Winning the Party: A Rally Around the Leewards

At this year’s Caribbean Multihull Challenge, I realized there’s more than one way to savor the victory of sailing.
2024 Caribbean Multihull Challenge
Competitive racing can be a lot of fun. This year’s Caribbean Multihull Challenge saw a record-setting fleet of 35 racing and cruising catamarans and trimarans sign on to participate in dedicated races across two competitive CSA racing classes, and in an island-hopping rally for the cruising fleet. Laurens Morel

Six years ago, Robbie Ferron, a founder of the Sint Maarten Yacht Club and the Heineken Regatta, met with fellow club members about the concept of a regatta exclusive to multihull sailing yachts in the area. The idea sailed through the yacht-club board, and the Caribbean Multihull Challenge was born.

The CMC was the first of its kind among competitive racing events, specific to multihull enthusiasts. It continues to attract a steadily growing number of catamarans and trimarans, some chartered and others owned. Just last year, the CMC introduced a rally component in addition to hardcore racing. Based on my personal experience, I’m happy to attest that this rally moves at a nice, manageable pace for the Cruising World crowd.

Cruising World Editor-in-Chief Andrew Parkinson at the helm of the Sunsail 424 in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge Matthew Burzon

I was there as a guest of yacht-club member Stephen Burzon, who helped Ferron create the event and now helps to organize it. I signed on to help crew a Sunsail 424 charter catamaran during the four-day rally that included St. Barts, with a touch of nonserious racing thrown in for good measure. As we cruised, I had a great time—but I realized that I had joined more than just the rally. I’d become one among scores of boaters worldwide who seek to venture beyond their comfort zones in search of an adventure.  

Competitive cruising, as I started calling it, is many things. Sure, the challenge of racing might be involved, but it’s more about pushing your boat or yourself a little further beyond the reef. It’s about finding new ways to use your boat and have even more fun on the water, whether that means a race or rally, a new destination, or trying something else new. For a cat-curious monohull sailor like me, participating in the CMC certainly fit that description.    

On the Sunsail 424 Midsixty, our traditional charter rig of a modest mainsail and a self-tacking jib wasn’t going to win us any races, but that wasn’t the point. In a fun rally atmosphere, it’s more about winning the party—which is exactly what all 16 rally entrants set out to do, even as the sailing gods mocked us with dead-bleeping-calm in a place and time typically known for steady trade winds and sporty sailing conditions.

2024 Caribbean Multihull Challenge
The annual event is open to all multihull sailors on racing catamarans and trimarans as well as chartered cats and cruising multis. Laurens Morel

We could have pouted, but we instead soldiered on with smiles, with all of us feeling grateful for the chance to be there at all. As we set out on the first leg, on a course from Simpson Bay to a snug lunchtime anchorage at Orient Bay, less than 5 knots of breeze tested the entire fleet. 

It was a staggered start, with yachts setting forth in two-minute intervals, but in the light airs, the entire fleet was soon packed like a scrum at a kids’ soccer game. The colorfully painted Alibi 65 Surprise was an early front-runner. The TradeWinds Experience all-electric TW6e Aurora, an innovative Fountaine Pajot Samana 59, held its own. A trio of formidable Balance cats—Umoya, Zephyr and Golden Hour—surged to the front. The Leopard 50 La Novia started passing one boat after another. It may have been a rally, but it sure felt like a race, albeit a slow one.

Back aboard our Midsixty, tired of flopping around for the first hour trying to notch positive speed over ground, our Dutch captain, Hans Huele, made the call to fire up the D-sail. Sure, we disqualified ourselves from contention (yes, on Day One) when we switched on the diesel, but we had priorities, namely a crystal-­clear anchorage and a cold beer. We traded glory for ­groundspeed. Don’t judge.

2024 Caribbean Multihull Challenge
Like-minded sailors flex a little competitive muscle in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge. Laurens Morel

Now under power and in the (illegal) lead, we enjoyed the unique vantage point of looking back at the fleet. It had rounded the southeast point of Saint-Martin and finally was able to bear away, heading north up the eastern shoreline. One after another, the multihulls hoisted their spinnakers. The colorful kites dotted the horizon in our wake. It was a beautiful sight. 

Once we were safely on the hook in Orient Bay, our crew aboard Midsixty was treated to a fun finish as spectators—again, not the kind of thing that you’d ever see competitive racers do but which, in a rally, doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. We watched the last jibe into Orient Bay as the two leaders, Little Wing and CMC co-founder Petro Jonker’s Seaduction, which had been swapping positions on the downwind leg, were suddenly headed by a windshift and dropped their chutes. Little Wing arrived in the anchorage just ahead in an exciting finish, despite the light breeze. It was, at the same time, a battle royale and a battle of who could care less.

The rally fleet then dropped anchor and assembled in the protected waters of Orient Bay to get down to the serious business of having fun. It was time to win the party. Beers were cracked, snorkels were donned, sandwiches were devoured, stories were told, and friendships were forged. In the days ahead, the movable feast would enjoy stops at Anse Marcel, Ile Fourchue and St. Barts before the eventual return to Simpson Bay. Along with the sailing and nightly parties ashore, rally participants enjoyed other fun challenges along the way, including scavenger-hunt bingo and selfie photo contests. 

2024 Caribbean Multihull Challenge
Cold beers and warm smiles on the crews’ faces at the end of a day of fun competition off St. Barts in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge. Matthew Burzon

The sailing gods were kinder to us toward the end, as some morning squalls returned the wind to us for a few hours at the start of Friday’s leg. It would take us back around the west end of the island and around the north to the quaint French village of Anse Marcel. For a few hours aboard Midsixty, we enjoyed a rousing sail with gusts up to 20 knots. I worked the lines and quickly got a feel for the Sunsail 424’s sweet spots. After a while, the captain handed me the helm, which I kept for the rest of the passage.

Wind in my face, tacking our way back and forth for hours, restored a carefree sense from my youth and plastered the kind of smile on my face that I hadn’t felt in ages. We didn’t win the race portion of the rally—in fact, we came in dead last—but in my mind, we definitely won the party.

2024 Caribbean Multihull Challenge
The first of its kind among competitive racing events for multihull enthusiasts, the CMC continues to attract a steadily growing number of catamarans and trimarans, some chartered and others owned. Laurens Morel

I wasn’t bothered when the wind died again overnight, forcing our fleet to motor onward to St. Barts. Really, how could I be upset? We made a pit stop for lunch and took a dip in the gin-clear water. We got to do some water aerobics with sea turtles at Ile Fourchue. It was the kind of stuff that made you remember why we all love to be out on boats, sharing the most memorable moments with nature. 

We returned to Simpson Bay on Sunday as part of the final leg. Spinnakers were flying, and spirits were running high. I’m told by the racing segment of the CMC that the sight of flying spinnakers heading back caused quite the commotion in the bay. The rally fleet was led that day by Seaduction, flying its multicolored chute. 

There was no shortage of rock-star talent in the CSA 1 class, with a pair of 66-foot heavyweights trading punches throughout the weekend. For the crew of the HH66 Nemo, which won its class, the regatta was a swan song of sorts. The owner plans to move up to a 70-foot trimaran. Laurens Morel

The moment was a fine ­reminder that there’s more than one way to enjoy an event like the Caribbean Multihull Challenge. Winning a trophy can be great, but it doesn’t always have to be the goal. There’s also great reward to be found in simply pressing forward, casting your gaze just a little bit farther over the horizon, and trying ­something new.