The first day of racing at the 2nd edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth dawned with 25 knots of tropical tradewind breeze and showers sweeping over the picturesque French island located midway down the Caribbean chain. The regatta’s fleet of maxis, racing and cruising yachts, multi-hulls and classics – 48 confirmed on race day – set off on a race course around the nearby archipelago, and met with plenty of wind and bumpy seas, especially on the islands’ exposed eastern side.
You certainly couldn’t have asked for a prettier race course, which today sent fleets on jaunts of either 16-, 22-, or 25-nautical mile jaunts. Most intriguing was the trip around the northern tip of St. Barth and through the nearby archipelago, which in a typically French way makes one ready for a meal with names such as Ile Chevreau (baby goat), Ile Fregate (bird), Ile le Boulanger (the baker), Ile Fourchue (fork), Grouper et Petite Groupers (fish), Le Boeuf (beef), and Le Pain du Sucre (sugarloaf).
Today’s later start at 1300 did nothing to diminish the wind and sea, as the first two classes off – Maxis and Multihulls – with eleven boats, started in 22 knots and encountered two meter seas and were sent on a 25-nautical mile course. George David’s Rambler 100 with Ken Read as skipper, got away at the pin end of the starting line and lead Hugo Stenbeck on Genuine Risk up into the outer harbor to an offset turning mark. Once around, Rambler set a huge asymmetric spinnaker and was on her way for the day.
On the eastern, and windward, side of the island the big boats reveled in the conditions which eventually topped out above 30 knots – Genuine Risk, with their combined crew Swedish/ American crew, recorded 30 knots of boat speed surfing downwind through the islands.
Also racing in the Maxi class was the 86′ CNB sloop Spiip, owned by Robin de Jong, who is making his way westward to Tahiti with the boat. Onboard Spiip is Bruno Trouble, well known for creating and overseeing the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series (for the America’s Cup) that originated in 1983. Trouble is racing at the regatta for the first time, and he said,”Les Voiles de St. Barth reminds me a lot of the early days of the Nioulargue with boats from all over the place taking part. Things are going to really build and it is just great, it really reminds me of the first Nioulargue!”
In the Racing Class, the crew work aboard Jim Swartz’s Vesper looked well-honed as the team traded tacks with Peter Cunningham’s Farr 60 Venomous (CAY) up the first short beat. Back on the quay, Venomous’ tactician Tony Rey recounted the day,”We had some great sailing – St. Barth’s is such an awesome place to sail, every time you turn around an island, or a piece of land, the view just gets better and better. It’s just that the race course is a minefield because the wind twists and turns up the corners and the crevices – but it’s a fascinating place to sail! We also had the added challenge that our instruments went down, so we were guessing on our wind speed and direction, and guessing at our boat speed for part of it too, which turned us into good seat-of-the-pants sailors.”
Before scores were tabulated, though Rey suspects,”We think we were probably 2nd or 3rd, we’re pretty sure Vesper beat us handily, because downwind you just can’t stay with a boat like that. We could have sailed better for sure, we left a few seconds on the race track, but generally we’re thrilled, it was a great day of sailing!”
In the 24-boat Racing Cruising class, the Swan 60 Fenix closely led Jereon Hin’s First 50 Black Hole (NED) after the first upwind beat. This class has a gamut of boats including two all-women entries, Annie O’Sullivan’s Diamonds Are Forever (UK), and Henneke Stegweg’s iLost (NED). As well, there are two Moorings 50.5 charter boats with two crews from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, headed up by Andre Beese and Patrick Festing. Both crews are comprised of friends and fellow Etchells sailors, who were originally headed to Antigua to race when a friend suggested they race at Les Voiles de St. Barth.
The Classics class, while low on numbers with just five boats, were high on style points with the 76′ W-class White Wings, the 80′ Fife yawl, Mariella, the 60′ dark-hulled gaff-rigged yawl Kate from St Kitt’s, and the 26′ Friendship sloop La Sirene, gracing the line. Carlo Falcone, from Antigua, is a frequent competitor with Mariella in both classic and offshore races around the world, which he, more often than not, wins. He enjoys sailing in St Barts because it has, he says,”more European style than other parts of the Caribbean.”
The yacht was designed by American naval architect Alfred Mylne, and built by Fife in Scotland in 1938. As Falcone says,”The beauty of this boat is the mix of the two. Mariella is well sailed and immaculately maintained, and Falcone says, “I believe the more you use the boat the better it is. But it’s never-ending work – not buying the boat, but keeping it. They say, ‘the owners are just taking care of the boat until the next one.'” His regular crew is a mix of family and friends including his daughter Sylvia, his long-time navigator, 89-year old Henry Pepper (Marblehead, Mass), and crew from Italy, Australia and Dominica. Les Voiles de St.Barth is a way to prepare the boat for this summer’s classic yacht series in New England.
With a relatively new event, one may wonder what goes into the thinking for the course on day one. Following this morning’s skipper’s briefing, the, Les Voiles Race Committee Principal Race Officer, Jean Coadou offered some insight,”There were three main elements: the weather forecast, looking at the strength and direction of the wind around all of the islands. Also it was important with such a large fleet to avoid any boats crossing paths. And first and foremost, the enjoyment of sailing was a key factor. We try to ensure that the competitors encounter all the different points of sail, upwind, downwind and reaching. The idea is to come up with three hours of exciting racing each day; that is why the courses are around 30 miles in length for the fastest boats and 16 miles for the smaller craft.”
Key information: Les Voiles de St. Barth is being hosted from April 4 – 9 2011 by the St. Barth Yacht Club, which is affiliated with the French Sailing Federation and the Caribbean Sailing Association.
Racing will continue tomorrow, with a first warning signal at 1100. Thursday, April 7 will be a lay day, which will give the crews a chance to relax and enjoy themselves with a full and varied program of events planned at St Jean Beach.
Racing continues on Friday and Saturday with a first warning signal at 1100.
The closing ceremony and fireworks will follow the awards ceremony on Saturday, April 9.
Place, Boat Name, Skipper, Points
1) Rambler 100, Ken Read (USA), 1.0 points
2) Genuine Risk, Hugo Stenbeck (USA), 2.0
3) Sojana, Marc Fitzgerald (UK), 3.0
1) Antilope, Willem Wester (NED), 1.0 points
2) Vesper, Jim Swartz (USA), 2.0
3) Venemous, Peter Cunningham (US), 3.0
1) Black Hole, Jeroen Min (UK), 1.0 points
2) Nix, Nico Cortlever (NED), 2.0
3) L’esperance, Bobby Velasquez (St Maarten, West Indies), 3.0
1) Mariella, Carlo Falcone (ITA), 1.0 points
2) White Wings, Faraday Rosenberg (USA), 2.0
3) Kate Dutch Sailing Team, Philip Walwyn (St. Kitt’s, West Indies), 3.0
1) Fat Cat, John Winter, 1.0 points
2) Bordelo, Stephane Penigaud (St. Barth, FWI), 2.0