SINT MAARTEN (SIMPSON BAY) – The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is well-known among racing sailors for its close and intense competition. But the 40th Anniversary Edition of the event, scheduled for March 5-8, is also an island-wide festival of sailing, parties and music.
And if you’re a cruising sailor visiting the islands, the best way to participate is to hoist sail and join the on-the-water fun. And the easiest, coolest way to do that is sign up for the Island Time class, the division especially created and designed for cruising sailors.
Sponsored by Hank Schmitt—who runs the free crew network Offshore Passage Opportunities (www.sailopo.com) and organizes the annual NARC Rally from Newport, R.I. to St Maarten—the Island Time class is now in its fifth year.
“A lot of cruisers raced when they were younger, and still have those competitive juices,” said Schmitt. “But they don’t have a race boat and don’t want to make the commitment to do a huge event. With the Island Time class, you can be ready to go in two hours, not two days. Take the anchor off the bow and drop your dodger if you wish, and you’re all set. And you get to be part of the action, which is really the ideal way to enjoy the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.”
The Island Time division is surely the most civilized way to go sailboat racing. You compete against like-minded cruisers. There’s only one race a day, at 11 a.m., and a special bridge opening at 10:30, so no frantic dash at dawn to get on the racecourse. The simple rating system changes each day, ensuring everyone gets a chance to be a winner.
A pre-regatta party for Island Timers, on Wednesday, March 4th, and special parties every day after racing, adds to the camaraderie, as everyone meets up regularly to mingle, enjoy a beverage or two, swap sea tales and relive the day’s experience on the water.
“The idea is to get as many cruisers as possible, and have as much fun as possible,” said Schmitt. “It’s a way to open up the regatta and get more entries. If you’re already in the islands on your boat, there’s no reason not to come join us. If we get enough entries, we’ll have two separate Island Time classes. But either way, it’s going to be a great time.”
Among the entries so far is Schmitt’s own Swan 48, Avocation, an offshore voyager that competes every year at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. St. Maarten’s own Robbie Ferron will be sailing his Nonsuch 33 catboat, Bunglebird. Feeks is a sturdy Hallberg-Rassy 31; Parceira is a German-built Bavaria Cruiser 45; Peer Gynt is a Hanse 470, another yacht from a large production builder; and Black Diamond a Delphia 47. All of them are long-legged, fully found cruising boats, and all will be having a blast on the water and off at the Heineken Regatta.
“We’ve done everything we can to make it easier and less expensive, as the entry fee is a third of the cost of registering in the flat-out racing divisions,” said Schmitt. “Every year we get sailors with different levels of experience and very different cruising boats, and it just seems to get better and better. So why not come join us for the fun?” Yes, for dedicated cruisers, Island Time makes it the Right Time to sail the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.