Of the current entry list of 256 boats no fewer than 118 are bareboats ranging from Beneteau 50 footers via everything in the Caribbean charter companies' book to a clutch of Robertson and Caine 42 footers in the multihull cruising class.
It has to be said that, from a charter company's point of view, preparing all these boats can be a bit of a trial. Fired-up racers arrive off the planes from Europe wanting to jump straight aboard and get into training. But there's formalities to be completed, boats have to be delivered from other Islands, spare parts, spare sails, support teams and ribs have to be assembled on St Maarten. Support personnel have to be found places to stay. But somehow it all comes together, crews find their boats, boats start sailing, teams are registered with the Race Committee and on Friday, 118 boats compete in six individual classes.
The vast majority of the fleet of bareboats come from the two big players in the business, Moorings and Sunsail (In strict alphabetical order!) with odd boats coming from fleets in St Maarten itself, Tortola, Martinique and other nearby islands. Competition between the companies it just about as hot as it is between the individual boats.
The vast majority of the bareboat competitors come from the Netherlands and many of them are sailing teams who race regularly in their own local and national events, but use this event as a pre season warm-up. The same applies to the second biggest contingent, from the United States. Sponsored boats are also much in evidence here, with many teams bringing in specially produced logos with which to adorn their boat and make it stand out from the crowd - not always to be recommended on a tightly contested start line.
Among the names sailing in the bareboat classes are some that are instantly recognisable - and we don't just mean a certain Mr Bean who is sailing a Oceanis 473.
Henrik VAN DER LIP sounds as though he should come from The Netherlands, but is registered as from the US and is a name well known at the front of the Bareboat fleets. This year he sails aboard a Beneteau 43 and, as in previous years, the overall winner of the Bareboat division has come from these smaller classes. Cees-Jan BAARTMANS is from The Netherlands and, having now stopped sailing his Swan 68, enjoys racing in Bareboat Class 1 in a Beneteau 50 footer, which, in keeping with all his previous boats, he will rename Carronade for the duration.
Local sailor Douggie BROOKES, who seems to divide his loyalties between St Kitts and St Maarten, won Bareboat class 1 last year much to the chagrin of the visiting boats and hopes to repeat the performance this year, but will be facing stiff competition from teams like The Arawaks, 3rd last year, who are here again. Also returning for another bite are the Heart for Kids team under Martin HOFFMAN. This team from The Netherlands work hard raising money in sponsorship back at home and then use the money in the island to provide much needed special equipment for the Philipsburg hospital and for local schools. Last year Heart for Kids won the Xerox Spirit and Style award for their charity, this year they are hoping to do better in the sailing stakes.
Arriving early in the new St Maarten Yacht Club building are 28 very boisterous South Californians who have chartered two boats in which to go racing. One is in the class of 50ft Beneteaus, the other is a 45 footer - just where 14 per boat will fit in remains to be seen, but if they can sail anyway nearly as well as they can take over a bar, expect to see them in the prizes.
The long-awaited first competition between the Z86 maxis Pyewacket and Morning Glory at the St Maarten Heineken Regatta looked to be in jeopardy today when Morning Glory came in from a two boat training session with a broken locking headboard car.
Pyewacket lead Morning Glory out through the Lagoon Bridge into Simpson Bay at 0930 this morning, both boats looking forward to a good workout in a sparkling breeze of 18 to 25 knots, a slight sea and some typical Caribbean sunshine. Once out in open water in Simpson Bay they raised sail and started on a round the island trial, with impressive speed coming from boat boats. But when the bridge was raised at lunchtime, Morning Glory came through on her own, the crew already taking the damaged headboard car from the mast.
It appears that the locking headboard car has broken in two, doubtless due to the impressive loads that these boats generate. According to Navigator Ian MOORE, the car has broken completely in half and they don't have a spare. Attempts are being made to create a replacement from a normal batten car, but that would mean that they could not use the halyard lock for the mainsail and would have to jury rig a 2:1 halyard with all the complications that would cause - even if they could find a sufficiently long length of suitably strong line..
It might be a case of de ja vu for Morning Glory's Dee SMITH if he casts his memory back to the Volvo race, when locking headboard cars failed on a number of boats. Smith has been quoted in thedailysail.com to the effect that these boats are so powerful thanks to the canting keel technology, that much of the equipment aboard - most of it to America's Cup Class standards - is working to the limit of it's strength.
A visit to the team's container base at the Port de Plaisance marina saw an unusually subdued Dee SMITH in deep conversation on his mobile phone as he discussed the failure and tried to conjure up a replacement- and the sounds of serious metalwork coming from one of the containers as an attempt at creating a temporary replacement was begun.
According to Ian MOORE, there might be a fall-back position for the regatta, but one that would disappoint the many people looking forward to this fascinating match. The fall-back involves their mother ship, Dr Hasso PLATTENER'S 147ft Visione, which they might race in Spinnaker 1 class. They don't have a spare car, but they do have a spare Baltic 147 to use - and of course they have the crew to sail it.
Stan HONEY, navigator of Pyewacket, and Robbie HAINES, who runs the boat, were understandably upbeat about their boat's performance, and sympathetic for Morning Glory's plight. Stan was querying the time for the round the island record set last year by Steve FOSSETT'S maxi catamaran Cheyenne - better known last year as Playstation - as their trials today resulted in an unofficial time that would have come in well inside the big cat's record. If Stan can persuade Robbie HAINES and Roy DYSNEY, who flies in to the island tomorrow, to play ball, Pyewacket might have a stab at the record while the wind is still up.
Today has been the first day of registration for the 24th St Maarten Heineken with the first contingent of the 250-odd strong fleet singning in. Beating the record entry of 255 boats still looks possible, particularly as the winds are easing and the forecast shows that, over the period of the regatta, the current 20 knots will moderate through to Sunday when it will perhaps only be 12 knots. Ideal conditions for an excellent regatta.