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No simple phrase can capture the experience of going to sea with Ramiz Abuhaydar and his crew, to lay course marks for Heineken Regatta racing. On the Wednesday morning before competition begins, Ramiz and his crew of two leave the St Maarten Yacht Club dock at 8 am, on a 24’ boat loaded with everything necessary to lay four, large, orange, tapered conical marks that racers must clear cleanly during the races that follow. A stirring, Pavarotti aria emanates from the on-board sound system, on a perfect morning in Simpson Bay, enroute to the Marigot bridge. From there, the course was north into the wind, to Tintamarre, where the first mark would be placed.

In the welcome lee of the island, by a perfect beach-haven for snorkelers, Ramiz and his crew, including Patrick Roussel and Theo Burtick, carefully prepare and arrange for dropping, all the rigging for the four marks to be laid this day. Starting from the bottom of each assembly, first, comes the heavy, metal anchor, on its chain, attached with heavy line, about 180' for 50' of water depth, allowing for tide and current fluctuations. Above, the line attaches to a rugged, non-inflated, orange buoy, about 18” in diameter, with an intricate string of bowlines, further secured by zip ties to avoid any chance of slippage. A similar series of hitches secure that buoy within a couple feet of the large, mark, inflated using a hand-held, battery powered, pump. It is important to inflate a bit less than full, especially in the cool of the morning. As the sun heats up the air in the mark, it expands. If the mark was already full, air would be vented out the safety release valve, leaving less air than needed to keep it adequately inflated, once the hotter part of the day passes.

A cement filled flower pot and, if necessary,  a length of heavy chain, are attached to the bottom of the mark to keep it upright for maximum visibility and not laying on its side. The smaller, but more durable buoy serves two very important purposes. If some mishap befalls the large mark and it deflates and sinks, the smaller buoy survives, preserving the whole, valuable, rig and anchor below water and, also serves as a substitute mark until a new mark can be placed.

Positioning marks is a precise process, using two GPS units. The first is used to reach the spot and, once the mark is placed, the second GPS is used to ping it, verifying good location accuracy. Dropping the mark set, starts with casting over and setting the anchor firmly, after which, the balance of the rig is released in a smooth and controlled fashion. During the preparation, Ramiz and his crew also practiced using an ingenious "anchor yanker" rig. A rugged, non-inflated buoy, of the sort already described earlier, is attached to the anchor line with a snap-over, metal ring. Then the boat just moves away, with the buoy being driven back by the motion and the drag through the water, imparting powerful lift against the anchor line it is attached to, unseating it to avoid extremely heavy lifting by hand. It worked like a charm Fully prepared now, the four marks are efficiently placed at Tintamarre, Marigot and two at the lowlands in about two hours of precision teamwork between captain and crew.

Ramiz, who was born near Boston, moved to Beirut with his family, in his first year and lived there the next forty years. During that time he did many things, including raising funds for a foundation and owning and operating a restaurant.  In 1995, he moved to Tortola, where he became involved with placing marks for regattas there. In that capacity, he was once accompanied by Frank Verhood, the director of the SXM Heineken Regatta, who asked if he would like to do the same thing for our races. He began in 1999 and has continued since then. In 2004, he became a partner in the Golden Hind Chandleries and continues with that business today.

His crew on this trip, included a first timer, Theo, and an experienced hand in many nautical skills, Patrick. An island resident since 1993, Patrick once owned and operated Laser Mark, a restaurant in Orient Bay that served classic burgers and fries to tourists, before hurricane Louis wiped it out in 1995. Theo is a marble sculptor from Ottawa, who also loves racing Hobie cats, Lasers and ice boats on the Ottawa River, when not skiing or snowboarding. Good natured ribbing and outrageous jokes from Ramiz, not to mention the wonderful operas, all added to, not only a greatly successful mission, but also great fun for everyone aboard.

John Merritt followed all our volunteers round during the regatta this year to find out more about them. This article is one of many that he wrote and we are very grateful for the voice he has given our wonderful volunteers especiallly as he was a volunteer himself.

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