Nothing is likely to beat the 25th anniversary turnout, but with entries on target for 240 boats on the water, St Maarten Heineken regatta is as popular as ever as an event and as a social highlight. The format of party-race-party is unsurpassed anywhere in the world of sailing and exactly mirrors the event's motto: Serious fun. The racing is as serious as you want it, the partying similarly high flying.
For three days in March, 3 -5, the regatta offers superb Caribbean racing interspersed with the best in Caribbean hospitality. From the very first party to the fantastic prize giving bash on the beach, there is a heady mix of local bands, international greats - headline band for Sunday's prize giving is the three time Grammy winner Ozomatti from Los Angeles - plus a few special green cans of Heineken with which to wash down food that ranges from rice and peas to the finest French cuisine. This really is the regatta for everyone.
This year's entry list is groaning with big boats. Ten boats are entered in the Caribbean Big Boat series, the three race series that offers the best early season, sunny sailing anywhere and a total of 14 boats over 60ft is signed up for the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. Notables include the Farr 60s Numbers and Hissar, both owned and sailed by well known names in racing; Bella Mente, the boat that took the regatta by storm six years ago as Sotto Voce; Black Shark, an 81ft Huisman/Frers charter yacht - definitely not in the Bareboat class; and some old friends like Chippewa, Titan 12 - defending her title from last year - Donnybrook, Equation and Mischievous, a boat that has been racing at the St Maarten Heineken Regatta for the past ten years without a break, and more.
Plenty of the usual suspects are in the lists of local and visiting smaller craft, local sailing pundit Frits BUS and his Melges 24 2Contact Carib2, Disco Inferno returns yet again, the Swan 48 Affinity, Rosebud the Transpac 52 that shows her stern to many boats far bigger, Gidion MESSINK takes time off from the Volvo Ocean Race to sail Swan Benelux 1, while recent returnee to the island, Paul DIELEMANS competes head to head aboard another Swan 48 Swan Benelux 2. Boats from neighbouring islands and many from local waters will be competing, along with the massive phalanx of bareboat charters.
St Maarten Heineken Regatta is unique in having about 40 percent of the entry list made up from bareboat charter craft. There are complete classes of 25 or more identical 50 footers, plus everything you can usually find taking families on holiday round the Caribbean's islands down to about 36ft. But at St Maarten they throw off their cruising trappings - and all spare gear - and racing teams take them over. It is the ideal early season starter regatta for Northern European racers wanting to get the jump on their competitors back home - and it makes a great holiday too. Come to the island, take a few days to practice to tune up the crew work and your tan, three days of racing and a series of parties, then fly back home to the chill waters of Europe - well, every silver lining has a cloud. . . .
As well as the bareboats, a thriving multihull class, beach cats, spinnaker and non-spinnaker racing classes, even an open class with a golf-style handicap that can change with your increasing - or decreasing - skill level, St Maarten's Heineken Regatta has it all.