SINT MAARTEN (SIMPSON BAY) - The 2023 Caribbean racing season has come to a close, and the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta was again the region’s most attended event. St. Maarten is committed to delivering the biggest and best regatta year after year, and for the 44th annual event, it's welcoming back all those who fell in love with the event and inviting newcomers to finally check it off their bucket lists and join the large international fleet February 29 - March 3, 2024.
Close to 100 boats participated in the 43rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, with a fleet that showed enormous diversity – from 24-ft performance trimarans to 70-ft ocean racing monohulls alongside family catamaran cruisers-turned-racers. Due to the “Serious Fun!” factor that the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has become known for, amateur racers up to professional maxi teams come to enjoy 4 days of competitive and dynamic race courses, complemented by world-class entertainment by night.
“This was our first time doing the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, and we’ll be back because we had a great time! Great competitors, people from everywhere…. We met a lot of friends, we helped some people out, they helped us out. We really just had a great time here in St. Maarten,” said Heidi Herlihy, Skipper of Swan 56 Tramontana. Tramontana competed in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s unique Island Time class, which is designed for cruisers or those looking to enjoy the Regatta on ‘island time’ with later starts, one race per day, a simplified CSA rating and shorter courses.
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s professional Race Committee is dedicated to designing courses that are best suited for all classes. While the Island Time class are enjoying a more leisurely course, the CSA race fleets are sent on intensive courses around the island, sometimes going as far as neighboring islands of St. Barth and Anguilla. The racing fleet all have a chance to race the legendary Around the Island Race, where spectators get to see Diam 24 pocket-rocket trimarans keep pace with the Volvo Ocean Race boats!
The CSA racing rule is used for all competitors and Caribbean race events, while a modified CSA rule and rating process is offered to the Island Time class to make participating in the Regatta more accessible. These tailored courses and a rating system unique to the Caribbean conditions make racing at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta more fair and welcoming to a mixed fleet.
St. Maarten is also the most accessible island in terms of logistics for traveling boats, sailors and visitors alike, making it a top Caribbean destination. St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International airport offers daily non-stop flights to top cities in Europe, US and Canada, and is the closest airport to any Regatta in the Caribbean – less than 10 minutes from the airport to the Regatta Village at Yacht Club Port de Plaisance. For those who will fly in and meet their boats in the Caribbean, Regatta sponsor Port St. Maarten offers professional services to receive any boat shipment.
At this year’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, Cape 31 Flying Jenny was able to compete in Florida just a month before the team was due to compete at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Boat Captain Rebecca Coles had her work set out for her, but logistics through Port St. Maarten ensured Flying Jenny was received in her 40ft container and ready to race in a few short weeks. This highly mobile and competitive class of sports boats has taken over the UK racing circuit, and St. Maarten invites the Cape 31 class to come in numbers and welcomes the fleet to the Caribbean.
In a recent interview with Seahorse Magazine, Rebecca Coles reflected, “The Cape31 class has such incredible momentum behind it and is attracting some of the world’s best sailors, so it’s no surprise that owners are excited to get behind it given the buzz… Packing the boats into the containers is awesome for traveling around, but it does require skill and planning to ensure we have what we need and are ready to race.”
While some may decide to ship their boats down, others may be more inclined to sail in. The European route to the Caribbean is notoriously a breeze, with tradewind Transatlantics being so popular that two events, the ARC and RORC Transat, bring hundreds of boats to the Caribbean each year. The journey from North America, though geographically closer to the region, is not as simple.
Racers may choose to battle the Gulf Stream down for the SORC series before heading further south to catch the start of the Caribbean season, while others may take a more leisurely route. Canadian vessel Bella J/133 sailed nearly 3000 NM, and made just 5 stops, on their way from Halifax, NS to the Caribbean. “It [was] our first time doing the regatta as well as visiting the island. Bella’s primary focus has been offshore events for the last few years so we [were] excited to practice our inshore skills, have fun and meet other sailors from around the world!” said crewmember Sarah Nicholson.
While the countdown until the 44th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is still 9 months away, now is the time to add it to your 2024 bucket list and start planning! For those who are looking to base out of St. Maarten for the season, whether as a racer or cruiser, the island has all you need to ensure a successful and “Serious Fun!” season in the Caribbean. If owners are considering shipping their boat or attending the Regatta for the first time, event organizers welcome interests to contact them if they need any assistance.
Look back at the 43rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta to get inspired and get a feel for the “Serious Fun!” Watch the 2023 Wrap Up Video. Registration for the 44th Regatta is now open, and early registration is encouraged! Register on Yacht Scoring now. The first 20 boats registered will receive an extra pack of Heineken for your crew at registration. Follow the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta @stmaartenheinekenregatta for stories from the Regatta and all event announcements, and mark your calendars for the 44th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta February 29-March 3, 2024.
Regatta veteran Robbie Ferron now prefers racing his boat Bunglebird in the Island Time Class, which offers a less-intensive racing option for teams: one race a day, later starts and shorter courses © Laurens Morel
Cape 31 Flying Jenny arrived in Port St. Maarten in its 40-ft container just weeks before the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Thanks to smooth logistics and management by Boat Captain Rebecca Coles, the team was ready to compete against the local Melges fleet and came second in class © Laurens Morel