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Heineken Regatta Set for March 3 to 5

The 26th St Maarten Heineken Regatta is now just weeks away, with another bumper Bareboat influx expected, as well as the much-anticipated return of Morning Glory and last year’s Big Boat winner, Titan XII from Puerto Rico.

While last year was dominated by the Silver Jubilee celebrations, light winds, and a sensational performance by Jimmy Cliff, this year’s novelty is the inclusion of the Heineken in the Gulf Stream Series, which starts with Key West and finishes with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club anniversary.

Less publicised is an additional racing series for the Racing Class, to be held on the Saturday morning around Great Bay. After last year’s record regatta entry, warnings were sounded on the subject of how to keep the soul of Heineken. “Better, not bigger,” seemed to be the maxim.

Instrumental in setting up the additional race is this year’s new Race Office, Andrew Rapley, who recently qualified as an ISAF race officer. While Rapley has been involved with the Heineken since 1993, this is the first time he will be taking overall charge of the starts and finishes.

“The Heineken Regatta is primarily a point to point,” he says. “I’ve been asking for years for race boats to have a race boat course, and this year I ‘bullied’ it through. A race course to me is upwind/downwind or an Olympic triangle.”

The Racing boats will start in Philipsburg and have a series of races so that they can have five or six races in the Heineken instead of four.

“The race boats are very keen. They’ve been asking for it for years. It just makes better racing. It’s nice for the crew to have something else to do apart from being rail meat. Up to the weather mark, they’re getting the chute ready and you’ve got to pack it downwind. I’ve tried to make it three miles or more, because I’ve been told that on a Maxi to get the bag packed on a three-mile beat is about the limit. So they need three miles to go upwind, get the thing packed and ready to go again. It’s going to be tough but they’re out there to work hard.

The downside is that we’ve got a formula that works for the Heineken so why change it? We want to try to make it better, so the pressure is on me a bit to make it work. The other downside is that we’ve got to lay one mark in 1,000 feet of water, without polluting the ocean with fishing line or rope!”

With so much at stake, and an experimental format to cope with, one would expect Rapley, who has been race officer at the St Maarten Yacht Club since 1994, to be biting nails, but this is not the case.

“I would sooner do the Heineken Regatta than the Laser regatta. With the Laser Regatta, they’re all very experienced sailors and with one second to go, everyone is on the line and you’re trying to catch over-earlies among all boats that look the same. Whereas there’s a glaring difference between one boat and another in the Heineken regatta and they’re never on the line. They’re never on time! The catamarans come over the line at 20 knots and up to five minutes late.”

What is the appeal? The suggestion that being the man to start the Heineken packs kudos is brushed aside. Instead, Rapley admits, “I continually want to educate myself. As the boats are getting more sophisticated, so I have to educate myself. I’m in this self-educational mode and also the boats that are campaigning are doing so with a lot of money, and they want it right. A skipper certainly doesn’t want his first place to go down the drain because someone got his signals wrong on the committee boat.”

The St Maarten Heineken Regatta starts on March 3rd. For more information, visit www.heinekenregatta.com

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