The Weather Gods blessed St. Barthélemy from April 5 – 9, taking care to offer more than 400 competitors from 20 nations and on 48 yachts a week of perfect Caribbean sailing during the Les Voiles de St. Barth. Dominating the conditions were trade wind breezes that ranged from 17 – 32 knots, a fairly gentle Atlantic swell, and blue skies. After four days of intense racing, separated by one day reserved for competitors and friends to discover this quaint little corner of France, the second edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth seems to have etched out a place in the growing list of “must do” Caribbean events.
Like for many new regattas, the best growth is slow and steady. The first edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth, in 2010, had 23 yachts, while this year the fleet grew to 48, and with positive reports coming back from competing sailors, that number can only grow. “What’s not to like?” was the commonly asked rhetorical question. After winters in both the U.S. and Europe produced record snowfall and cold temperatures, an April trip to St. Barth was a no-brainer for most.
The week kicked off with an opening ceremony and cocktails at the festive Race Village on the Quai General de Gaulle overlooking Gustavia Harbor. This year’s Godfather of Les Voiles de St. Barth, singer/songwriter and sailor Jimmy Buffet, welcomed the competitors in English and French, a bilingual touch that would run throughout the week. Each night featured live music by a variety of bands along with tasty hors d’oeuvres provided by many of St. Barth’s finest restaurants.
Thinking already of 2012 ~
Event organizers Francois Tolede, Luc Poupon and Annelisa Gee were understandably pleased with the second edition of the event. Tolede and his organizing committee are already busy planning for the 2012 Les Voiles de St. Barth. “We are well aware that we must continue and build on the event, following on the success of the 2011 edition,” said Tolede. “We are committed to excellence, both on the water and for the activities ashore.”
To counter balance the seriousness of the competition on the water, Les Voiles de St. Barth sought to highlight the friendly and festive spirit that presided over the event. “Imposing a day off in the middle of a week of competition was a gamble. But it seems unanimous that this mix of good racing with maximum fun ashore is a good combination.”
While the sailors come here to make the most of the racing, the organizers are keen to showcase the St. Barth’s sybaritic pleasures, of which there are quite a few. Operation “gastronomy,” held on Friday evening, featured three of the top chefs on the island, and the mid-week party on the luxe Hotel Guanahani & Spa beach was emblematic of the successful spirit of Les Voiles.
Tolede emphasized the unrestrained involvement of the partners and suppliers and said, “The spirit that prevails at Les Voiles de St. Barth is thanks to all of our partners who believed in our concept. Team organization, sponsors, suppliers; they are all deeply thanked, and we’ll meet again in April 2012!” Race organizers plan to announce the dates for the 2012 edition within the next month.
Review of the week by class ~
Rambler 100: “A beast”
Faced with a daunting opponent of similar size, the 97-foot Dubois-designed Genuine Risk tapped into its resources, both technical and human, looking to exploit any weakness in the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed maxi rocket ship Rambler 100. A win of just two minutes on corrected time ensured Rambler 100 the advantage of the last race and consolidated its success.
Rambler 100, conceived and built for offshore racing and record setting, was partially crewed by Ken Read’s all-star around-the-world race team from Puma Ocean Racing, a group more accustomed to distance sprints. According to skipper Ken Read, they came to St. Barth with some questions about their ability to perform on the shorter courses. “We are delighted with the way the boat handles and our ability to sail a hundred percent, even on the shorter courses,” said Read.
No exercise proposed by technical director Luc Poupon and race committee chairman Jean Coadou could put off this giant maxi, which showed impressive power at all speeds on the often challenging routes between the islets and rocks, as well as on the long runs around the island. Rambler finished 1-2-1-1 for the week, but still had a good sparring partner in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy-owned Genuine Risk. “It was very difficult to win,” said Read. “Genuine Risk is a well-sailed boat, with a lot of the Swedish America’s Cup team onboard. It’s a canting-keeled boat, different from ours, but still high performance. We had our work cut out for us.”
On the final day, Rambler 100 scorched around the course in two hours elapsed time, with Genuine Risk finishing 11 minutes behind. On corrected time, Rambler sorted out to only two minutes ahead of their rival to win the Maxi class. Sir Peter Harrison’s Farr 115 Sojana, with such sailing talent aboard as Peter Holmberg, Lionel Pean, Jacques Vincent and Brian Thompson, finished third overall.
Vesper pulls out of the trap
In the Racing class, much was expected from the confrontation between Jim Swartz’s TP52 Vesper, with a crew comprised of top American and New Zealand sailors (including tactician Gavin Brady), and Peter Cunningham’s Farr 60 Venomous, with an equally competitive crew (including Tony Rey calling tactics).
Also posing a threat was the gang of strong Corinthian Dutch sailors on Willem Wester’s Grand Soleil 43 OT Antilope, unbeatable on their rounds of the top Caribbean regattas this season, and Raymond Magras’ Speedy Nemo, second last year at Les Voiles and whose crew was rife with local knowledge.
The group did not disappoint, with close racing and multiple lead changes. Antilope won the first race in 30+ knot winds and rough seas, but Vesper was up for the fight. After tearing two headsails, they finished under mainsail alone and still managed a second in that race to keep them in contention.
Long around-the-island courses and downwind legs satiated Vesper’s quest for speed, but the crew of Antilope kept the pressure on, and the team had to settle in the end for second overall. Speedy Nemo moved up to third overall on the final day, edging past Venomous.
