A popular staple of racing in St Barth’s is the round-the-island race, and today the Les Voiles de St. Barth sailors had their turn. The fleet was sent anti-clockwise on either a 23- or 17-nautical mile course, that comprised the island itself, as well as neighboring Ile Fourchue.
A land-based spectator could easily follow the fleet around – as easily as they could navigate a car along the island’s windy and narrow roads. The volcanic French island offers some impressive views: the start from historic Fort Oscar, midway around at the beachside village of Lorient, and finally from the overlook near Colombier, several hundred feet above the passage to Ile Chevreau, with the fleet by then on a downwind leg, spinnakers and staysails flying.
At the start off Gustavia, an eight to ten knot southeasterly helped send the seven classes off the line. Around the southern end, out of the lee of the island, boats encountered more breeze and bigger swells. Added to that, several rain squalls brought more wind as well, with boats experiencing 20-25 knots in the passing showers. These cells challenged some crews, who struggled to keep in phase with sail changes; those that could react faster, made big gains around the island course.
Leading the Fleet
The Maxi and IR52 classes share the same start line, which with a dozen boats, half of those over 90 feet, poses tactical challenges for all. For the most part, the more maneuverable IRC52s are usually grouped together at the start. Though today, Vesper got caught up with the charter yacht Sojana at the start, which forced them to tack out offshore. Both PowerPlay and Mayhem had a better start and came off the line even, then played the left, trading tacks up through outer anchorage. Jim Swartz’ Vesper, with Gavin Brady as tactician, caught up and the three boats were closely grouped until they encountered the first squall. Vesper’s crew Ken Keefe, said, “Mayhem came out of it with nice lead and did a good job extending all the way around the island. We only got past PowerPlay and defended all the way around.”
Keefe wasn’t sure local knowledge would have made a difference, saying, “We’ve been here three times, and actually the island is pretty logical. It’s actually a really nice race course. Probably there are some shifts here and there a local would now about. With today’s squalls going through, it’s more reacting to what is in front of you, and Mayhem did a nice job putting themselves in that position.” Summing up the day he added, “There were two rain squalls, some really good sailing all the way around, nice jog into the beach, it was all really fun.”
The Mayhem team is lead by skipper Ashley Wolfe, who currently hails from Alberta, Canada. Though her home in Calgary is nowhere near the ocean, she grew up surrounded by water in Victoria, B.C. and keeps the boat in San Francisco, CA. Her crew of Canadian and American sailors includes past Olympians Charlie McKee (tactician), and Ross MacDonald (strategist), as well as her father (pit) and husband (grinder). The family’s prior Mayhem’s included a TP52 and a Farr 40.
Wolfe attributed their current standing at the top of their class to good tactics and sail selection. The Canadian skipper relished the conditions on the eastern side, “It was really fun around the corner, it was blowing about 25 knots, with a huge swell. We have a new headsail, a furling fractioning (code) zero, and it worked well for us. We used that to round the island and then just extended our lead. We overstood under spinnaker when we had to sail really high, and we wiped out twice, but then gained it back on the next shift. We got into a few squalls with showers along the course, but basically it is spectacular here. This is a great racecourse – we just really enjoy it!
Battle brewing in Spinnaker 1
Lazy Dog, skippered by Sergio Sagramoso skipper on the J/122, Lazy Dog, just missed their third win for the week, correcting out only by 46 seconds behind Frits Bus’ Melges 24, Coors Light, Lazy Dog’s team, all from Puerto Rico, has successfully sailed together for eight to nine years, winning quite a few regattas. Sagramoso said, “We know each other from windsurfing competitively when we were younger, then we all moved to sailing. My foredeck used to be the best windsurfer in Puerto Rico!
“We have had an amazing few days, a great time, great racing and a lot of fun. Probably the best regatta we have ever been to. I came once as a tourist and thought that it looked like a beautiful place to sail. This is now our new favourite regatta!
Frits Bus on Coors Light was quick to attribute their win to his crew, Benoit Meesemaecker and Markku Harmala, both world-class Laser sailors from St. Barth’s. Bus said, “We have some of the best sailors from St. Barth on board. It really helps having good local knowledge because there are a lot of wind shifts and current here, so it is important to know where to go. We can see it against the other Melges, because they have the same boat speed but do not do the same tacks and we just gradually keep making gains.”
Bus continued, “So it all comes down to tomorrow. If we get a first place tomorrow, we will win our class; otherwise, we’ll stand in second. So the strategy for tomorrow is to sail faster and higher!”
Soaking up Atmosphere
Annie O’Sullivan, is the skipper of the Diamonds Are Forever yacht competing in Non-Spinnaker Racing class. The Irish sailor runs a company called Girls for Sail, which introduces women to racing. O’Sullivan started back in 2001, competing in many of the races in the Caribbean circuit, including Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, and now is back at Les Voiles de St. Barth’s for the second time.
Here at Les Voiles, there were seven women onboard from Norway, Hungary, South Africa, and the U.K. Each regatta there are new crew members, so there is a learning curve to ramp up, but the affable Irish sailor seems up for the challenge: “The aim is to have them get some experience and have some fun. They turn up a few days before and we take them around and practice maneuvers, sail changes, setting spinnakers, etc.”
The quality of the competition in St. Barth’s was not lost on O’Sullivan, “We are up against some of these crews here, they are so professional, they’ve been together for years, they have amazing boats. We do everything with our boat, we sail across the Atlantic, we do RYA (Royal Yachting Association) training – so we’re here to soak up the atmosphere and be a part of a really great event.
Racing concludes tomorrow with the first warning signal scheduled for 11am, for the seven classes competing. Tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for easterly winds of 10-12 knots. Saturday’s prize giving is planned for 6pm in the Race Village, where awards for all seven classes will be presented.
New this year, Les Voiles de St. Barth has real-time race tracking with 2D visualization via the internet. Waypoint-Tracking developed the system in close collaboration with ISAF. The site will allow enthusiasts to follow the daily racing action live or to replay at a later time.