While Europe continues to shiver with a bitter wind coming down from Scandinavia, fans of high quality competing in warm winds as well as sunshine are eagerly looking towards the fabulous shores of the Caribbean and more precisely Saint Barth. The fourth edition of the Voiles de Saint Barth will kick off next Monday, on April 8. 65 yachts coming from around fifteen countries will be participating after being divided up fairly into 6 distinct groups.
Les Voiles de St Barth 2010© Christophe Jouany / Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
They can look forward to a subtle mixture of top class racing and an opportunity to discover the finer side of French life right in the heart of the Caribbean. Sport, enjoyment, sunshine, clear blue skies with the endless glistening seas… and it all comes with an extraordinary line-up representing the finest yachts in the French West Indies; so there are plenty of very good reasons to feast the eyes on the dreamlike delights of the Voiles de Saint Barth.
The 6 classes competing at the 2013 Voiles de Saint Barth reflect the various types of boat one can find throughout the year or during the winter season in the Caribbean islands. By setting up these various classes, it means a large number of boats of different sizes, different manoeuvring abilities, can compete on the same race course. Sailed by top class crews, throughout the week they will be offering excitement out on the extraordinary waters around Saint-Barth.
Classic or tradition yachts all have their place in Saint Barth. The presence of these yachts, with all the history they bring, creates a real maritime museum and at the same time they are a beautiful expression of the racing element of fine yachting.
A classic yacht is a boat of a certain age, with a long keel, a heavy displacement, traditional rigging and many, many stories. Much is expected from the very special battle between one of the stars of the Mediterranean Classic circuit, “The Blue Peter”, the Marconi-rigged sloop dating back to 1930, designed by Mylne; the very fast W Class “Wild Horse”; and the ketch “Saphaedra”. These three will be great sight in the heart of the fleet at the 2013 Voiles.
Sailing yacht Mariella© Christophe Jouany / Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
Maxi racing / Maxi racing cruising
The maxi yacht refers to a prototype yacht or one that is manufactured in a limited number with in general some exceptional features, bringing together elegance, comfort, while fitted out with all the latest technology developed for ocean racing boats. There are no specific lengths when designing a Maxi, but 21 metres seems to be the minimum length to fit into this category. They are therefore the perfect expression of the most spectacular elements of modern yachting.
The boats measuring 30 metres or more have been designed by some of the leading designers of the modern era, German Frers, Bruce Farr… The Maxi fleet competing at this year’s Voiles de Saint Barth are all newcomers, and so we will have to wait to find out how the mighty Farr designed boats do against each other with their power and elegance, “Dynamite Idea” will in particular be up against “Maximiser”, but also some big Swans superyacht “Varsovie” and charter yacht “Selene”, but the big sloop, charter yacht “Whisper” could upset things…
This class brings together the racing monohulls designed specifically for coastal and offshore racing. They tend to be built of carbon or composite materials. Fast, easy to manoeuvre, with their high quality sails they always offer a fantastic sight as they do battle against one another. Their sail surface area is huge and their crews have a lot of sailors in order to hike out.
This year, the Spinnaker class will be very competitive with the largest number of boats competing, as 38 have completed their registration. Each crew brings together a number of professionals all racing with the same goal, winning. We shall be looking forward to a great battle between the many Swans, “Puffy” (53 feet), “Music” (53 feet) and “AEZ Optimix” (45 feet). The Melges 24 may be smaller, but they are fine performers on the long swell and there will be many of them competing hoping to achieve a win for Archambault, J Boats or Bénéteau.
Simonas Steponavicius’s Lithuanian crew is back with their VOR 60. Peter Harrison has chosen to race this year aboard “Jolt 2”, a futuristic Baltic 45 which does just as well in strong winds as in calm conditions. We should add that there is also one crew made up exclusively of women on board Sophie Olivaud’ J 109 “Voiles au féminin SBH”.
Les Voiles de St Barths 2012© Christophe Jouany / Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
This class brings together crews that have decided to race without a spinnaker to make it easier. This fully expresses the desire of the organizers to open up the Voiles to amateurs, who enjoy yachting, going from beginners to more experienced racers. The excellent racing conditions one can expect in the waters around Saint-Barth can be very demanding and this class enables crews that are less skilled to race while feeling safe in the heart of the fleet. There will be some elegant boats, such as French Kiss, a Bénéteau Sense 50 and the Swan 57 Alpha Centauri and the Santa Cruz 70, which are powerful and offer high performance and whose crews will find the right angles and bearings to make up for the absence of the big downwind sail.
This class brings together racing multihulls, trimarans and catamarans, measuring between 30 and 60 feet in length, which are very light and fast. The Caribbean has always enjoyed welcoming these spectacular multihulls. The Voiles de Saint-Barth had to set up room for them and so it is with pleasure that we will be able to enjoy once again the graceful and delicate silhouettes of these dragonflies of the sea. Olivier Vigoureux ‘s “Paradox”, a 63-foot Irens designed boat is seen as one of the favourites. She will however have to be quick if she wants to compensate for her high rating in comparison to Erick Clément’s fast 50-foot “Dauphin Telecom” or Stéphane Cattoni ‘s efficient 40-footer “Fildou”.
In order to welcome racing cruisers alongside the racers and prototypes, the Voiles de Saint Barth have added in the IRC 52 class this year. Around the world, 8000 boats received IRC certificates in 2011 and the leading races use IRC: the Fastnet, Spi Ouest-France, Copa del Rey, Asian Cup, Maxi Cup, Middle Sea Race, Japan Race… Jim Swartz, a regular at the Voiles de Saint Barth and godfather at the 2013 event will as usual be back at the helm of “Vesper.” We can expect a race within the race, as he does battle with “Varuna”, Jens Kellinghusen’s Ker 51 and this promises to be an exciting duel and we can look forward to some enjoyable racing.
Dream race courses
Each competitor leaves Saint Barth with wonderful memories of the stunning race areas.
For four years now, the Race Director, Luc Poupon has been laying out race courses for the Voiles de Saint-Barth based around the geography of the island for the various categories of boat and depending on the weather conditions that are possible out on the water.
“The layout of Saint-Barth is a real asset for us, as the coastal landscapes of the island are all very different and the presence of fifteen or so little islands means we can organize a wide range of race courses with a lot of changes of direction, which require a lot of manoeuvres from the crews,” explained Luc.
28 race courses ranging from 14 to 40 miles are being prepared beforehand, with the same starting line in the roadstead off Gustavia and the finish in the area around the Petits Saints. The final choice will depend on the weather conditions on the eve of the starts.
A long week of fun and friendship
Once back on dry land, it is the legendary friendliness of all those, who enjoy the sea, which is combined with the festive atmosphere in Saint Barth. The Race Village will be host each evening after the races, to all of the competitors, who can to enjoy music from around the world, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Zouk, merengue, electro…
The lay day on Thursday is a special feature of the Voiles and universally appreciated by the racers, who are able to share some time with their families and friends, when everyone at the event comes together. The Voiles de Saint-Barth invites all down to Nikki Beach on St Jean’s Beach for this lay day. From eleven in the morning, racing is replaced by a day of relaxation, with music and special events, including paddle races and water polo…