Well fought in Racing Cruising
The Racing Cruising class consisted mainly of production boats, designed for both cruising and racing. With 24 boats, it was the largest class (including both spinnaker and non-spinnaker entries), with representation from the Dutch, French and British, as well as those from the regional stage of Antigua, St. Martin, St. Kitt’s and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
It all came down to the final race, which went to The Netherlands entry Nix and skipper Nico Cortlever. Nix completed Saturday’s 23-nautical mile race in a little less than three hours, which itself was a thrill for Cortlever, who finished last at the 2010 event. The Dutch could have taken a double billing at the top of this group if the excellent performance of skipper Frans Vandyk on the First 50 Black Hole had been maintained, but after a strong start to the week, a 6-4 at the end left them in third overall.
It was the determined James Dobbs and his relatively smaller J/122 Lost Horizon that showed perseverance to finish second. Dobbs, who began the week short on crew, found a couple of sailors and then lost them to prior commitments and minor injury. Then randomly, he lucked into a group of six competent female French sailors, whose prior race ride fell through. They joined Lost Horizon mid-regatta and helped move it up in the standings with a first and a second at the end of the week, to finish second overall.
Mariella’s joie de vivre
Carlo Falcone was jubilant after leading Mariella, his venerable 1938 Bermudian yawl designed by Alfred Mylne, to victory in the Classic class. Four yachts competed in the class, which included Donald Tofias’ sleek W76 White Wings, skippered by Faraday Rosenberg. Falcone, who lives in Antigua, races with a crew of family and friends, which included the senior statesman of the event: an enthusiastic and very nimble Henry Pepper, who will turn 89 in May. Third overall was the stunning dark-hulled gaff yawl, Kate Dutch Sailing Team from St. Kitt’s.
The Multis in a breeze
Five multihulls competed this year: three catamarans and two trimarans. It was John Winter’s 55-foot catamaran Fat Cat that prevailed to win over Stephane Penigaud’s St. Barth entry Bordelo, which ended up second. In third was Erick Clement’s go-fast 40-foot trimaran Dauphin Telecom. Meanwhile, the class suffered some dropouts with Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66 Phaedo suffering damage to their boom before the start of race one, and Herve Marolis’ Blanca losing her mast in race two.
What they said ~
Jim Swartz – Vesper, Racing class winner
“Today’s race (race four) was fantastic. We went around the island, and it was very challenging; I think we used most of the sails in our inventory. It was a great day to be on the water. Last year we were third, and this year we came in first — I’ll always come back to St. Barth; anytime I have a chance I’ll be back.”
“The big attraction for me is the TP52s. There’s a group of 10-15 boats scattered through the U.S., and if we can get a group of them down here (the Caribbean) next year, that would be fabulous.”
Nico Cortlever – Nix, Racing Cruising class winner
“We are very happy that we did a good job here. It was unexpected, because there is so much competition with boats that are on the same level. We were very lucky, I think. Our crew sailed really well. Next year, we’ll be here. The weather is great, the atmosphere great. There’s no reason not to be here!”
Ken Read, skipper – Rambler 100, Maxi class winner
On coastal course vs. windward-leewards: “Everything is cyclical. We’ve gone through a number of years with strict windward-leewards, and I think people get tired of it; I know I eventually did. I think these coastal courses are a blast. They are certainly horses for courses; the boats that get up and go on reaches certainly love these conditions even more. Quite frankly, I’m having fun not doing windward-leewards these days.”
On the boat and the Puma Ocean Racing Team:
“This Rambler is clearly an animal…it’s a beast. The old Rambler was a 90′ water-ballasted, big powerful boat. This boat is a whole new step. One of the advantages of doing a race like this is I get to bring my VOR team, so the Puma Ocean Racing Team is here. It’s as much team building as it is learning how to sail boats like this. Obviously we’re here to try and win the event, but at the same time we’re learning more about each other. We’re about to spend a lot of time together in some pretty crummy conditions. So you really need to know people: what they’re all about, what button to push, or what not to push at certain times. So the combo of the Puma team and the Rambler team for these types of events has been successful so far, and everyone is getting along great.
About racing in the Caribbean vs. around the world: “After you come here to St. Barth, how do you actually step on another boat and sail into the middle of the Roaring Forties and dodge icebergs? That’s a good question. I might have a mutiny on my hands, and there’s a pretty reasonable chance my wife is staying, and all of them (the crew) are staying as well, and I’m going to be sailing around singlehandedly!”
Carlo Falcone – Mariella, Classic class winner
“Mariella is an old lady, a little heavy. It takes a lot of wind, and that’s what we’ve had all week. It worked well for us, and we tried to make everything good wind speed. The result is excellent. I am sorry for our friend Donald (Tofias, skipper/owner of the W76 White Wings), but we have beaten them. We just have to rest our bodies, especially the liver, after all these festivities!”
Jerry Kirby, bowman – Rambler 100, Maxi class winner
“It’s fantastic! It reminds me of Antigua (Race Week) in the ’70s. Anybody that isn’t at this regatta is missing probably the coolest regatta in the Caribbean. It’s got that feeling–it’s not crowded, it’s very intimate, and it’s unbelievable racing.”
Bruno Troublé – Spiip
“I was amazed to sail in St. Barth. The courses were wonderful; 20 knots all day. I will return, we had fun. We will return with a racing class boat.”