With 47 boats in seven classes, the sailing was spirited and the images memorable on the opening day of this year's St Maarten Heineken Regatta.
There was Elandra, the Beneteau First 40.7, wiping out at the leeward mark and struggling with a spinnaker takedown as many of her competitors slipped past. And MAD IV, the Grand Soleil 50, suffering the same mishap with her kite flailing away at the masthead. And no one who saw it will forget the sight of the Melges 24, French Connection, in a near knockdown with her big red asymmetric spinnaker in the water as her crew scrambled to windward to try and get her back upright.
But no crew had more of a handful than the team aboard the J/109, Vrijgezeilig, which faced not one but two fire drills: a spinnaker that exploded into three sections and, worse, a man-overboard situation when an unfortunate crewman went into the drink after yet another broach. That incident had a happy ending, as the soaked sailor was recovered a minute later and Vrijgezeilig resumed racing.
In other words, the weathermen said it would blow today, and blow it did.
In staunch easterly winds of 25-knots, 47 boats in seven classes answered the call today in the second running of the Budget Marine Commodore's Cup, the prelude to the 28th St Maarten Heineken Regatta, the annual three-day Caribbean sailing carnival which begins tomorrow with a series of point-to-point races to Philipsburg.
In the interests of keeping carnage to an absolute minimum, the race committee chose discretion over valour and conducted a pair of races, rather than the three that were originally scheduled. Still, up and down the course and before and after the brief, passing squalls, there were patches of light air and holes in the breeze, with plenty of opportunities for substantial gains for the savvier crews.
Several teams proved that they were at the top of their games, winning their respective divisions with a pair of victories. That was the case in the Spinnaker 1 class, where Benny KELLY's TP52, Panthera, stood atop the field with consecutive bullets, and also in Spinnaker 2, where Clay DEUTSCH's perennial campaigner, the Swan 68, Chippewa, matched the performance with a straight-set victory.
The last time many sailors saw Carlo FALCONE's plywood rocket, Caccia Alla Volpe, was a year ago during Antigua Sailing Week when FALCONE and his crew sat forlornly in wavy seas after the boat was dismasted early in the series. But FALCONE is back, as he proved on Thursday, winning the 11-boat Spinnaker 3 class with a first and a second.
Arnaud DE MEILLAC's A40, sailing styl'carabies, recorded the same score to win Class 4, narrowly beating Sergio SAGRAMOSO's Beneteau 40.7, Lazy Dog, in a preview of what may well be one of the most competitive of all the St Maarten Heineken Regatta classes.
In other action, the division winners in the remaining three Commodore's Cup classes were also decided by crews who posted a pair of victories: Robert Armstrong's J/100, Bad Girl, in Spinnaker 5; Clive LLEWELLYN's Grand Soleil 50, MAD IV, in Spinnaker 6; and Ian HOPE-ROSS's Beneteau First 36s7, Kick 'em Jenny, in Spinnaker 7.
With the second Budget Marine Commodore's Cup now in the record books, attention now turns to the main event: the 28th running of the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. Friday, on day one, the fleet will embark on a point-to-point race to Philipsburg, with the spinnaker racing classes setting out on courses around-the-island, and the bareboat and cruising divisions scheduled for a shorter contest along the island's southern shore.
St Maarten Heineken Regatta - www.heinekenregatta.com