Yesterday morning, Gustavia’s Quai General de Gaulle was full of Les Voiles de St. Barth competitors as they fortified themselves with croissants and café au lait, while checking the official notice board for the day’s race courses. With the nine classes separated into four starts, the fleet was sent off in a light southeasterly wind of about 8 -10 knots, sailing courses of either 21 nautical miles or, in the case of the bigger, faster boats, 28 nautical miles.
The light breeze made for a long day for most, though no one was complaining given the otherwise ideal conditions. With the breeze forecast to build throughout the week, all boats will have a chance to revel in their best conditions.
In yesterday’s racing, the Maxis had the closest finish, with sailing yacht Caol Ila R correcting out two minutes ahead of luxury yacht Bella Mente to win the Maxi division. Swiss sailor Franck Noel led his crew on Near Miss to a win in Spinnaker Zero; pre-race favorite Sergio Sagromoso’s Puerto Rican team, Lazy Dog, won Spinnaker One; Jack Desmond, back at Les Voiles this year on his Swan 48 Affinity, won Spinnaker Two; and in Multihulls, the smallest in the class, a Seacart 26 named Team All Stars, managed to best the bigger boats.
Maxis Mix it Up
Seven boats make up the Maxi division and range from the Mills 69, Mini Maxi Caol Ila R, owned/helmed by Swiss sailor Alex Schaerer, to the Swan 112 charter yacht Highland Breeze, under the command of Dutchman Ben Kolf.
CaoI Ila R (ex-Allegra) has competed over the last two years in several of the top regattas in the Mediterranean, including the Rolex Capri Sailing Week Volcano Race, which it won in 2013. For this year, the boat’s U.S. program included Key West Race Week and Les Voiles de St. Barth, and Schaerer recruited a formidable, mostly Australian crew, many of whom come from the ultra-successful supermaxi yacht Wild Oats XI.
Stepping in as tactician, Gary Weisman, past president of North Sails, is the lone American onboard. Weisman has sailed in St. Barths often, but he is at Les Voiles for the first time. Caol Ila R’s main competition is the 72-foot Bella Mente. Caol Ila R finished 2nd to Bella Mente at Key West by just two points; but Weisman admitted, “Bella Mente will be tough – on the kind of race courses here in St. Barths, when you crack sheets and reach and run in a breeze, they’ll really hammer us. On the shorter courses upwind and down (like in Key West), we could kind of hang in there.”
Meanwhile Bella Mente’s owner Hap Fauth (Minneapolis, Minn./Naples, Fla.), comes to St. Barth with his own seasoned team, which includes America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and grand-prix race veterans – a blend of offshore and ‘round-the-buoy sailors that is fairly common now among professional sailors.
Fauth, who helms his boat, is joined in the afterguard by Mike Sanderson (NZL), Terry Hutchinson (Annapolis, Maryland), and John Cutler (NZL). Fresh off a victory at the Caribbean 600, where Bella Mente took line honors and won CSA overall, the boat is racing at Les Voiles for the first time.
Hutchinson, who sails as tactician, said, “I haven’t done the Bucket regattas or Les Voiles before, so it’s been quite spectacular – the last couple of days out training, seeing the sights and where the courses might go. It’s quite a tricky course for navigators – we’ve spent a lot of time after our practice sessions out on the rubber boat measuring different areas and finding rocks. We sailed across a rock yesterday that was charted in 120 meters of water, and we saw it a boat length off and sailed around it. We went back out in a chase boat later and found out we would have run aground had we sailed across it. That makes you a bit apprehensive…but as you can see, the sights around are pretty spectacular and I’m quite thankful to be here.”
Also competing in the Maxi class is George David’s 90-foot superyacht Rambler, at Les Voiles for the third time. Rambler is stacked with a solid team, including the new wave of ‘younger’ sailors such as Rome Kirby, enjoying a semi-busman’s holiday in the tropics after being an integral part of the winning Oracle Team USA at the 34th America’s Cup, and Jesse Fielding, who has sailed many impressive miles since his starring role in Roy Disney’s Morning Light campaign (and movie of the same name).
Rambler has scorched the race course here before and will be one of the Maxis to watch. “Looking at the scratch sheet, George David’s Rambler will be quite good and quite difficult beat,” Hutchinson continued. “And there is Caol Ila R that we also race against in the Mini Maxis. It is one of those teams that sits right behind you, and the boat’s fast enough that it can nip at your heels and never seem to go away. So I suspect those are our two biggest competitors.
“Then there are a slew of big Swans that we’ll be out battling against, but I don’t really know how they go or we go against them. I suspect it’s as much about staying out of their way in the pre-start and letting Bella get her nose out and doing her work for us.”
What They Said….
Pedro Mendoça, Balearia, long-time grand prix racer from Portugal, has owned a series of boats called Bigamist: “I’m sailing here in St. Barth with the same crew I had on my TP 52 or Soto 40, along with some friends from Spain. It’s a crew I’m used to sailing with. This is a nice place to sail. I’ve been told that St. Barth is a wonderful place for sailing, and for fun, but also to win because that’s a goal on our mind, to win or at least finish in a good position. Our opponents are probably more familiar with the area, but we’ll see what happens!”
Manu Le Borgne, St. Barth Sail Racing, is a low-key French sailor who has made a name for himself through numerous Tour de France à la Voile campaigns in the late ’90s, before successfully joining the 60-foot ORMA trimaran circuit. He notably won the 2007 doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre alongside French sailing legend Michel Desjoyeaux, two-time winner of the Vendée Globe Race. Le Borgne was also part of the historic Maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V when she smashed the Transatlantic race record in just three days and 19 hours. He is sailing in Les Voiles with friends from his home town of Brest, France, onboard a chartered A 40. Le Borgne said: “We’ll try to keep things simple on the water. We’re here to have a good time, and that means giving it our all when on the water…what happens next, once we set foot in the village, is also part of the St. Barth philosophy. But we’re all competitors and whenever there’s a starting line to cross, we all give our best to achieve the best result possible.”
Racing continues today, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (all 10 a.m. starts) for the nine classes: Maxi, IRC52, Spinnaker 1-2-3-4, Melges 24, Non-Spinnaker, and Racing Multihull. On Thursday, the now traditional lay day on St. Jean Bay, competitors will enjoy lunch at Nikki Beach as well as festivities that will include stand-up paddle board racing.
All of Les Voiles de St. Barth on your iPhone or iPad Get Les Voiles wherever you are by downloading the Les Voiles de St. Barth application for free on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad from the iTunes App store. With it you can follow results as well as find all the information on the event, including the Event Program, list of competitors, and results.