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LE Newsletter - March 24, 2011


  St. Maarten’s 31st Heineken Regatta – March 3-6, 2011 - VIDEOS

Toronto in March:  grey, damp, cold, wet. 

St. Maarten in March: bright, sunny, warm, breezy. 

Not a tough choice to accept the assignment of covering the
31st Heineken Regatta in sunny and friendly St. Maarten. 

This edition of the Heineken Regatta was forecasted to be exciting for those competing in the regatta as over a hundred yachts (the “century mark”) competed in a half-dozen different classes. And for the music revellers, like myself, we get excited about musical performances on various beaches around the island.  Hosting the series of concerts throughout the week-long events is former New Yorker, now St. Maarten and radio host and a TOTAL all star for even surviving the week long festivities, G Money (pictured).  Amongst the many talented artists from various locales, the headliner this year was Haitian-born, activist and world music artist, Wyclef Jean.   

The first thing when arriving on the tarmac and deplaning in St. Maarten is the whoosh of warm air that hits your face.  You know the one – the air that brings a slow smile to your face.  Then, as the reality sets in that you’ve been transplanted to another time zone, you smell the salt air from the Caribbean Sea.

For my first night, I checked into my hotel, the famous
Holland House, which is one of my fave hotels during the regatta.  Outstanding customer service (ask for Carmella or Vernon!):

I was greeted by good friends of Barbara Chatarpaul Alleyne of Toronto’s Excess Entertainment (http://www.excess-ent.com).  I was whisked away by Mike, a promoter on the island, and other friends (78entertainment inc.), who had my back during my stay.  We went to Toppers on Simpsons Bay, to hear some ‘interesting but not horrible’ karaoke.  Lots of drinks later and I finally felt that I had left my life in Toronto in exchange for life in St. Maarten. I went later in the week and the food was very good.

Coasting on the good feeling of a warm welcome, the next day involved checking in and picking up the media kit from the organizers of the
Heineken Regatta, which, by the way, was chock full of sponsored gifts including, of course, a 6 pack of Heineken, Capt. Morgan’s Spiced Rum, perfume and lots of sailor-worthy memorabilia. 

Next stop –
Ras Bushman’s The Ital Shack restaurant, featuring vegan food exclusively grown on his property.  Ras Bushman is famous on the island, not only for his restaurant but also for his live reggae performances around the island.  His legendary Foundation Freedom Fighters was established for Rastafarian musical reggae band purposes. 

Of note, as well, is Ras Bushman’s son, Jawara Ku-j Joe is getting major radio play for his single, Mr. Customs Officer See the video here:

As well, one of my first stops is the
Get Wet Beach Bar and Grille in Philipsburg, owned by Canadians from Orillia, Ontario.  Always available are amazing burgers and Heineken (pilsner, which is not available in North America) which is remarkably cheap during the regatta at 2 for $3!  Even cruise ship captains recommend this hot spot for their comfort food fare and cold beverages.

Thursday was spent perusing jewellery stores, namely Grand Jewelers with an American couple who pick up their jewellery there every year – duty free and custom-made should you wish, you can’t go wrong.  Not to mention champagne or beer offered to you once you start browsing!  Ask for Sunny – he’ll take care of you.  We were treated to lunch at Au Petite Café … best wrap I’ve ever had! 

Friday night was the famous party on the
boardwalk of Philipsburg.  One of my favourites as there are three stages over a mile of boardwalk on the beach facing the Salt Pond and the Caribbean Sea.  Parallel to the boardwalk is Front and Back Streets featuring vendors and shop after shop each trying to outdo the others offering electronics, alcohol, jewellery, linens, perfume, and more. 

If security is your issue, I can vouch for the intensified security, police patrol and staff to ensure everyone safely enjoys the regatta  The police were very visible and friendly helping anyone needing assistance.

