the big guns

on board

the big guns

Angus Ball and a crew of lifelong friends, aboard the new Gunboat 66 COCO DE MER, took top honors in the Gunboat Class at the Heineken St Maarten Regatta. The COCO team, more accustomed to racing their Wayfarer one design dinghy back home in the UK, showed up a week early, and quickly got up to speed with their Gunboat 66.

COCO did not exactly have a cakewalk. The brand new Gunboat 66 GAZELLE made her racing debut on Friday, and did a horizon job on the Gunboat fleet in the Round the Island Race. GAZELLE’s team led by former RAF fighter pilot George Begg, seemed to always be on the numbers, and had help from Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone, and Seahorse Magazine Editor Andrew Hurst.

Sailing with only five aboard, Ball’s team had great starts, sailed consistently well, and showed pace whenever their gigantic screecher was up, sometimes sailing a knot or two faster than GAZELLE. COCO took Saturday’s race to Marigot Bay, and set up a showdown for the Sunday finale back to Simpson Bay.

Sunday’s race was a three way battle between the two stunning Gunboat 66’s and their renown older sister, the Gunboat 62 SAFARI. These three Gunboats traded the lead on the beat to Tintamarre Island, while trading tacks with the maxis RAMBLER, TITAN, and HIGHLAND FLING as they sailed through in the moderate conditions. The reach to Anguilla saw COCO reel in GAZELLE and pass her at the gybe mark.

The lead would change several more times down the run to St Maarten, but the drama began as these two teams closed in on the final two short legs to the finish off Simpson Bay. COCO flew her asymmetric on the hot and tight final reach and overtook GAZELLE. With a costly douse required, GAZELLE took back the lead. In hull flying mode upwind, GAZELLE’s screecher head unfurled. A turn downwind to drop the flogging sail, allowed COCO to nip GAZELLE for the race and the regatta by 40 seconds.

This year’s Heineken St Maarten Regatta featured a lot of unlikely conditions. The normally strong Easterly tradewinds were replaced by mild Southerlies and Northerlies. The usual local knowledge would only apply once ashore. Regardless of the conditions, the Heineken St Maarten Regatta has clearly established itself as THE Caribbean Regatta, and remains the choice of the Gunboat Class. Featuring point to point races, high profile International racing programs, great parties, and a carnival  of sailing atmosphere, more fun is packed into three days than can be imagined. Just as you reach a point when you need to take a break, you find yourself on a plane home filled with other exhausted and smiling sailors.