Well, perhaps a little early to be absolutely sure yet, but St Maarten's Heineken Regatta 2004 is shaping up to be the tops in every department.
In total numbers, the entry sheet is pushing forward all the time, with the spinnaker class filling up and scores of Bareboats from 50feet down waiting to start the cut-throat racing that is their stock in trade. Don't let anybody try to convince you that the bareboats are for beginners, in the fleets at St Maarten the competition is red hot with skilled teams from Europe out for an pre-season sharpener before doing battle in the colder waters of home.
But it is the big boats in the spinnaker racing classes that are taking all the attention. Roy DISNEY, with skipper Robbie HAINES, and arch rivals Hasso PLATTNER and his skipper, the very vocal Dee SMITH, have paid their entry fees for Pyewacket and Morning Glory respectively, the latest boats in the Z86 class. Complete with swing keels, state of the art rigs and sails and packed with the top professionals from Volvo Ocean Race to America's Cup, the racing between these two will be dramatic, swift and a spectacle to behold. St Maarten will be the first head-to-head for these two, putting down markers for a global contest that will go on all season.
Backing up the Z86 giants are some boats that in any other year would be themselves the very pinnacle of racing and might just be able to show the new boats a tough time on handicap. New from a long time regular at St Maarten is Titan 12, entered by Tom HILL from Puerto Rico. Tom has been bringing his boats to the Heineken since the 19702 and each time he comes up with a new boat, he goes better and better. The new Titan is a 75ft Reichel Pugh racing machine that is the most technical craft Tom and his crew will have campaigned.
Joining Titan, Pyewacket and Morning Glory are the well known Donnybrook, James MULDOON'S 73 footer and Equation, Bill ALCOTT'S Andrews 68. Throw in Heineken regulars Chippewa, Mischevious and Starr Trail, a gaggle of Formula 1 Sailing's Farr 65s and a couple of Volvo Ocean 60s being Venom & Spirit.
But the strength and competition is not just in the biggest and most spectacular. A hot fleet of 50 footers including the Trans Pac 52 Rosebud and the Swan 50 Highland Fling will be racing. A touch smaller and the Beneteau 47.7s will be trying it on against a couple of Swan 45s. Facing off against these proven designs is a brand new boat out of the Soca Sailboats yard, a small company fast making a big name for itself. The new boat, Storm, owned by Les CROUCH of San Diego and designed by - who else - Reichel and Pugh, is all carbon with a carbon rig.
If all this high tech and accent on speed is not for you, then the Heineken Regatta has its Open Class. It sounds racy, but this is where the cruising schooners and the liveaboard cutters can have their annual outing. Nothing serious here - even the handicap is a secret and gets modified if you do too well and win a race - but with the St Maarten Heineken Regatta's motto: Serious Fun! in the forefront of everybody's mind, this happy, comfortable and cosy band of brothers and sisters will be racing from party to party doing their best to prove that it isn't always necessary to have the biggest, the best and the newest to win.
Everybody wins at St Maarten's 2004 Heineken Regatta - just by taking part.