Twelve boats raced in that first year and the winner was Jan MATSER, who came to the party holding the trophy from that inaugural event. It was a family victory, with Jan sailing with his two sons in their Cal 30, one of the big boats in Sint Maarten in 1980. Jan presented the trophy which it has to be said has seen better years; rumour has it that it was recently recovered from a hedge to current Sint Maarten Yacht Club Commodore David SHUTTLEWORTH with the request that it should be preserved behind glass!
In those early years there was no Yacht Club in the sense of bricks and mortar, it existed in the heads and hearts of the members and, for every regatta, in Chesterfields restaurant at Philipsburg. Though the appellation 'Serious Fun' wasn¹t coined until 1990, it clearly was in the minds of the founding fathers right from the word go as the now well established format of party, race, party dates back to that first event in 1980.
Entries grew year on year, with 38 boats sailing in 1982. Class allocations were a little different in those days, with Rob ABERSON sailing a Sunfish in the Cruising class! Right from the start there were a good selection of multihulls perhaps the fact that designer Peter SPRONK lived on the island helped and at one stage the massive charter cats that took day sailing guests off the beach also took part. In the early 90s the 70 foot cats Eagle, Spirit of St Kitts and Falcon and were a stirring sight as they streaked around the course, but all that came to a shuddering halt in 1992 when Eagle pitchpoled just off Mairgot when bearing away for the finish line. No one was badly hurt, but the effect on the boat¹s commercial operation was enough to finish their annual three days of fun racing.
By 1990 regatta entries were up to the mid 60s, the racing was over three days and it was time to get serious. Heineken had been 'sponsoring' the event during the early days in the form of local agent, Arie de GROOT handing out cold beer from his powerboat by dangling them from the end of a fishing rod. By 1991, with Heineken being a cash sponsor, a professional approach was needed from the regatta management. Jan Vanden EYNDE led a team who created a 50 page marketing presentation for future regattas and Heineken signed on again with a vastly increased sponsorship. Heineken also used the regatta as a major plank in their global sponsorship programme created around their publicity blitz connected with the Whitbread Round the World Race.
In 1992 30 overseas journalists flew in courtesy of KLM to bring the story to the rest of the world. Some classic Caribbean racing saw Peter HOLMBERG at the top of the pile in the racing class, though a lot of attention was focussed on Philip WALWYN's swing keel St Kitts. St Kitts broke new ground which was only covered again in 2004 when the canting keel twins Pyewacket and Morning Glory came to St Maarten to race.
By 1993 entries were over 100, with a major class of Bareboats alongside the racing boats. In 1993 names like Harold CUDMORE and Sir Chay BLYTH came to the event. It has to be said, though, that Chay's idea of Caribbean racing was to sit in the pushpit quarter seats aboard Ian HOPE-ROSS's Pacific and doze off in the sunshine. Local sailors Paul DIELEMANS and Frits BUS were at it hammer and tongs in their Melges 24s though it has to be said that Frits was more often the bridesmaid to Paul¹s bride.
Through the 90s entries continued to climb with 100 bareboats entered in a total entry of 220 for 1997. By the last year of the millennium 251 boats, 130 bareboats entered and the first year of the Caribbean Big Boat Series, racing within three of the major Caribbean regattas, recognised the increasing numbers of boats over 60ft that were enjoying the warm water racing. Well known boats like Yes, Sagamore, Highland Fling, Donnybrook, Chippewa, Mischevious, Equation, Titan, Pyewacket and Morning Glory were to add their names to the Big Boat Series role of honour over the years. Sailing names like Dennis CONNER, Roy DISNEY, Chris DICKSON, Dee SMITH, Robbie HAINES, Kenny REID and Chris LARSEN have also added their endorsement to the regatta.
With a new century came a new record entry, one that still stands today; though at the moment in 2005 we stand just one boat from the magic figure of 256. The year 2000 also saw the biggest boat to take part, the 162ft Blue Gold of Curacao.
Over past years Heineken have brought some amazing bands to the island for the parties at the end of each race day and at the end of the regatta on prize giving night. Names like the Neville Brothers, Steel Pulse, Carlos SANTANA's backing band Puro Bandido, the Black Eyed Peas and this year, reggae legend Jimmy CLIFF have also been supported by the best of Caribbean talent, steel pan, soca, you name it, it's here to dance to on St Maarten.
In 25 short years St Maarten¹s regatta has gone from a handful of local boats having fun to an international regatta full of boats having fun. The size and the standing might have changed, the spirit and the driving force behind the event has stood the test of time.