video channel here and the official photo gallery here.  Photos in this piece are from yours truly, event photog Bob Grieser and local photog Jim Johnston; his gallery is here.

Clean Thanks: 

Michele and Martine at the Heineken Regatta for being such good hosts and for giving Jaime the Sportsmanship Award – very classy of the organizers for recognizing one of Caribbean racing’s biggest cheerleaders.

Musto for making the one spray top that lets me leave everything else home, even when I have to tow a Melges 32 hundreds of miles between islands through squall after squall.

Jaime, Alma, Miranda, Gretchen, Nano, Fernando, Henry, Rosa, Ivan and the rest of the Ricans for helping me fall in love with their country.

Gill for sponsoring the Commodore’s Cup, which has given us enough tight racing to forget about the long reaches during the Heineken.

Pauly and Des for buying lots of Heinekens, loaning me lots of singles and for chartering a plane to get Pauly here for just one day.

Wolfsy, Clarke, and Skelley for helping us get up to speed and providing a huge welcome to our team in a class that is often quite closemouthed.

Plaxton for being such a gracious winner

Lee and Anne and the rest of Kick ‘Em Jenny for saving us with a tiller extension and being great fun on and off the course.

City Island Leigh and Adar for filling in so well when we lost our Megs.

Azure and Jolicious from ESPN for giving good exposure to the SnW team

And finally, PJ, Megs, Cristal, Forrest, Bailet, Scotty, Ferrar, Rachel, Richard, and the rest of the Gunboat family for including me in the obscene amount of fun that follows them around.

Up Next

This was our fourth regatta aboard Smile and Wave and our third handicap regatta.  Three events remain, and they are all one-design VISS regattas.  The next is in St. Thomas, and I’ll be reporting on the series, on the state of the M32 class in general, on the progress of a team that’s proving it doesn’t take the world’s best or a huge budget to have respectable finishes and an incredible time in the Melges 32, and on how Jaime and the other four M32 Caribbean owners are going to establish a strong, fun, Caribbean M32 fleet.  And Mer will be with me for some of it for her customary great shots of the racing.  It won’t suck!

-Mr. Clean

March 7th, 2013 by admin

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Clean Report: I wouldn’t have retired if it was my call.   The Heineken’s sailing instructions are a joke, with marks rarely corresponding to the colors or locations laid out in the labyrinthian SI pamphlet, and there was no logical reason for that mark to be there.  Half a dozen boats went the wrong way around that mark or an even more confusing set of marks earlier. Some retired, some went on to win their class, and given the silliness of the RC situation, I think either call was the right one.

No boat protested us, and given the un-serious racing here at the Heineken, nobody gave a crap.  But Jaime Torres is a far more ethical person than me, and the owner/driver of the Melges 32 Smile and Wave didn’t even think about it once the crew of the new-to-them Melges 32 Kick ‘Em Jenny explained how we screwed up the course.  He grabbed the dinghy, motored over to race HQ and withdrew, giving up an extremely hard-earned 2nd place in the hotly contested Sportboat fleet.

The organizers awarded Jaime and the Smile and Wave team the first-ever Heineken Sportsmanship Award for doing the right thing and generally winning a lot of fans for our mostly noob/mostly Puerto Rican team..Jaime was off sulking so of course I went up and grabbed it as well as some Heineken girls! More stories to come later from the best parties in all of sailing. Photo captured thanks to Richard Langdon/OceanImages.co.uk.

March 4th, 2013 by admin

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