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Racing on Island Time

2023 June 1

There’s plenty of ways to get sailing and get in on the serious fun at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

The breeze started to build as we powered out of Simpson Bay’s IGY Marina on our way to catch the 10:30 bridge opening. Hank Schmitt, the skipper of the Swan 48 Avocation, and the rest of the crew relaxed as we headed out to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta race course. The rest of the fleet was already underway in the midst of windward-leewards, and I wondered, did we miss the start? Turns out we were right on time for the start of Island Time class.

The crew aboard the Melges 24 Team Island Water World II hikes hard.
Laurens Morel photo

“The class has been around for many years. At some point it was called the ‘Fun’ class, and then it was more accurately called the ‘Lottery’ class,” said Robbie Ferron, one of the sailors who founded the St. Maarten Regatta in 1980. “It really took off when Hank Schmitt became its salesperson and chose the much more marketable name ‘Island Time’ and made sure that all entrants understood that they did not have to get up early.”

More than 100 boats with sailors from 25 countries gathered on the warm Caribbean waters for the 43rd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta March 2 to 5 for a mix of serious racing and onshore fun. From one-designs and multihulls, to high-tech racers and bareboats, to pay-to-race and chartered race boats, more than 5,000 sailors found a way to be part of the “Serious Fun.”

“The fundamental concept of a regatta being both a party event and a serious racing event is an enduring one,” said Ferron, who races his Nonsuch 33 Bunglebird in the Island Time class. “In the Caribbean there have been spinoffs for narrower interests like grand prix and classic yachts, but the core concept of party plus race has not lost favor. The on-the-water events remain consistently successful, with a high level of interesting newcomers and persistent returnees.”

Regatta founder Robbie Ferron drives his Nonsuch 33 Bunglebird upwind competing in the Island Time class.
Laurens Morel photo

The regatta continues to draw North American sailors who opt to bring their own boats to the islands for the winter racing season. Flashy high-tech racers such as the brand-new Cape 31 Flying Jenny sailed by Sandra Askew from the Annapolis Yacht Club and the TP52 Hooligan Racing from Ohio won plenty of races. But the fleet is also a mix of regular production racer-cruisers such as the J/133 Bella J that sailed to the regatta from Nova Scotia and older race boats such as the IOR-era Frers 46 Quintessence III.

“We brought the boat down in 2019 with the intention to keep it south for the winter racing season, and we only managed to race the RORC 600 before Covid shut everything down,” said Quintessence III owner David Crum. “This year’s Heineken was our first opportunity to get the island racing program going again.”

A member of Minnesota’s Wayzata Yacht Club, Crum used to sail the boat out of Bayfield, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior. His job in the digital tech industry allows him to work anywhere there is a good internet signal, so he now spends weeks at a time in the islands.

“I am much happier sweating in the islands than freezing back home on Lake Superior,” said Crum, who now keeps the boat in Antigua, with plans to race Antigua Race Week. 

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