We hadnâ€™t initially intended to visit St. Martin.Â Then, after we changed our minds (swapping out St. Barts), we intended to stay in St. Martin for only four days.Â Then, while still in Tortola, we looked at the calendar.Â Sure enough, the Heineken Regatta was set to begin four days after our arrival.Â O.K., better make it a week (at least).
The Heineken Regatta is arguably the biggest sail-racing â€œmeetâ€ in the Caribbean each year.Â It is inarguably one of the three biggest â€“ alongside similar events in Antigua and Tortola.
There are big boats here â€“ boats like ABN-AMRO I.Â When youâ€™ve won the Volvo Ocean Race, this is a piece of cake (even with the handicap).Â There are also small boats competing here, plenty of them smaller than Spectacle.Â Indeed, most of the racing is done on rented charter boats, mostly Beneteau and Dufour bareboats rented from Sunsail and The Moorings.Â This sounds comparatively tame â€“ it isnâ€™t.Â These folks have lots of training, lots of intensity, lots of crew and lots of competition.Â There are at least 15 different classes (probably more), every single one of which is hotly contested (except, funnily enough, maybe the very biggest boats â€“ I didnâ€™t get the sense that ABN-AMRO I had much trouble).Â The most competitive classes are boats just about Spectacleâ€™s size.
It also is a notoriously big four-night party, one that moves around the island to various locations.
Truth be told, they donâ€™t do the best job of advertising where everything is and when, so it was only on Day 3 that we really joined in the fun.Â That day, the race was scheduled to end in Marigot, where Spectacle is currently moored.
That morning, Melissa began walking up the dock to the bathrooms.Â Weâ€™re moored quite some way from them, so she had plenty of time to notice that the marina had gone from 70% full to about 20% full overnight.Â On the way, she passed Etienne, the Belgian-fabulous director of the Marina.
â€œEveryone left,â€ she commented cheerfully.
â€œYou stay here zehn, today?â€Â He queried, in his thick Belgian accent.Â â€œYou are not afraid?â€
â€œAfraid? Of course not,â€ she replied, a bit confused.
â€œYou will see,â€ he deadpanned, walking off.
At that point, Melissa noticed that every single free space in the marina had a â€œRESERVEDâ€ sign on it.Â She returned to the boat and reported, â€œI think weâ€™re going to have an eventful afternoon.â€
Sure enough, around 1:30 p.m., boats began pouring into the marina â€“ it was a borderline traffic jam.Â We stood on deck, boat hook in hand, fenders at the ready, waiting to see who was going to try to moor next to us and fend them off if necessary.Â The high winds greatly increased the chances of disaster.
Thankfully, we emerged unscathed.Â Some did not.Â We saw one Dufour that had been T-boned during the race and had four bashed-in stanchions and a giant (big enough to crawl through) hole in its deck. Â Surrounding the hole was blue paint.Â Not flag-blue hull paint, but light-blue BOTTOM paint.Â Someone had ridden up and over them.Â Ouch.Â Some poor sucker (who was surely not involved in the race) owns that boat and leased it out for the Regatta.Â Iâ€™m sure he wonâ€™t be very happy even after the charter company â€œfixesâ€ it.Â By the way, I canâ€™t speak well for the quality of Dufour decks (which involve plywood in inappropriate spots) now that Iâ€™ve seen a cross section.
As the day wore on and cocktail hour began, we noticed that the boat that seemed to be having the most fun at the whole marina was about four slips down from us.Â They had a Belgian flag flying and were partying up a storm.
Â This was Team Papillon, indeed from Belgium, aboard a Beneteau 505.Â Among Team Papillonâ€™s sponsors was Laurent-Perrier, the champagne house.Â Not too shabby.Â I was told that part of the sponsorship arrangement was that the team was given one magnum per crew member (there were nine of them) per day to drink.Â I have absolutely no doubt that they finished it all and more.
These guys were hilarious.Â We partied up a storm with them.Â Champagne and good cheer were flowing to such an extent that, eventually, the party moved into the water, and Melissa dutifully joined them, drinking outÂ of a shared magnum while floating around the marina.Â Needless to say, they liked her better than they liked me.
Part of their good cheer might have been owing to their performance.Â They had won both of their races to that point, making them odds-on favorites to win their class (â€œBareboat 4â€) of about 15-20 boats.
At this point, I decided that I needed to become an honorary member of Team Papillon.Â I pulled the navigator, Guido, aside and recounted how Red Auerbach used to light up a victory cigar every time he knew the Celtics had the game won.
â€œI have a box of Cuban Romeo y Julieta Churchills on my boat,â€ I said.Â â€œIâ€™m going to go get nine of them and, once you know you have the race won, I want all nine of you to light one up.Â Itâ€™s the American way.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll do it,â€ he promised.
That night went VERY late.Â The next day, we spent too much time in the sun, but, worn out as we were, we still managed to show up for the final Regatta party and awards presentation down on the Dutch side.Â Sure enough, Papillon had won.Â Still, I wondered about the cigars, but we were so tired we ended up heading back to Marigot at 9:30 before tracking any of them down.Â I joked that, â€œTonight weâ€™re going to party like weâ€™re 99.â€Â When do we ever â€œhang it upâ€ at 9:30?
Two days later, I awoke to the following e-mail, sent from Belgium:
As we promised, we did light the 9 cigars before getting up to the podium!Â We did succeed in winning all 3 races in Bareboat 4.Â Last race, we started from the worst possible position, the last one ! – everybody tried to push us out. Â On top, another boat hit us during the race, what made us loosing at least 1 min.Â However we finished 2nd – 9 seconds after the Sinner team, but they got disqualified as they crossed the starting line to early (before starting shot).Â
So Andy, I kept my promise .Â Thx for the support & nice smoking stuff !
Best regards from the complete team,
Navigator, Papillon Team.