There is no other sailing event that makes visiting sailors and St. Maarten locals more excited than the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Why? It’s simple really:
Concerts with international artists; Check.
Flowing Heineken beer; Check.
Beautiful sail boats racing around the island; Check.
Every first weekend of March, St. Maarten’s population all but doubles when the island receives an influx of professional sailors, sailing aficionados, spectators and those who simply come down for some Serious Fun in the sun.
As a non-sailor myself, I always paid more attention to the parties surrounding the regatta than the actual races. But this year, with the help of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta organizers and the St. Maarten Tourist Office, I got to experience the event from A to S for sailing, and I can tell you without a doubt, that you do not need any previous sailing experience or interest to enjoy this Regatta, one of the Caribbean’s largest sailing events.
Sailor or no sailor, here is how you can enjoy this sailing event like a pro:
Attend the smaller Parties
The Regatta officially kicks off on the first Thursday of March but the village actually opens from the Monday before. Registration is from Monday to the Wednesday and this is the perfect time to take in some of the smaller shows, mostly by local artists. The crowd on these days is usually small and the performances happen on the smaller stages around the village. It’s a good time to meet the participating sailors and to get to know which boats are racing. But if the sailing part is not your thing, you can always stroll around the village. There are plenty of food stands where you can have a bite, beer stands with Heineken and other drinks at very attractive prices and booths with local arts and crafts or housing vendors and sponsors of the event, showcasing their latest products, services and gadgets. You can also do what I do, drink beer and check out the musical acts of the evening.
Be one of the Village People
No, not that kind of village people. There is no YMCA in this version. Just great fun in one large spot. Years ago the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta used to move around different parts of the island, with the event highlights moving between the Dutch and French sides, depending where the race of the day would end. This meant, putting up and breaking down large stages and stalls at each location every single day of the event. In other words a true logistical nightmare.
A few years ago the organizers decided to build an entire Regatta Village which could hold not only the different vendors, registration and information booths, organizers’ headquarter and the ever impressive main stage, but also the large crowds that the event attracts. It took us locals some getting used to but the Regatta Village is simply put, super convenient and there is ample parking. There is also a reliable Water Taxi service with constant runs between the village and the yacht club.
Returning to the village after each race (or however you decide to spend your days) is always fun. There is aways something happening in the evening hours, whether it’s a band on the main stage, the announcement of that day’s race results, the pedal bar or a beer-pouring competition. There is no dull moment in the Regatta village. The village even comes with its own currency in the form of tokens, which can be used at the different booths during the 4 days of the event. The tokens can be purchased upon entering the village.
Insider’s tip: You can usually skip paying the entrance fee if you show up before 6pm 😉
Get up close and personal on a Spectator’s boat
When God was giving out sea legs, I was still stuck in line for a second liver and missed my chance. The brutal truth is that I get seasick on boats and therefore I ry to avoid them if I can. But when I was presented with the opportunity to see the race up close from the unique vantage point of the deck of a media boat, I had to say yes. So, I downed some Dramamine tablets, put on my big girl panties and off on the boat we went. To be honest, there were times when I worried whether my breakfast was gonna end up becoming breakfast for the fishes but once you’re so close to the sailing action, and the boats zoom passed you, it’s so exhilarating that I completely forgot about my seasickness.
Once on the water there were other media boats as well as a few large Spectator Boats. These are the boats that you can pay to get on but what they don’t tell you is that these boats are not just for spectating but for partying as well. Man, did the people on board the Spectator Boas have all the fun. The drinks were flowing, the music was cranking and the crowd was going wild with every passing boat. If that is not some Serious Fun on the water, I don’t know what is. Just don’t forget to bring your reef-safe sunblock.
Follow the race from land
The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is 4 days of racing . You can easily follow one race from the boat and the next one from land. Rent a jeep, throw some friends in the back along with a cooler filled with drinks and follow the “around the island” race. Enjoy the view of the passing vessels from different vantage points around the island, like Fort Louis in Marigot, the dock in Grand Case, the beach at Orient Bay, the top of the Cole Bay hill and from the boardwalk in Philipsburg, to name a few. It’s a full day of fun. Promised.
Party like a Rock Star at the Regatta Concerts.
There is no party like a St. Maarten Heineken Regatta Party and there is a reason why the words Serious and Fun are constantly used while promoting this event. Not only are there several parties happening all around the island leading up to and on the days of the regatta but the concerts at the village have been known to be Legendary.
Each year the Heineken stage is more spectacular and the performances more epic. We have seen the likes of the Black Eyed Peas, the Commodores, Wycleff Jean, Shermanology, Akon, Red Foo and the Party Rock Crew and The Jacksons on the main Heineken stage. Soca queens like Destra and Allison Hinds and reggae royalty like Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Third World and UB40 have all graced us with stellar performances during the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta concerts.
But it is not only the international artists that we look forward to seeing perform each year, our very own local talents have been known to kick some serious butt on stage. Orange Grove, Kenyo Baly, Youthwaves, the Funky Horny Horns, Latin Sugar, DJ Outkast are just a few of the artists with local roots, who we look forward to seeing on stage each year.
Don’t miss the Bridge Show
And then there are the so called Serious Fun Bridge Shows. These happen from Thursday to Sunday at the end of each racing day, with the big competition day being the Sunday.
The judges sit on the deck at the Yacht Club, right by the bridge to see the boats enter the lagoon in the afternoon and score the boats on originality, effort and the best crowd response. Each year the boats’ crew members come up with innovative ways to impress the judges and the crowd. Sunday is the big competition day and that is when the crew goes all out, with funny costumes, dances and acts. There has even been a nude person or two. Hey, anything to get the judges’ attention, right?
If anything these shows are a very fun way of passing the afternoon, cold Heineken in hand and the actual shows are guaranteed to make even the biggest grump crack a smile. As for the motorists waiting for the the bridge too close, this definitely makes the waiting a lot more bearable.
There you have it: 6 ways non sailors can have Serious Fun at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Chase the race on sea and land, party like you’ve never partied before, laugh so hard you cry at the bridge shows and get your groove on at the concerts. all while sipping on an ice cold Heineken. Does life get any better?
I am asked quite frequently when is the best time to visit the island. If you ask me, this is definitely one of the best times to spend a week or longer here. Come for the sun and sea, stay for the party, I say. Don’t wait too long to book your trip though. This is also a very popular week and accommodations get booked up fast.
The 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta takes place from March 5th to the 8th 2020. Registration for the sailors amongst us is already open and the headliner has been announced. I’m not spilling the beans though. If you want to know more, click here.
Have you experienced the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta before? Leave your comments in the section below.
*I was asked by the event organizers and the tourist office to participate and write this blog post about the event. The above is based on my opinions and personal experiences at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.