Crown the Champions! Merlin Tops Impressive Diam 24 Class, Nemo Wins CSA 1 in Fine Final Day of Racing in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge

On the fourth and final day, thankfully, the easterly breeze for which the islands are known at last made an appearance, and the racing classes in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge Race and Rally enjoyed a full slate of competition to wrap up the event’s excellent 6th edition. Two champions were crowned: With three firsts and a third in the last four races, Alexis de Boucad’s Merlin captured the 10-boat Diam 24 division; and with a trio of bullets in as many starts, Todd Slyngstad’s HH66 was the undisputed winner of the 9-boat CSA 1 class. For both boats, their dominant performances on the final day left no doubt about the rightful victors.

The Diam 24 class, growing by leaps and bounds in St. Maarten and France, is an unquestioned success story in and of itself. Designed by the French naval architecture consortium VPLP, the 7.24-metre (23.8 feet) trimaran has a dedicated 5-race series in the islands called the Diam Tour Caribbean, which includes both the CMC and the renowned St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. St. Maarten sailor Pierre Altier, who campaigns his own Diam 24, Cry Baby, and offers several others to race through his local charter business, has been a driving force in promoting the fun, fast one-design tri. Cry Baby sailed a solid regatta, finishing fourth overall.

But de Boucaud’s Merlin was the cream of the crop, raced to near perfection with an all-star team that included well-known rock-star racing sailor Benoit Champanhac and Ivan Skobtsov in its three-man crew. Champanhac is on a serious roll, having won the Diam class in last year’s edition of the Heineken Regatta in undefeated style.

That said, coming into the final day of competition, Merlin held a tenuous three-point lead over another well-sailed St. Maarten entry, Erick Clement’s Karibuni, with another top team that includes local racer and Board Member of the SMYC Joris vanden Eynde and St. Maarten Yacht Club racing coach Sam Peeks, who holds an impressive sailboat-racing resume of his own. It’s been said you can’t win a race on the starting line but you can certainly lose one, and such was the case with Karibuni’s first race of the day. Opting to attempt a risky port-tack start, Karibuni was forced to crash tack ahead of a starboard tacker and got hung up on the pin end of the starting line. Though Clement managed to extricate themselves and made a strong comeback to finish third in that contest, with Merlin’s flawless performance on the day, Karibuni’s fate was sealed. Still, their second-place overall result for the CMC regatta remained impressive.

Oddly enough, in the day’s first race in the CSA 1 class, an almost exact scenario unfolded. At the start of the day, Slyngstad’s Nemo was deadlocked with Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Gunboat 66, Mano, with identical scores of 6 points apiece. Mano also tried to port tack the fleet, but the aggressive tactic backfired when they were forced over the line early and had to restart while Nemo charged ahead unchallenged. In the grand scheme of things, Mana, which finished second in CSA 1,never fully recovered, as Nemo sailed faster and higher for the remainder of the day.

With easterly breeze that fluctuated between 5-10 knots for most of the day, principal race officer Chris Mansfield had a challenging task to get in several races, and handled it all with aplomb. After a light-air first race down the south coast of St. Maarten, he opted to set a shorter windward/leeward racecourse in Simpson Bay for the remainder of the day’s competition, and was able to conduct four races for the Diam 24’s and three for the CSA 1 sailors. It was a terrific way to finish the regatta.

But the unsung heroes of the day were Arthur Banting and his team aboard Tryst, the ancient Newick-designed trimaran originally launched in 1968. Not only did Tryst put together an excellent score for the day of a second, third and fourth on corrected time, the bright-red tri beat several larger yachts on a boat-for-boat basis, including Marc Guillemot’s 52-foot cat Dazeilad, the Kelsall 47 tri Triple Jack and the ORC 50 catamaran Calamity. Bravo Tryst!

Finally, the excellent all-around day of sailing was punctuated when, at the start of the third race, to the south the spinnakers of the Rally participants began to appear on the horizon on their return trip from their overnight visit to St. Barth’s. CMC founder Petro Jonker’s Seaduction, flying its multi-colored chute, was among the leading pack. It was a fine reminder that there’s more than one way to enjoy the Caribbean Multihull Challenge.

About the Caribbean Multihull Challenge:

The St Maarten Yacht Club will host the sixth annual Caribbean Multihull Challenge Race and Rally from February 1-4, 2024. The event is open to all multihull sailors on racing catamarans and trimarans as well as chartered cats and cruising multis. For more information visit www.caribbeanmultihullchallenge.com.

About the Sint Maarten Yacht Club:

Established in 1980 with the goal to promote sailing on the island of St Maarten. It organizes multiple sailing events throughout the year, with the St Maarten Heineken Regatta as its crown jewel. A youth sailing program stimulates local youngsters to become part of the sailing community, teaching them life skills like team work, perseverance and confidence. Always looking to further develop sailing on St Maarten, the not-for-profit Club is active in promoting the sport, as well as its beautiful island destination. For more information visit www.smyc.com.