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2 March 2007, 10:28 am
27th Regatta Sets Sail
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St Maarten Heineken Regatta 2007
St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

The 27th edition of the annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta got underway on 1 March when 58 boats in seven classes took to the waters off Simpson Bay to contest the inaugural running of the Commodore's Cup by Budget Marine. The first boat to finish in the first race for the Commodore's Cup was, fittingly, the Volvo 70 ABN AMRO ONE, the winner of the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race.
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It was the first time in the regatta's colourful history that racing took place on Thursday with a special series to accommodate those racers in the competitive spinnaker divisions. The entire fleet will begin competition today.

Whilst ABN AMRO ONE, skippered by 2006 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Mike SANDERSON (NZL), took the race honours on Thursday, the marquis match up between her and Tom HILL's (PUR) Reichel/Pugh designed 75 footer Titan 12 failed to materialize. Titan lost its headstay and was forced to withdraw from racing just minutes before the start.

With a fresh squall carrying breezes of up to 20 knots bearing down from the south east as the Race Committee fired the starting gun for the four boat Bigboats 1 class, ABN skipper 'Moose' SANDERSON executed a faultless start just to weather of Jim SWARTZ's (USA) Swan 601, Moneypenny, which also crossed the line charging hard and with sails trimmed perfectly. But Moneypenny could not maintain the rapid pace of ABN, and quickly fell astern as the boats legged out towards the first weather mark.

The second start for the five boat Bigboats 2 Division quickly became a duel between a pair of handsome, well-sailed Swans: Clay DEUTSCH's (USA) 68 footer, Chippewa, and Anders JOHNSON's (BEL) 70 footer, Blue Pearl. As the pair swapped tacks under drizzling skies, the Race Committee continued starting sequences for the remaining 48 boats competing in five respective spinnaker divisions.

Watching Yacht Evolution

By the time the lead boats rounded the weather mark and hoisted spinnakers for the first run on the twice around windward-leeward course, ABN was well ahead of the fleet and sailing its own private race. It was instructive to compare ABN and the Whitbread 60, Zest Hexe, another Bigboats 1 entrant that is being chartered for the St Maarten Heineken Regatta for a German syndicate, and which was built for Chris DICKSON's (NZL) 1992 Tokio around-the-world campaign. Zest Hexe's fractional asymmetric spinnaker seemed like a handkerchief compared to ABN's massive, powerful, masthead kite, and the differences in boatspeed were dramatic. It was a stirring example of the rapid evolution in yacht design in the long-distance arena in just over a decade's time.

With wind speeds in the mid-teens, there was some terrific sail-handling on the first run, but there were also moments that some crews will be happy to forget. Jim MULDOON's (USA) Santa Cruz 72, Donnybrook, endured a comedy of errors jibing and dropping its kite, and one of the sport boats, which shall remain nameless, somehow avoided a costly sail repair after running over its chute during a messy douse near the bottom mark. But at that same mark, the Melges 24 Budget Marine overtook its sistership, Carib/HIHO, by cutting smartly inside with a sharp, well-executed manoeuvre while HIHO struggled to coral its spinnaker.

When the squall passed the breeze temporarily went soft and the fleet was challenged to maintain boatspeed in light air and sloppy seas, but the wind filled in soon after and two more races were conducted in perfect Caribbean conditions, with breezes in the mid-teens under sunny, blue skies.

ABN 'Rusty'

ABN swept Bigboats 1 with three bullets in what was a dominating performance. 'We were a little bit rusty,' said SANDERSON, in what was certainly a startling comment. It would be scary to see the crew of ABN when they were on top of their game.

With two firsts and a second, JOHNSON's Blue Pearl, took top honours in the Bigboats 2 class. The other class winners were Carlo FALCONE (ITA) aboard the Vallicelli 44 Caccia alla Volpe in Spinnaker 3; Robert BOTTOMLEY's Beneteau 47.7 Sailplane in Spinnaker 4; Sergio SAGRAMOSO's Beneteau 40.7 Lazy Dog in Spinnaker 5; John BISHOP's J/100 Expensive Habit in Spinnaker 6; and Ian HOPE-ROSS's Beneteau 36.6 Kick 'em Jenny in Spinnaker 7.

Heather Tackling (As Amended By ISAF). Image, ABN AMRO ONE storms off the line:© Tim Wright
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