clubhouse2The Heineken Regatta is a wonderful mix of serious sailors who love to party, and serious party-ers who love to sail. I met a team sailing a glorious 110′ schooner name Atravida who had sailed all the way up from Brazil with their families to race at the Heineken Regatta and from ages 6 to 60 were having a blast. They won their division as well. Then there were the college buddies who all flew in, picked up a charter boat, ran the regatta for 3 days, didn’t win their division but also had a blast. This event is labeled as “Serious Fun” certainly does deliver on that! For five days the Dutch side of the island puts out the party flag, pours the “vitamin H” and rocks.

We stayed at the Sonesta Maho for the event. The old hotel part is pretty much just that, old and tired. The new part called Ocean Point is beautiful though, even while still under construction. Rooms and baths are large with balconies facing over the pool, palms and out to the indescribable blue mix of ocean colors. Included in the view is something I am still a bit mystified by. People come from all over the planet to stand in the jet wash of the large planes thplaneat depart from a runway that ends 20 feet from where the beach begins. While everything from jumbo jets to corporate jets to prop planes come and go, people lock their fingers into the chain link fence and wait for the engines to build up pressure for takeoff, then hang on tight. Hopefully. Not always. I have seen some amazing flights of people whose fingers have caved under the strain. Then there are the children on the beach, tossed like toys across the beach, sand blasted at the very best. It is a post lobotomy sport for sure and you can find dozens of videos of this phenomenon online by searching Youtube for “st maarten airport”.

Daytime:

During the day there are large party boats that you can go out on and watch the different phases of the regatta. Aquamania leaves Simpson Bay at 8:30 largestart11and returns around 1PM. Cocktails and food is on board, but don’t forget your sunscreen. It was lovely to see all the boats working very hard in the big swell this year, complicated by shifting gusts and large chop. No matter the size of your boat, you were working hard out there.

We also toured around the island during the day. Phillipsburg is a European feeling small city with an island influence. I don’t think I saw any building taller than three stories, and there is a wonderful hand made quality about the signs and entries to the restaurants. It is a curious mix of children and families enjoying the beach in front of the boardwalk, and the visitors from the cruise ships that stop by, which accounts for the small island craft shops mixed in with the large international jewelry stores that line the main street. If you have purchasing jewelry in mind, it is pretty hard to beat the prices and variety here. Be sure to haggle because vendors know that you can walk down the street and someone DSCN1010-1will offer you a better deal!

Grand Case is a charming little island town with dozens of restaurants and “watering holes” between the beach and the main street. Flower boxes overflow under the windows, enticing cooking scents the air, and the easter egg colored buildings create a wonderful casual ambiance. Wandering around this town is a relaxing and fun way to pass a day, or the rest of your life.

Wednesday and Saturday are the major shopping days in Marigot, but every day there is fun. Filled with vendors selling hand made clothing, tagua nut carvings, fresh and dried spices, home made rhums (they really do give it that “h”!) and larimar jewelry under brightly colored tents. You wander a maze of different offerings and barter with the merchants, all the while smelling the delicious open grilled goodies, tasting rhum drinks served in fresh cocoa nuts, and admiring the lovely fabrics blowing in the breeze off the harbor. I came home with a larimar bracelet, brightly colored bottles of small batch flavored Topper’s Rhum (which is so delicious you can drink it on the rocks) and a wooden box of fresh DAS hand-rolled cigars.

marigot3Nighttime Parties:

The Caribbean islands are the site of the word “party” becoming a verb and Friday Phillipsburg’s opening night party is the living embodiment of that. Jackson Weatherby came in from Boston and rocked the main stage on the boardwalk. From our perch on the balcony of the Blue Bitch Bar we could hear them and the 4 other bands lined up along the boardwalk that was sprinkled with Heineken tents flowing beer, Captain Morgan’s lovelies giving away goodies to passersby and food vendors of all sorts. The fun started in the early afternoon with bands practicing and sound checking, and finally rolled up the sidewalks around 1AM.

Saturday is night of the local celebration, music, food, beer rhum and labeled tchotchkes ruled. The Heineken girls were decked out in green and gold and having their pics taken with revelers as they wrapped them in flashing green bracelets, Heineken bandanas and glowing green rings. The Captain Morgan pirate queens were busy putting red pirate hats on any available head and handing out bright red glowing batons that flashed and waved as Tessanne Chin (Tobago native and winner on “The Voice) played along with 4 other bands on the beach through the night.

teamgreen2On Sunday night teams of sailors in matching crew shirts began to gather at 5:30 while the sun painted the clouds pink and orange and the vendors opened for the evening. It was awards night, and excitement ran like a fever. The three day event had been full of high swells, blustery gusts and chop like crazy so no matter what kind of boat was out there, the crew was working hard. It was a tediously long presentation ceremony with 21 Classes but for each entry anticipation ran high as they marched on stage to collect the award. Whether the yacht had been sailed in from Brazil or it was chartered for the adventure of doing it, this was the night. I was amazed at how many teams came from Russia, the Ukraine, England and South America. I never got a final tally of how many boats were racing, and the sea was littered with observers so it was hard to tell. Again food, beer, rhum and glowing goodies flashed along the beach, waiting for Kool and the Gang to take the stage. It wasn’t quite as late a night as even the most seasoned party-er/sailor wound up the third night of festivities.

We visited a few notable restaurants between exploring and the parties. Thursday night we went to Rancho, right down the street from the Sonesta Maho Hotel. Ste Maartin is famous for its grass fed beef and of course the clawless lobsters. Rancho specializes in both and has an interesting menu describing the flavor characteristics of each cut in great detail. You can sacrifice a little bit of tenderness for extra robust flavor, or go for thick jubig fishicy cuts with ultra rare tenderness. If you are concerned about how you look in a bathing suit, the “marbling” is carefully spelled out as well. The atmosphere is great fun, with waitresses occasionally dancing between tables to the music that makes you want to join them.

Loterie Farm Nature Reserve is a very interesting property with a history that goes back to the late 1800s. Some of our group hiked up the trails, while others did the jungle obstacle course mixed with zip line that came down from the top of the mountain ridge. Each took about an hour to descend, and each had stories of the natural beauty of the forest to tell. Nobody got hurt, but everyone was tired and grateful for the amazing lunch that was delivered at the restaurant ramada afterwards.

In Phillipsburg we had lunch at Taloula Mango on a balcony over Front Street, busy with the hustle of setting up for the opening party. It was all action out there, with tents going up, bands doing sound checks, vendors setting up booths and in the middle of it all the usual traffic from the ships. At the same time the beautiful turquoise sea rolled peacefully up against the beach while children played in the shallow water, and fabulous fresh fish, free range beef and wonderful salads arrived at our perch above the preparations.

markAll in all it was a fabulous 5 days filled with beautiful scenery, outrageously lavish parties, exciting music everywhere and of course the ever present sparkling turquoise sea. The Heineken Regatta weekend is the kind of tropical get away that you will remember long after your tan fades. Highly recommend a dose of Vitamin H every year!

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LINKS

Heineken Regatta: http://www.heinekenregatta.com/index.php

Sonesta Maho: http://www.sonesta.com/MahoBeach/

AquaMania at Simson Bay: www.StMaarten-activities.com

Topper’s Rhum: www.toppersrhum.com

DAS Cigars: andisiegers@hotmail.com

Loterie Farm: http://loteriefarm.com/