Bands and talent were plentiful … and REALLY good!  Great night … especially at my hotel, Holland House which was the host of the VIP of the regatta.  Featured bands that night were Roots Down Below; Full Circle featuring Silver Logan Sharp; XP Band; Remo & Barbwire; Phlox & Showtime Band; Percy Rankin & His Bonfire Band and Peering Pacheco. 

Saturday night was a concert in Marigot whose theme was the spirit of Carnival.  Bands included Sir Oungku & Red Hot, Cut Creator DJ Outkast and the Explosion Band.  Despite the fact that I could not attend due to an early morning press conference with Wyclef, I heard that this concert was fantastic! There was a serious jump up as Sir Oungku drove the crowd into a Soca Frenzy.

Sunday (closing day for the regatta) was an exciting day! 

First was the press conference at
St. Maarten Yacht Club at 9:00 am (!) where the media got to hear Wyclef speak and get photo ops and interviews with him.  I've got to say that it was a thrill to meet him!  There was an excitement there (despite the hour!) that I hadn’t quite experienced before at those press conferences.  I think that it was a combination of Wyclef’s global recognition, his run for Haitian presidency and the fact that he speaks French, which appealed to many of the French media attending. 

Next up was a day at the beach in
Grand Case on the French side of the island.  We went to a remote part of beach where there are many cute shops offering fashion, food and home décor.  There is a certain je ne sais quoi on the French side – a whole different flavour and style than the Dutch side.  Picturesque and just beautiful!

Quick change and off to the closing concert.  Again … a night rich with local and international talent!  This night featured opening acts Orange Grove, Brainpower, Cut Creator DJ Outkast (sooo dope!) and Philipsburg Community Brass Band.  Each and EVERY band brought something unique and had the crowd jamming, although Orange Grove seemed to have a special rapport with the audience, given that they are a band of brothers and from St. Maarten.  Documentary filmmakers were on site filming the concert as part of a story on the band.


And then the headliner,
Wyclef, with his eclectic collection of artists backing him up.  A stupendous show with incredible energy, precision timing, flawless performances and an engaging connection with his audience.  Myself and other photographers carefully chose our vantage spot to get the shot. As they announced Wyclef to hit the stage, the photo pit was filled with screaming fans who immediately started dancing to the first tune.  It was chaos after that but all in a good spirit – no animosities, just everyone having a good time. 

On Monday the island seemed eerily quiet as media, regatta participants, VIPs and revellers caught their prospective flights home. 

I chose to stay another couple of days and came upon a really nice hotel/time share called
Sea Palace Resort with an incredible Chinese restaurant attached called The Pink Pearl Restaurant – amazing Chinese food on the beach , reasonably priced, delicious and authentic.  Ask for Howard!  This is where I met up with St. Maarten’s Lasana Sekou, poet, short story writer, essayist, journalist, and publisher from the island.  Lasana has authored over 13 books and is considered one of the prolific Caribbean poets of his generation.  Check him out on Facebook or his publishing company at www.houseofnehesipublish.com.

I went to the coolest party on Monday night that there’s no way I would have known about except for my great hosts, Mike and his many friends.  The party was inside/outside of an incredibly cool spot and restaurant in Grand Case called Le Shore

St. Maarten – the friendly island.  And the Heineken Regatta?  Good people, good times, good music, good eats and an infusion of diverse cultural energy.  The most thanks go the 31ST Heineken Regatta for providing me with so much music, fun, beauty and food on my beautiful island - yes, I'm now claiming it as mine too!

Can't tell you how great this week would be to go to St. Maarten in 2012.  Excellent shows, tours, boats, etc. but the concerts on the beaches are wicked.  Think about it.  Westjet flies during the week direct from Toronto so make your plans to get to St. Maarten for
March 1-4 2012!!

2012 PROMO

Sincere thanks to all who made this specific regatta an enjoyable experience:

Holland House
 Vernon - Holland House
Carmella - Holland House
Sea Palace Report - Joe
Howard at Pink Pearl
Ras Bushman
Jawari Bushman
Bill and Helen Roeger
Sunny - Grand Jewelers

and all the courteous bus drivers that took me around the island for $2