(Gustavia, St Barths)- Sailing in just about every condition the Caribbean can throw at the fleet, from uncharacteristic light airs on the first day to line squalls punctuated by brilliant, dramatic sunshine on the second day to a tempest in a teapot for the last two days on Friday & the Saturday finale, it would be fair to say the sailors in the fifth edition of Les Voiles de St. Barths simply “loved” racing in “the emerald of Caribbean sailing” regattas (or would it be the “champagne” or “rose’” edition?)— far too many superlatives to consider for a fun, sophisticated event that deserves such accolades and more.
Les Voiles has continued to grow every year, both in entry numbers and shoreside activities. It’s no wonder- the sights, sounds, aquamarine waters, epic weather, spectacular beaches, majestic mountain cliffs, exotic French hosts and awesome shoreside festivities are the ultimate “sailing cocktail” found anywhere in the world.
This year’s seventy boat fleet from across the world were simply enthralled with the entire scene, teams came from the Caribbean (St. Barth, St. Maarten, Anguilla, Martinique, Antigua, BVI, Puerto Rico) as well as the U.S., Canada, the U.K., The Netherlands, France, Spain, Malta, Sweden, Australia and Ireland.
The seven J/Teams that participated excelled in the variable conditions, demonstrating yet again the amazing capability for “J” designs to sail in just about anything thrown at them across the weather spectrum- flat waters, light winds to massive breaking seas in 20-28 kts on the nose. Leading the charge in Spinnaker Racing 1 Class was Jim Madden’s champion crew aboard the J/125 STARK RAVING MAD, winning a hard fought class of “dragsters” on the last day. The J/111 J-BOSS had a complete French crew, with owner Eddy Chalano and fellow J/111 owner of LE JOUET (Stéphane Blanchard) splitting the crew to form a potent team to take second in Spinnaker Racing 3. The Spinnaker Racing 4 Class saw the J/109 POCKET ROCKET take class honors with David Cullen’s Irish crew doing a “wee bit” of celebrating after the regatta! Note- the magnums of Veuve Clicquot champagne given to EVERY boat that finished the last race on the last day was emblematic of the “class act” this regatta has become over the past five years!
Day 1 Report- On the first day, Gustavia’s Quai General de Gaulle was abuzz with competitors. With nine classes separated into four starts, the fleet was sent off in a light southeasterly breeze of about 8-10 knots, sailing courses of 21nm. 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 proved, ultimately, they would have a chance to revel in their best conditions.
Day 2 Report- The Weather Gods had promised more breeze for Day 2 and it came in a steady line of squalls moving south to north across the island, presenting challenging conditions for competitors and the Race Committee alike. After a general recall, the Maxi and Spinnaker Zero classes took off on a 17 nautical mile course along the southern coast of St. Barth, only to disappear into a driving rain and building breeze halfway up the first beat as they got raked by the first squall.
With visibility on the start line greatly diminished, the Race Committee held off for about 40 minutes, and then with persistence and a weather break before the next approaching squall, they managed to send off Spinnaker 1-2-3 classes.
Drag Racing was taking place in Spinnaker 1 class. The five-boat Spinnaker 1 class had great depth of talent, and included Peter Harrison’s Jolt 2 (GBR) with Volvo veteran Campbell Field at the wheel; past Les Voiles class winner Lazy Dog, an M32, with Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagramoso steering; and Stark Raving Mad IV (Newport Beach, Calif.), a J/125 with Tony Rey, past America’s Cup sailor and Olympic coach, serving as tactician.
Jim Madden who owns Stark Raving Mad IV, won his class at last month’s Heineken Regatta. An experienced racer, he has had a succession of Stark Raving Mad boats, including a J/160, J/145, Reichel/Pugh 66, and Swan 60. Madden likes to race with old friends and good sailors, most of them from California, with a few East Coasters, including Rey, mixed in.
Back racing at Les Voiles for the third time, Rey said, “This regatta has been a highlight of the schedule all season, so it’s fantastic to have the J/125 here; it’s a perfect boat to race here. It’s 40 feet long and high performance enough that we can really get going when it’s windy….yesterday was great; we had good sailing and we had a good battle with Lazy Dog. They managed to beat us on corrected time, but we managed to get our nose out in front. What’s great about sailing here is it’s always a tough battle, at the start and at the finish, because of the harbor effect with the wind shift. So it’s a huge challenge all around the course.”
Rey is great at shifting gears – and boats – and contrasted Stark Raving Mad IV with his ride at the St Barth’s Bucket last month: the 180-foot ketch Marie. “I’ve sailed everything in St Barth’s you can sail!,” laughed Rey. “It’s absolutely the greatest place to race in the Caribbean. Full stop. Just fantastic. I’ll come back every year if someone will have me.”
