The Caribbean Multihull Challenge.

One innovative event has turned multihull sailing into everyone’s cup of tea.

By Lydia Mullan

One joy of a rally is that you’re actually glad to greet your fellow sailors as they pass you by.
Photo: Lydia Mullan

The 2023 Caribbean Multihull Challenge (CMC) introduced an unusual element to its three-day Sint Maarten-based schedule of racing: a rally.

Race organizers found that the folks likely to wind up in Sint Maarten in late January fell into one of three categories: those doing the Caribbean race circuit, liveaboards passing through, and charterers. The first was an obvious target audience for idyllic racing around the island, but the other two posed more of a challenge. Liveaboards, with their necessary cargo, well-used boats, and often shorthanded crews, weren’t set up to be competitive in an event like the CMC, and charter boats are typically not insured to race. So what do you do?

For CMC frontman and Volunteer Marketing and Operations Director Steve Burzon, the answer was simple: add a rally. Long-term cruisers could get involved without having to unpack, and charter cats were cleared and ready to go. It made perfect sense. The inaugural CMC Rally, run in tandem with the racing, took a fleet of 12 from Simpson Bay to Anse Marcel, across to Anguilla’s Sandy Ground, and back again over the course of three days.

I was fortunate to have been in attendance aboard Dream Yacht Charters’ beautiful Lagoon 45 Pannui. I’m a lifelong racer, so the concept of chartering was a bit foreign to me. What’s there to do if you’re not fiddling with things, eyes glued to the instruments? What do you mean the autopilot or electric winch will handle it? Frankly, I was expecting a few long, slow days.

What I got instead was Sint Maarten’s invariably pristine sailing conditions, gorgeous scenery, clear nights under a riot of stars, and a few new lessons from our skipper, Hans, in cat management. I won’t bore you with the details, but they included adventures in anchoring with an unexpected squall crashing down upon us, a masterclass in raising the main underway without snagging the lazyjacks, an electric winch placement logic puzzle that had me doing some gymnastics to hand furl the jib until we solved it, and a graceless (but very funny) plummet to the water as we struggled with releasing the dinghy from the davits.

We were not a fast boat. In fact, the rally was organized with a sort of pursuit start, and every day we were treated to a parade of spinnakers as, inevitably, each boat passed on by. Unlike in most races, though, it was done with enthusiastic waving and cheerful greetings called over the wind. I could get used to that.

Each evening there was a party planned on shore, and inevitably someone would smugly mention being the first into anchorage, to which someone from the second boat in would always teasingly snark at them that “this isn’t the race.” Or we’d be asked how we did, and Hans and I would shrug and say we were last again, to which the sailor would remind us in a conciliatory tone, “This isn’t a race!”

The author found plenty of adventure to be had even without the competition.
Photo: Lydia Mullan

This isn’t a race. It became our running joke in no small part because we all seemed unable to shake that default competitive mentality. Did I enjoy the laid back rally experience? Absolutely. Do I also think most of us are racers at heart? Undoubtably.

Which brings me to this year’s CMC. Among upgrades to the event is the inclusion of “Time Trials for Cruising Multihulls.” According to Burzon, “This is an answer for those skippers who do not want to officially race, but who want a chance to grab a podium spot at a prize giving.” It is emphatically not a race (gotta keep the charter insurers happy), and the timed event with its parade start and lack of congested turning marks ensures no boat-to-boat drama on the natural course from one destination to the next. However, it still scratches that competitive itch we were all feeling the first time around.

Another upgrade for 2024 is an environmental component. The event (which now spans four days, adding new stops around Sint Maarten and St. Barths) has paired with TradeWinds Experience, a membership charter company, and two environmental NGOs—the Caribbean Cetacean Society and CLEAR Caribbean—to present an award honoring an individual’s sustainability efforts.

This year’s Environmental Hero prize went to Delhon Hewitt, an avid sailor and Sint Maarten chief ranger, who is described as a dedicated and tireless advocate for the island’s natural environment.

”There was no job that he couldn’t do, wouldn’t do, and didn’t do well,” says Burzon about his first time meeting Hewitt.

“The dominos simply fell into place with the joining together  the debut of TradeWinds’ brand-new 59-foot Smart Electric Catamaran, the Caribbean Cetacean Society, and CLEAR Caribbean in a program to select what Owen Day of CLEAR calls a ‘foot soldier’ of environmental efforts in our local oceans as a 2024 honoree,” Burzon says. The CMC also sold event merch to help raise money for the two NGOs and their marine mammal and coral reef preservation operations.

The thing that makes the CMC unique is the event’s constant evolution. In its sixth annual edition, the upgrades are still rolling out, whether responding to feedback from sailors or aspiring to be a better steward to the local environment. It might seem like an eclectic mix between conservationists, hardcore racers, competitive cruisers, and true cruisers, but there is something for everyone in this event, and it’s refreshing to see organizers who aren’t afraid to try something new to create an event like no other.