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March 6-10, 2008

With the sun shining and the city bustling with regatta fever, I attended the exciting 28th Heineken Regatta in the lovely and warm St. Maarten.  Welcome to my travel log with its fusion of stories about individuals, places to shop and restaurants - and of course, the regatta! The stories of individuals include the people that attend the regatta and the locals that enjoy the nightly parties featuring local talent as well as the headlining talent. This year, the musical headliners which were of particular interest to me was soca queen, Alison Hinds and Mister Lover Lover  Shaggy, who created quite a buzz by his presence on the island. 

St. Maarten is the smallest Island in the world to be shared by two sovereign governments-namely the Dutch and French. Both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin have maintained a peaceful coexistence for over 350 years, the longest of any two bordering nations, with euro, dollar and Netherlands Antilles guilder accepted as currency Another unique factor on the island is that the shopping is completely duty-free! 

I stayed on the Dutch side at the Wyndham Sapphire Beach Club and Resort in Cupecoy Bay which is at one of the furthermost tips of the island.  It is the perfect location for its independent couple travellers - meaning you have a full suite, including kitchen, Jacuzzi on your private outdoor deck, little grocery store accessible and it is a definite plus to rent a car, as I spent a small fortune on taxis to get around the island.  You can take the girl out of the city but you can't take the city out of the girl!


::MARCH 4, 2008::

Canadian content in the regatta!!  While I was in St. Maarten I came to learn that a work colleague from Toronto was also not only attending the regatta but in the regatta - what a small world!  Caroline Burns and her husband Mike sailed on the boat Grand Illusion Here’s what she had to say about participating in this year’s exciting regatta:

“My husband, Mike, and seven sailing buddies participated in the 2005 Heineken Regatta and enjoyed it so much they entered again this year.  We chartered a 50' Beneteau, named Grand Illusion, and entered the Open Class.  While some on board were a little overwhelmed, I enjoyed the rush of the wind and power of the waves as we practiced tacking and jibing. 

The second and third days of the race were calmer so all 10 of us boarded the Grand Illusion to experience racing.  It was exciting and an adrenaline rush at the start as 12 boats in our class all waited for the sound of the horn to start the race.  Even though most of the crew weren't 'qualified' sailors we competed well and had enough of a competitive edge to place 6th overall.  The weather was fantastic for each day of racing and the on shore entertainment was outstanding!  And then there were the restaurants and shopping!  We will definitely go back!”

Ed Furry sat beside me on the plane and he was one of the crew for the boat Storm, classified as Spinnaker 3 in the regatta.  (Ed owns and operates Sail 22 (www.sail22.com)). Turns out that Ed also managed the acclaimed Morning Light, a 52’ race boat whose legacy will be captured in a full-length documentary film, produced by Roy E. Disney's Pacific High Productions in association with Disney Studios.  The target release date is in 2008. In July, a young crew will sail the Morning Light in the Transpacific Yacht Race, a biennial 2,225-nautical-mile sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu. 15 crew members were selected from more than 500 applicants after intensive tryouts in Long Beach, Calif., last summer. They are training in Hawaii.  Crew members will range in age from 18 to 23  at the time of the race, the youngest ever in the Transpacific Yacht Race.  

My sacred first stop on my first night was to get some of the best ribs and fish on the island, from Johnny Under the Tree!  He cooks with his huge grills under the trees where many travel to and wait their turn to get their ribs, chicken, mahi mahi.  Unbelievable as usual.  As usual, the people in St. Maarten extended a courteous and friendly hand to the many many tourists from all over the world - most in town for the regatta.

::MARCH 6, 2008::

I spent this day in Philipsburg exploring the popular boardwalk, shops, restaurants and meeting up with one of Canada's most-published travel writers, Melanie Reffes, one of the islands most notable writers and publishers, Lasana Sekou, House of Nehesi Publishers, and his colleague, Arsene Reiph, at the trendy and fab Holland House hotel.  Check out an article on Lasana's life, inspirations and his latest poetry book by Melanie Reffes HERE.

Meanwhile the regatta held the Budget Marine Commodores Cup followed by the welcoming Party at Port de Plaisance. 

::MARCH 7, 2008::

Over the years the regatta has grown out to be the biggest regatta in the Caribbean.  This year I wanted to experience aspects of the island that I had not yet explored. 

One of these days was at the beach of Grand Case on the French side of the island.  A sweet and fun couple, Bill and Ellen Roeger from Philly, let me accompany them to the French side this day to discover the unpopulated and beautiful and beach.  With it's white sand and crystal blue water, it is spotted with little shops that serve you food and drinks just steps away from your beach chair, which include Creole Rock Cafe (ask for Fabiola) and Lolos (great ribs for only US$6!).  While enjoying the day, the boats from the regatta breezed by in the high winds and gave us a beautiful spectacle to observe.

