Flight of the Swan

Scenic overlooks on the French side of St. Martin helped landlubbers catch the Heineken regatta race action
Scenic overlooks on the French side of St. Martin helped landlubbers catch the Heineken regatta race action.Elaine Lembo

God answered some heartfelt prayers for breeze from racers in St. Maarten during the 2007 Heineken Regatta two weekends ago, but they weren't Richard Long's.

Richard, a successful California attorney and a racer who'd campaigned Flyer, his beautiful S&S designed Swan 57, to great acclaim on the U.S. West Coast in the 1980s, may still practice law, but his decision to retire from wind, and anything faintly resembling lumpy conditions, is final. So although the trades blew well into the 20- and 30-knot range for this blockbuster event, there was no venue for appeal with the owner. There'd be no flight of the Swan until the elements died down a bit.

So I discovered shortly after arriving aboard Flyer just as the four-day series got under under way off Simpson and Marigot bays. (For more on the regatta, read "These Sailors Weren't Dogs". Flyer had put in to the island earlier in the week on a two-fold mission: to retrieve a brand-new Hood Vektron jib, and to pick up this reporter for a week and a half of high-season cruising with Richard and his captain, Rick Martell, my longtime partner.

"But you even won a Rolex watch!" I teased Richard about his reluctance to set to sea in puffy conditions. And I really was teasing; as a steadfast devotee of all things cruising, hunkering down in the outer reaches of Marigot Bay over the weekend of March 2-4 was fine by me-rolly anchorage, buzzing jet skis, and passing ferries notwithstanding.

The harbor show also included close-range viewing of contender Chippewa, a Swan 68, as well as the 63-foot classic schooner When and If, which hails from Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. Her captain, Casey Fasciano, sailed her over from St. Bart's to view the races and catch a bit of the fun ashore. His partner, Margaret Palmer, kept busy making breakfasts and lunches for the racing crew of Van Ki Pass, a class-winner in the Newport-Bermuda 2006 race, when she wasn't staying aboard the mother ship, Safari, the Gunboat 62. Such reunions with old sailing friends, adventures with new ones, race viewing, and much, much more were within my easy reach.

But back to our lawyer friend: In his spare time, Richard's the chairman of the food and wine committee of the private University Club, which means he takes good food, good wine, good cigars, and good company seriously. How seriously? So seriously that it accounts for the presence of a critical Flyer crew member, chef Elijah "Alex" Cherry. Thanks to Alex (and Flyer, of course), our cruising was far from camping on the water; it was a veritable Tour Gastronomic. But I'm getting ahead of myself (look to a future issue of CW for the story). When we weren't taking in the street sights of Marigot, or wandering its open-air crafts market, which offered up all types of goods, from fine linens to mother of pearl household objects made in Madagascar, we spent plenty of time sizing up the cafe fare.

When we weren't indulging our appetites, I checked off a few other landside waypoints:

- At Captain Oliver's marina in Oyster Pond, I caught up with the staffs of two of the more prominent charter companies, Sunsail and the Moorings. The docks were nearly empty as Sunsail had 45 of its 50 boats entered in bareboat divisions of the regatta; the Moorings sent 56 to the races (it usually has 50 boats at the St. Martin base and had to import six from the company's flagship base in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, to handle the bareboat bookings.)

- At the bistro Ô Plongeoir, I attended one of the daily press conferences put on by the regatta public relations committee. If more press conferences encouraged attendees to sip Mojitos and rum punch and nibble on puff pastry while hearing the day's race report, they'd be as successful as this one.

- With Sharon Morgenthaler, a friend for whom the regatta marked her first Caribbean trip, we hiked to a history lesson at Fort St. Louis, the largest historical monument in St. Martin, high above the traffic.

It wasn't until Monday, March 5, that Richard got his wish from the Man in Charge. After warily eyeing a passing squall, he gave Rick the order to weigh anchor, and off we set for Road Bay, Anguilla, some 12 miles away.