With a building southerly breeze coursing down the alluring east coast of the isle of St. Maarten, aboard Californian Ron Boehm’s Bob Perry-designed Antrim 52, Little Wing, and the island’s own Petro Jonker’s Leopard 47, Seaduction, the action was fast and furious. The two Caribbean Multihull Challenge veterans may have been sailing in the event’s supposedly laid-back Rally segment for cruising catamarans and trimarans, but their crews were trimming their kites in a tight jibing duel as if competing for the America’s Cup. Aboard Little Wing, as the breeze rose into the low teens, in a nice puff the speedo topped 8 knots, not bad for a cruising cat. The Rally was fully underway, and the sailing was sweet and cool. Which was somewhat of a surprise, as the day certainly did not commence with such excitement.
In light winds of just 5-6 knots, the 6th edition of the Caribbean Multihull Race and Rally set forth Thursday, with a full slate of racing on tap for the 9-boat CSA 1 division; the ten entrants in the one-design Diam 24 class; and the 16 entrants in the Rally fleet. The race committee sent the CSA boats on a round-the-island course, while the Diam’s conducted a trio of races off the island’s southern coast. With a pair of victories, Alexis de Boucaud’s Merlin topped the Diam 24 leaderboard at day’s end. Only two CSA yachts completed the course around St. Maarten, with Todd Slyngstad’s HH66, Nemo, topping Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Gunboat 66, Mana.
Meanwhile, the Rally boats set forth on a course from Simpson Bay to a taut anchorage at Orient Bay. And at the outset, the light-air conditions were challenging indeed. It was a staggered start, with yachts setting forth in two-minute intervals beginning at 10 a.m. sharp. St. Maarten Yacht Club commodore Frits Bus’s Lagoon 380, IWW, was first over the starting line, but with the light airs, it wasn’t long before the entire fleet was tightly packed, and the supposedly mellow cruisers displayed their competitive natures. It was a vibrant scene, with Pierre-Yves Legris’s colorfully painted Alibi 65, Surprise, an early frontrunner. TradeWinds Experience all-electric Aurora, an innovative TW6e from event sponsor TradeWinds, glided across the line. A trio of notable Balance cats – Dave Newman’s Umoya, Scott Hawthorne’s Zephyr, and Kevin Hutton’s Golden Hour – all surged into the leading group. Georges Coutu’s well-sailed Leopard 50, La Novia, which has been a force in the CMC’s racing fleet in previous editions, was soon passing one boat after another. It may have been a Rally, but it sure felt like a race.
It was an upwind beat past Great Bay but once Philipsburg was astern and the fleet could bear away, one after another, the jibs were furled and the spinnakers were hoisted. Harry Fugate’s quick HH50, Off-Piste, was unsurprisingly one of the top boats at the front of pack. Multi-colored kites dotted the horizon. Swapping positions, on the last jibe into Orient Bay, both Little Wing and Seaduction were headed by a massive wind shift and dropped their chutes. Little Wing arrived in the anchorage just ahead of its rival. Dropping anchors, the Rally boats assembled in the protected waters. Beers were cracked, snorkels donned, sandwiches assembled. Let the cruising begin.
It was the first of four full days for the cruisers, who moved to Great Bay later in the afternoon for a party ashore. In the days ahead, the movable feast will visit Anse Marcel and St. Barth’s before a return to Simpson Bay on Sunday. Along with the sailing and parties ashore, the Rally participants have other fun challenges, including a Rally Bingo Card with a host of tasks to be completed: Take a swim with the crew; a picture of Creole Rock; tie a bowline in under 5 seconds; take a selfie with a Rally official. And so on. The woman’s team aboard Imagine A, a Voyage 44 coached by St. Maarten’s Garth Steyn which has been sponsored by the popular jewelry maker FOPE Fine Italian Jewelry, currently holds the lead in the Bingo challenge. In other words, it was time to get down to the serious business of having fun.