St. Maarten Heineken Regatta : Caribbean skipper Colin Rathbun rolls to victory in Budget Marine Match Racing Cup

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Simpson Bay, St. Maarten (February 28, 2012) – On a shifty, challenging racecourse that put a premium on tactics and boat handling, British Virgin Island skipper Colin Rathbun topped an international field of competitors in the protected waters of Simpson Bay today to win the fourth annual Budget Marine Match Racing Cup, the kick-off to the 32nd running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which begins later this week.

For his victorious efforts, Rathbun and his crew—Kevin Wrigley and Nick Cunha—took home the winner’s purse of $5,000. Second-place finisher David Storrs, a U.S. sailor based on Long Island Sound whom Rathbun topped by a score of 2-0 in the best-of-three finals, earned $2,000 for his efforts. In the petit final to round out the podium, Russian match racer Eugeny Nikiforov beat Holland’s Bouwe Bekking—one of the world’s top ocean racers and a veteran of multiple Volvo Ocean Races—in straight sets for the third-place prize of $1,000.

Rounding out the score sheet, after Bekking’s fourth-place result, were St. Maarten sailor Jan Willem (Frits) Bus, Guadeloupe’s Luc Duponteil, and young Swedish competitor Jonatan Amein, respectively.

“In match racing the press focuses on the skipper which is unfortunate,” said Rathbun, who spent his formative years sailing around the world with his family on a small ketch. “It really is the ultimate team sport. Nick Cunha is our bowman and Kevin Wrigley does the main and calls tactics and they really kept it together today. They put the boat in the right direction and told me where to point it.”

Rathbun and Storrs advanced to the finals in the International Sailing Federation Grade 5 match-racing series after dominating the competition in the seven-flight round-robin tournament, in which each skipper and their two-person crews faced off against one another aboard identical 20-foot Jeanneau Sunfast sloops. Squally morning conditions eventually gave way to clear skies and challenging breezes ranging from 10- to 20-knots, with radical shifts up to 30 degrees.

“It was a difficult day for the sailors but we kept to the schedule beautifully,” said Race Officer Paul Miller. “We got in with two hours left in Happy Hour. That was the goal.”

Before retiring to the bar, however, the competitors more than earned their frosty rewards. In fact, Storrs—sailing with recent U.S. college sailing stars Steph Roble (Old Dominion) and Maggie Shea (Connecticut College), Chicago racers in the midst of their own campaign for a women’s match-racing berth in this year’s Olympics—tore through the preliminary rounds with a 6-0 score. But Rathbun was hot on Storrs’s heels, registering a 5-1 tally with his only loss to the New England skipper, the reigning Long Island Sound match-racing champion.

But Rathbun got his first taste of revenge in the initial race of the championship round, a contest that was ultimately decided in the pre-start dial-up, when Storrs went head to wind alongside Rathun but could not find the momentum to spin away. As Storrs’s bow tapped Rathbun’s boat amidships as the American tried to bear off, he was flagged for the penalty infraction by the international jury and, though he’d come from behind after a foul in a round-robin contest, he was unable to do so a second time. Rathbun went on to take the start and cruised to a wire-to-wire victory.

“That (dial-up) was a tricky situation,” said Rathbun. “If we fell off one way, we would have run into David, and if we went the other we would’ve hit the pin. Nick, on the bow, did a great job keeping us into the wind. David lost his bow and got the penalty but it could have gone either way.”

The second race, however, was far more dramatic. After a game of cat-and-mouse in the tight pre-start maneuvers, the two skippers hit the starting line at speed but on opposite tacks, with Rathbun at the committee boat end of the line on port and Storrs at the pin end on starboard. As the breeze hovered around ten knots, Storrs maintained a seven-second lead at the top windward mark. But on the first downwind leg, Rathbun attacked aggressively, and narrowed the lead to a mere four seconds at the leeward buoy.

About two-thirds of the way up the second beat, Rathbun managed to forge ahead and held a 14-second lead at what proved to be the regatta’s last windward leg. Covering Storrs to the finish, Rathbun high-fived his teammates as he crossed the line to a large round of applause from the spectator fleet.

“Both teams were really well matched, and those guys (on Storrs’ boat) are really good,” said Rathbun. “The top of the course was very shifty. There was a certain amount of luck involved. But afterwards David said, ‘You looked awfully collected.’ That meant a lot to me.”

As for Storrs, the entire Budget Marine Match Racing Cup was an extremely positive experience. “Colin found a way to beat us, but this has really been fun,” he said. “I’ve never been to St. Maarten before and I was thrilled to get an invite. And we’ll be back as often as they ask.”

Michele Korteweg

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 February 2012 )