Later that day, there was a press conference at the Sonesta Maho Beach Club and Casino featuring the artists performing during the four days of the regatta.  Attending the press conference were El A Kru, Antigua’s most popular exports with five International Soca Award nominations in 2007.  Representing St. Maarten was Jacob of Intwine, named so because of their cultural roots and different musical influences.  Grammy award winning, Jamaican American Shaggy, on the cusp of the release of Intoxication, has once again found that perfect balance of slick and streetwise. To date, Shaggy has sold over 20 million albums worldwide. 
 He spoke this day on going indie and breaking away from his former major label and their inconsistencies and commitment to his career.  Shaggy stated that music industry execs "don't understand the culture of dancehall or reggae and our music has suffered.  I urge the media and all people to support our music." 
 Born in Barbados,
Alison Hinds, the Queen of Soca, is known for her uplifting music known for its infectious rhythms and spirited spicy lyrics that inspires jubilant audience participation.  Alison spoke on the challenges of being a woman in the music industry, specifically in her genre of soca.  She said one of the secrets of her success is that "when I perform, I really enjoy what I do."  Alison's concert was held on International Women's Day and her message for women in the industry was to "beware of invisible eyes" meaning that people are watching women closely and to represent yourself well at all times. 
 All artists were very gracious with their time, answering questions and posing for pictures.

::MARCH 8, 2008::

More exploring of the famed Philipsburg with its local vendors and many shops catering to the vacationer who likes good duty-free deals.  Lots of shopping available, though not much in the way of variety.  Jewellers abound with the most bling you could ever hope to see.  One of those was Grand Jewelers on Front Street - ask for Sunny.  And the most amazing home-made ice cream ever at Vanille et Chocolat.  Have a seat in their funky parlour, indulge in their delicious delights, right on the boardwalk. 

The regatta had most classes race from Simpson Bay to Marigot followed by the prize-giving ceremony and party at Waterfront in Marigot featuring Alison Hinds

::MARCH 9, 2008::

Closing day of the regatta - which means all the hype of this entire regatta is leading to this.  This night is the final musical showcase featuring Shaggy.  Given the many traffic constraints of the island, especially during the regatta, I set up shop for the evening early at The Wharf, owned by Elvis Bennett of Trinidad.  The place was hopping all night with good food, good people and general excitement as the final concert was being held across the street at Kim Sha Beach. 

The entire show was hosted by Gee Money and Empress, two well-loved radio personalities on the island.

Gee Money and Empress host the Closing Night festivities

Youth Waves was one of the opening acts for Shaggy and what an exciting show they gave!  They even managed to keep all the Shaggy fans entertained for their full show.  Highly energetic and talented group for sure with their unique blend of Reggae, Zouk, Soca, Calypso and R&B.

Youth Waves, Opening Act

Shaggy fans were not disappointed when he hit the stage with a host of other artists performing alongside to fully compliment the mega talent of the Grammy-award winning Big Yard recording artist.  His band was killer and drove the fans into a frenzy while they were grinding to the beats on the beach of Kim Sha.  An outdoor concert with all these talented artists and the rest of the world just faded away ... except for those that stood beside the 7' speakers!  Tons of fun, tons of people, tons of great music and tons of traffic!

Classic Shaggy and his full band

::MARCH 10-12, 2008::

I spent my last two days in St. Maarten in my beloved Philipsburg at the very cost-effective Seaview Beach Hotel - right on the beach.  “Seaview Beach Hotel, was opened with two floors and eleven  rooms as the island's first modern hotel in 1948.” (Excerpt from National Symbols of St. Martin -  A Primer by Lasana M. Sekou).   While this hotel is not as 'plumb' as other hotels on the island, the price is right at the starting price of US$100/night, which includes WiFi for $9/day, direct access to the beach and the many restaurants and shops in Philipsburg!

Lest we forget the results of all the toil and drama that unfolded during the regatta, here
are the closing press releases from the regatta with exciting plans for 2009!

With the 2008 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta on the Books, Organizers Look Ahead to the 29th Running of the Great Celebration of Caribbean Sailing and Partying

Source:  Heineken Regatta

St. Maarten, N.A. (March 10) – The sensational 28th edition of the
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta finished in fine fashion last evening with the traditional prize-giving ceremony on Kim Sha Beach followed by READ MOREmusical entertainment by Grammy-winning recording artist Shaggy, who had an overflowing throng of thousands of sailors and islanders dancing by the sea.

The Fleet is In: TP 52 Panthera, SeaCart 30 True Look, and a Pair of J/Boats Among Big Winners at 28th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

Source: St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

St. Maarten, N.A. (March 9, 2008) – The 28th edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta wrapped up today, in similar fashion to the way it began: With clear skies and a steady breeze offering ideal conditions for a
READ MORE record-setting fleet of competitors. And after the series’ final race, a point-to-point contest from Marigot, on the island’s French side, to Philipsburg on the Dutch side, an impressive array of winners emerged.


Melanie Reffes - Canadian travel writer, who kept me laughing and made a great travel companion.

Lasana Sekou - one of St. Maarten's brightest star authors, who was so generous with his time and taught me so much about the island's history and promise.

Bill and Ellen Roeger - for 'adopting' me and for the great company - especially for the guided tour of Grand Case.

Bea Hootsman and Titia Reijntjes - for looking after the details and inviting me back for the regatta coverage.

William Bell - St. Maarten Tourism, for taking some time to drop in unexpectedly and make sure that both Melanie and I were taken care of.

Elvis Bennett - Proprietor of The Wharf, for hosting Melanie and myself for dinner on the busiest concert night on the island.

And to all those that helped to contribute to this piece ... and for the wonderful people of St. Maarten!