These Sailors Weren't Dogs
Time flies. Nineteen years ago, fresh to a new job as an editor and
writer for Sailing World magazine, one of my first assignments was to
cover a little event called the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. There
were five other reporters there, if I remember correctly, and about
sixty boats on the starting lines. The whole shebang was run by an
expatriate South African called Robbie Ferron, the operator of a little
business on the island called Budget Marine. It was all kind of quaint,
and a lot of fun.
past weekend, I returned to St. Maarten after a long absence to help
run the press office for the event, and if I'd just been beamed down
from the Starship Enterprise, I couldn't have been more surprised.
"Little" Simpson Bay is now the home to dozens and dozens of
superyachts; the traffic on the island is akin to rush hour in
Beantown; the Heineken regatta has grown exponentially, with this
edition attracting 239 entrants in 20 separate divisions; and Robbie
Ferron's tiny chandlery is now the West Marine of the Caribbean. His
hair color has changed quite a bit-it's a lot, well, snowier-but then
again, so has mine.
You get to meet a lot of interesting people
at a big regatta-every boat, it seems, has a good story to tell-and I
ran into a couple of crews of American sailors that were memorable for
very different reasons.
Every year, the Heineken attracts
literally hundreds of sailors who charter bareboats-this year, there
were 105 entries in six classes-and use the event to mix in a little
racing with a little cruising. It's an ideal venue, as the three-day
regatta takes the fleet from one end of the island to the other, and
there's still plenty of time to poke around on your own or head over to
Anguilla or St. Barths.
Lots of sailors come year after year.
of them is Jeffrey Sochrin of Milford, Connecticut, who this year was
competing in his fourth Heineken. Sochrin's a good sailor, and so are
his mates from the Milford Yacht Club who come down to race with him.
They won a class last year, and when the dust had settled after this
weekend's racing, had defended their title this time around. Sochrin
calls his boat Team Goldendog, and of course that means there's a tale to tell.
started with a pretty simple notion," Sochrin said. "We wanted to sail
competitively, but with a cause. I'd always wanted a Golden Retriever
and I ended up rescuing and adopting a dog back in the States. So it
seemed kind of natural to try and identify homeless animals and find
them a good home. And it just kind of took off from there."
Did it ever.
This year, Sochrin's Beneteau was covered with stickers from the 27 sponsors who now back Team Goldendog (for more on the program, check out www.teamgoldendog.org).
In addition to working with the Yankee Golden Retriever Association,
they also try to address the problem of stray animals on St. Maarten,
an island Sochrin and friends have come to respect and love.
Specifically, they contribute to a program that neuters and spays dogs
and cats. "We've met a lot of great people here," said Sochrin. "And
this whole thing has taken off in ways I couldn't have imagined."
Over the last year, the guys sailing the Beneteau 40.7, Team Paul Mitchell,
have seen their lives unfold in ways they probably couldn't have
imagined, either. Owner Mark Palermo keeps his boat on Lake
Pontchartrain, Louisiana, and he was lucky, for when Hurricane Katrina
ripped asunder the Gulf Coast, sixty percent of the boats on the lake
were gone. But he and his mates were eager to get on with their lives,
and that meant racing sailboats. The Heineken was the first of several
Caribbean events they're attacking to do just that.
mistake, these native sons of New Orleans are sailors. A few of the
crew sailed the boat to St. Maarten from Pensacola, Florida, a trip
that took 15 days with just a quick layover in the Virgin Islands.
sailed in a class with a bunch of J/Boats and a half-dozen 40.7's, a
boat they say is great for the islands because you can cruise it and
race it effectively. "She's a racer in wolf's clothing," said Palermo,
"an upwind machine." One of the 40.7s was Lazy Dog, a boat campaigned by a team of terrific Puerto Rican sailors who regularly clean up in the Heineken.
"They're going to be tough to beat," said TPM crewman Lee Crona, "but we want to give them a run for their money."
it turned out, it blew and blew for this year's Heineken, peaking with
gusts in the mid-30-knot-range, and ultimately none of the 40.7's
closed the deal-the class winner was another American, Rick Wesslund,
on a J/120, El Ocaso. Lazy Dog took second and Team Paul Mitchell (skipper Palermo is a distributor of the hair products) was fifth in the 14-boat class.
courses, great waves, great wind," said Palermo. "I'm not sure we were
ready for that much consistent breeze over the deck, but it was an
awesome experience. We're going to take what we learned and come back
Would you doubt them? I don't.
For complete results from the 2007 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, click here.