Though - or perhaps because - the regatta is run under the motto <I>"Serious Fun"</I>, the Heineken Regatta has always attracted a good array of racing boats and talent to go with the massive Bareboat classes.
2003 is no exception with some excellent new boats, some old favourites and sailors who range from Admiral's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race experts to more mature talent.
In the former class is the man who was one of the masterminds behind the resounding recent Dutch success in the Admiral's Cup, Bouwe Bekking. Bouwe will be aboard Arien van Vemde's new Judel and Vrolich 66 footer Sotto Voce II. Bouwe, who also competed in the Volvo Ocean Race with Grant Dalton aboard Amer Sports 1, will be putting the dark blue all-carbon boat through it's paces in St Maarten as a part of a major attack on the Caribbean Big Boat Circuit, a three regatta Series that takes in the BVI and Antigua as well as St Maarten.
Other big boats of note include the Swan 68 Chippewa, Clay Deutsch's boat from the US and Bill Alcott's Andrews 68 Turbo, Equation II, a frequent visitor to St Maarten. A little smaller is Keith Rodney's Taylor 41 Sheerness that has been a Caribbean fixture for quite some time and even over summered - they do things differently here in the Caribbean - in St. Maarten to be sure that they were ready for racing this winter.
In the "more mature" category, we have two old adversaries who can be guaranteed to put up a fight, St Maarten's Bobby Velasquez sailing his Beneteau 45 L'Esperance, and Antigua's Hugh Bailey aboard his Beneteau 435 Hugo. Both marina owners, Bobby named his after himself - Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg, St Maarten's capital - Hugo has the more prosaically named Catamaran Club In Falmouth Harbour Antigua, they can be relied upon for some cavalier cut and thrust throughout the three days of racing.
Visitors from Europe are here in numbers and in quality. Richard Matthews brings his new boat, Flirt, which was designed to race under IRC as well as the CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) rule. It will be interesting to see how the boat performs in her slightly different CSA trim and with GBR Challenge's deposed starting helmsman Andy Green on the wheel. Andy has helmed Richard's boats before and Richard will be looking to get some results with a boat that has perhaps not been quite as quick as expected in Europe.
X-Yachts from Denmark are well represented in the racing classes with particular interest being focussed on Achim Kaddelbach's IMX 45, Noa X-Base, and Jean-Marie Vidal's IMX 40 Near Miss. New too to the Caribbean is the X-332 class, and Germany's Horst Figge-Jaenke will be hoping that his XtraFun will be able to carry on the successes that these excellent boats have been racking up on the cold side of the Atlantic.
Two US rock stars hoping for a result are Doug Fisher and Tucker Taylor, shipping aboard the amazing Frers 49 Synergy. Why amazing? Well, she was a gaping wreck not long ago thanks to the ravages of one of the Caribbean's less than helpful hurricanes and has been rebuilt to a remarkable standard by the St Maarten Shipyard. Carl Vaughn will be hoping that his light blue resurrection will be blessed with the strong breezes she craves. Synergy should be up against Jack Desmond's Swan 48 Affinity from the US and that perennial Caribbean racer, the Falcone family's Caccia ala Volpe from Antigua.
Add to that a whole lot of boats that could easily spring a surprise, plus the imposing presence of Steve Fossett's towering 125ft catamaran PlayStation, and you have all the ingredients for a classic regatta.
Oh yes, and don't forget, the sun is out, the sky is blue and the breeze is always 12 to 22 knots from the North East, not like some places we could mention.