Fort Oscar, directly across the harbor from the Capitainerie headquarters for the St. Barths Bucket, offered the perfect perch for watching the start of the first of three races planned over the next three days in the lovely Caribbean yacht charter location – St. Barths. And by the crowd that turned out there, it was clear that the majestic fleet of 35 superyachts would create an amazing spectacle as they kicked off their opening-day counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island.
In medium winds and flat seas, Gazelles and Elegantes (Class A and Class B, respectively) took to the long course of 25.2 nautical miles, while the Mademoiselles and Grandes Dames made the medium course of 20.9 nautical miles their pleasure.
With four classes there could be only four winners, and today those were the 33-metre sloop Win Win, the 54.6 Vitters ketch Marie, the 27.7-metre sailing yacht Bequia and the 55.9 metre Perini Navi charter yacht Rosehearty.
Marie, which won her class and the coveted overall “Bucket” title last year, edged out long-time rival, the 44.6-metre superyacht Adela, in Gazelles by a minute and a half, even though Adela started 11 minutes ahead in the pursuit-style start.
“We were closing on her quite quickly on the penultimate leg when we were both running with our chutes toward the last bottom mark,” said Peter Wilson, one of Marie’s sail trimmers, “but it wasn’t until the last beat and 10 minutes before the finish that we actually got by her. We were both trying to lay the finish, and we had to get past them, so we put our bow down and tried to sail through them. We were abeam of them for quite a while.” Wilson explained that a left-hand shift helped Marie finally take the day. “We were clear ahead at that point, but it all depended on whether we had to tack to the finish or not. Had things gone a slightly different way, Adela could have beaten us, so the boats are well-matched and well-rated. ”
Rosehearty, winner in the nine-boat Grand Dames class, beat out charter yacht Zenji by about 13 minutes. Her tactician Paul Cayard said key to the crew’s success was practice, making no mistakes, and pushing the boat to its full potential.
“One of the biggest tricks with this boat is maneuverability,”said Cayard, who made his name in the Star class and as a skipper of America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race boats. “Maneuvering takes 10 times longer, so the key is to plan 12 minutes ahead. Having everyone know their roles and executing well is important.”
Though 15 seconds late on the start, Rosehearty tacked early at the first mark, which was critical to the entire race. “We were spot-on, which set us on a confident course.”
Class runner-up Zenji had started four minutes prior, and crew man Mike Toppa said it was when Rosehearty “cut the corner on us on the first beat” that they were first passed. “We caught up with them, got bow-to-bow, but they put their spinnaker up quicker,” he said. “They deserve to win.”
As for the first try here using the ORCsy rule, Toppa said, “I love it. We saw last week at Loro Piana that it was really accurate, and the test was the bigger boats and ketches – boats with more than one mast…how was it going to go? It was a really good starting point, much better than it has ever been before. Everyone’s positive and happy about it.”
Tom Whidden, another America’s Cup veteran with 12 or more Bucket regattas under his belt, agreed. (He is serving as tactician on the 37.2-metre Vitters sloop Ghost, which finished fifth today among the Gazelles.)
“If you didn’t like today, you don’t like sailing,” he said, describing conditions as “typical of St. Barths, with easterly trade winds ranging from 13-16 knots. “Change is always good, and owners are enthusiastic to see if there is a more equitable system than what we’ve been using. These boats are very difficult to handicap properly, and there are a lot of good, smart people who are trying to do that. As long as we have people who care about this involved (with the rule), we’ll do well. Afterall, you can’t find a more fantastic place to sail or more beautiful big boats in the world, so if we can find a way to make the racing better, more people will do it and everybody benefits.”
“Our goal was to keep this the way it always has been: an event by the industry for owners,” said Bruce Brakenhoff of Perini Navi, which joined Royal Huisman, Vitters Shipyard and Rybovich as joint stewards of the Bucket Regattas (a summer edition is held in Newport, R.I.) when the former owners were ready to pass the torch.
Sponsors of the St Barths Bucket Regatta are Alloy Yachts and Holland Jachtbouw. Supporting sponsors are Affinity Management Services, Burgess, Camper & Nicholsons, Doehle Yachts, Doyle Sailmakers, Dubois NA, Dykstra NA, Future Fibres, MTN, Newport Shipyard, North Sails, Pantaenius, Pendennis, Skuld Yacht, the Superyacht Report, Tradewind Aviation, US Trust, Willis, ZIS Insurance.