Simpson Bay, St. Maarten (Feb. 9): On a day that began with thunder and lightning, but soon gave way to brilliant sunshine and solid wind, the 15-boat fleet enjoyed a full menu of interesting sailing conditions on Day 2 of the Caribbean Multihull Challenge. And through it all, the regatta’s fastest boat, Greg Slyngstad’s Bieker 53, Fujin, put on quite a show along the southern shores of St. Maarten.
Stirring visuals were not the case when racing got underway under squally skies after a storm cell passed ominously over the starting line on Simpson Bay. Instead, it was dark and rainy overhead, and coupled with that, the brief but heavy squalls seemed to have sucked all the wind from the race course. The 6-boat Class C fleet, the first division to start, labored mightily in 6 to 8 knot winds as it got underway. Still, the class leader, the Leopard 45 Kidz at Sea, got a good enough start to take a lead she would not relinquish, winning the day’s single race for the second consecutive day.
It was deja-vu all over again in Class B, as well. Once more, the Island Water World crew sailing the 52-foot Arawak was first across the starting line, and from there the colorful catamaran would not be challenged by the other three competitors in the class. Bernard “Appie” Stoutenbeek’s classic red trimaran Tryst maintained the status quo in the division by taking second place for the second straight day.
By the time the starting sequence for Class A had begun, however, the clouds had broken and a fresh breeze of 10-12 knots had filled in. The conditions were perfect for the HH66 cat R-Six, which charged across the start line to take an early lead that, unfortunately, was quickly erased when Fujin came charging up from leeward. With her distinctive bows, Fujin looked remarkably quick skimming over the flat water. It was a sign of things to come.
Principal race officer Andrew Rapley laid out a pair of courses for the day’s racing. Class A and Class B were sent on a sporty course that left Simpson Bay bound towards St. Barths and a rounding of Groupers Rocks, while Class C sailed a shorter track around the small island of Molly Beday on St. Maarten’s southeastern coast. Building seas off the coastline past Point Blanche made for challenging sailing.
The conditions proved to pose few problems for Fujin’s crew, which included two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee. On the return leg from Groupers, Fujin performed a total “horizon job” on the fleet, and screamed down the south coast of St. Maarten on a tight reach under gennaker at speeds well in excess of 20 knots. After rounding the final turning mark before the short, final stretch to the Simpson Bay finish line, Fujin flew her starboard hull like a Hobie cat on steroids, not something one usually sees from a 53-foot catamaran. It was totally cool. When all was said and done, after handicaps were applied, Fujin saved her time over the four other boats in Class A to record her first victory in the regatta. For those who managed a glimpse of Fujin absolutely hauling the mail, it’s an image that won’t soon be forgotten.