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28 February 2007, 10:40 am
Competitors Ramp Up For Thursday's Start
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St Maarten Heineken Regatta 2007
St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

Dodging the occasional rain squall while checking off items on their respective to-do lists, the captains and crews of several of the 258 boats registered to compete in this weekend's 27th running of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta are in various stages of preparation. Ready or not, especially for the flat-out race boats, including Volvo Ocean Race winner ABN AMRO ONE, that begin competition on Thursday 1 March, the games are about to begin.
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On Tuesday on the docks of the Port De Plaisance Resort on Simpson Bay - the venue for Thursday's post-race party and awards ceremony - there was a trio of boats that underscored the notion that there is more than one way to prepare for a regatta. All three yachts (along with 54 others) will race on Thursday in competition for the Commodores Cup, sponsored by Budget Marine. The entire St Maarten Heineken Regatta field gets underway on Friday 2 March.

Aboard Titan 12, Tom HILL's (PUR) powerful, red Reichel/Pugh-designed 75 footer, skipper Scott BRADFORD was overseeing the replacement of a Code One gennaker halyard that parted during the boat's fine performance in the recent Pineapple Cup from Miami to Montego Bay, Jamaica (Titan 12 was first to finish after a passage of just over three days).

After safely guiding a crewman on a round trip from the deck to the masthead of Titan's tall, five-spreader rig, BRADFORD said he was looking forward to the extra day of racing, a first for the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. 'It's going to be good,' he said. 'Antigua always seems a bit long, but I think this is just right.'

Because the boat's container was still en route to the island, BRADFORD and his team were slightly limited by what they had hoped to accomplish prior to the race. But the veteran sailor, who is skippering Titan in its fourth St Maarten Heineken appearance, said he always looks forward to the annual event. 'It's just such a nice mix of sailing and partying,' he said. 'You just can't go wrong.'

Marquis Match Up

One thing many race fans are also looking forward to is the marquis match up of Titan 12 versus the world conquering Volvo 70 ABN AMRO ONE, skippered by 2006 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Mike SANDERSON (NZL), in the Bigboats 1 class. It is a duel that should make for some outstanding sailing. 'Upwind in light air would be our strength,' said BRADFORD. 'But if the breeze is up, on a reach, they'll be gone.'

Across the way, gliding into the dock after a quick passage from their home port of St Barth's, things were decidedly less hectic aboard Trey FITZGIBBONS' (USA) handsome white 65 footer, Mischievous, which will set sail for its 12th St Maarten Heineken Regatta as one of nine entrants in the very competitive Bigboats 2 class. 'Our work list is done,' said skipper Mark DELGIUDICE (USA) in the cockpit while sipping a glass of crisp, cold white wine. 'We took care of it before coming over. Now it's time to go racing.'

Among Mischievous' fine 16 strong crew are two local talents, 'local rock star' Karl SPIJKER and Whitbread veteran Shag MORTON. With a fresh, new paint job, the boat looks terrific, especially when considering she was launched in 1995. A redesign in recent years saw the keel replaced from its original elliptical shape by a high-performance blade (it increased the draft from 11 feet to 13 feet), and a reworked transom that added two feet to its length; Mischievous now measures in at 65 feet overall. 'From a performance standpoint, you can't compare the old version and the new,' said DELGUIDICE.

Like many St Maarten Heineken veterans, DELGIUDICE said he relished sailing in the annual regatta. 'It just has this wonderful ambience,' he said. 'You have all these sailors who come from all around the world, and there's a relaxed attitude ashore, as well as great racing and sailing.' Asked what he was hoping for in this year's event, his answer was short and to the point, 'Wind.'

Good Winds Predicted

He may get his wish. While the last two St Maarten Heineken Regattas were contested in lighter-than-normal conditions, extended forecasts for this year's event predict solid winds in the mid-teens on Thursday and Friday, with breezes of up to 25 knots on Saturday.

It will be interesting to see how the crew of Zest Hexe, which was also berthed at Point De Plaisance earlier on Tuesday, will handle such weather. If the sailors looked a little paler than the tan, seasoned Caribbean hands on the other boats, they are to be forgiven. After all, the 14 man, all-German team just arrived on the island yesterday. And now, they need to get acquainted with their powerful 62 footer - which was designed for the Whitbread Round the World Race in the early 1990s - in a big hurry.

'We've all been sailing together for many years,' said skipper Norbert PLANBEK (GER), who added that the first order of business would be assigning crew positions to his experienced team of racing sailors. 'We chartered a Swan 41 for last year's event but we like lighter, faster boats. But we're a little bit older and this boat is new for us. We're just seeing it for the first time. So we need to figure out who's best for what job.'

Owner Johannes SCHWARZ (GER), who is chartering the boat to the German sailors but will also be aboard to assist the crew, said that Zest Hexe (translation: Spirit of the Witch) had just arrived in the islands after a transatlantic delivery from the Canary Islands. SCHWARZ said that Zest Hexe was originally called Tokio and was one of two boats designed for skipper Chris DICKSON's (NZL) Whitbread campaign in 1992. Ultimately, DICKSON chose the other boat, and now Tokio-Zest Hexe has found its way to the Caribbean and a far more civilized venue.

With an ever-present smile on his face, SCHWARZ looks like a sailor glad to be in St Maarten. 'I'd heard this regatta is very well organized, and that everyone is very helpful and friendly,' he said. 'There just seems to be a wonderful spirit to the event, which is why I'm looking forward to it very much.'

There you have it: three very different ways to approach the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. Of course, there are 255 other stories as well. The one common denominator? Everyone is ready for the adventures to come, ashore and afloat. And the wait is almost over.

Heather Tackling (As Amended By ISAF). Image, ABN AMRO ONE will line up in St Maarten:© Oskar Kihlborg/Volvo Ocean Race
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