Festivities ashore included the gala soiree and auction to benefit The Brain and Spine Institute- ICM at the Eden Rock on Baie St. Jean and the famous (sometimes “infamous”) Crew Party on Shell Beach with live entertainment and fireworks. Seemingly half the regatta showed up at the “Baz”, an evening night club at the easternmost end of Gustavia Harbour, home of the famous Clarke Cooke House “Candy Store” sushi chefs David Ray once recruited many blue moons ago!
Day 3 Report- After enjoying the regatta’s traditional lay day on Thursday at Nikki Beach (does anyone remember them serving “rose’ wine”?), which gave crews a chance to indulge in the French island’s onshore charms, it was time to get back out onto the race course. Many regattas no longer feature such a break in the racing, but Les Voiles has maintained a five-day format (four days of racing with a mid-regatta break) since its inception five years ago, and it has proven to be a draw. In fact, more than 400 of the thousand or so sailors racing gathered at Nikki Beach on Baie Saint Jean for lunch and some organized team sports, including water polo, stand-up paddle-board races and petanque matches.
The morning dawned with a much fresher breeze than Wednesday and sailors prepared for a forecasted 18-25 knot southeasterly. With the race course set off the north side of the island, most of the fleet readied by tucking in reefs and setting small #4 jibs while they jockeyed for positions in the starting area.
With the breeze building, the Race Committee postponed racing, sending the fleet back to shore; however, shortly after noon, signals ashore indicated a 1:30 p.m. start for eight of the nine classes. With the wind at a steady 20-23 knots, gusting to 28 kts, the fleet enjoyed a 16 nautical mile course that took them to the north end where large ocean swells rolled through.
After the day’s racing, Stark Raving Mad took a win to pose a threat to Lazy Dog’s dominance in Spinnaker Racing Class 1. Daniela De Luca, Italian crew member on the J/109 Les Voiles au Féminin in Spinnaker 4 class said, “I belong to the all-women's crew from Saint Barthélémy. Our association is called “Les Voiles au Feminin”. It was created two years ago to promote the sport of sailing among women on the island, as all women must have access to this sport. We therefore have acquired a sailing boat, a J/109 that we bought in Saint Tropez, after Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. Our skipper, Sophie Olivaud sailed the boat across the ocean during the ARC Challenge two years ago. Ever since, we've sailed as many regattas in the Caribbean as we possibly could. Our crew is a mix of experienced sailors, and newbies. It works out very well, as the atmosphere onboard is excellent. This does not mean that we don't feel any apprehension at the start of each race, just like any male sailor, I guess. It is very exciting to sail during Les Voiles, as we get to see great sailors and fantastic boats. We feel very fortunate.”
Day 4 Report- With several classes still up for grabs, crews going into the final day of racing were eager to get on the race course and improve their scores. The conditions remained fresh, with a 22–25 kt (gusting to 29 kts) southeasterly producing an impressive 6-12 ft swell on the island’s windward side.
Les Voiles de St. Barth Race Committee, led by Race Director Luc Poupon, carefully chose race courses to fit the conditions, sending the Spinnaker Racing 1 and 2 classes on a 22 nautical mile course and Spinnaker Racing 3 and 4 on a 16 nm course.
As spectators watched from a sculpted rock plateau 500 feet above the pristine beach of Colombier, the sailing conditions on the northern most point of St. Barths seemed epic: strong, fairly steady wind, with flat water at the starting area and the first rounding mark. At the next mark, however, the fleet began its beat around the island’s northern end into the ginormous ocean swell. A two-knot current running counter to the prevailing wind produced 6-12 ft seas that, while uncomfortable upwind, made for a rollicking ride off the breeze.
The change in conditions from the lighter wind of the regatta’s first two days (Tuesday & Wednesday) to the 20-plus knots on the latter two days (Friday and Saturday) affected several classes with boats that favored one range or the other.
One of these was the hard-fought Spinnaker 1 class, where Jim Madden’s (Newport Beach, Calif.) J/125 Stark Raving Mad IV won class by one point. Class winner Jim Madden said of their battle, “It’s a little bit of a luck of the draw. We give them great credit, they were great competitors and I think they sailed really well. We had a fantastic week, one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. Conditions were beautiful the first two days and outrageous the second two days. It was a ton of fun, very competitive – and what a beautiful island and wonderful environment! Most of our crew are a core group from southern California that have been sailing together for maybe eight or nine years, and a few folks from Newport, R.I. So it’s a nice group who know their roles; they sail together, they trust each other, and most of all we have a great time, we come here to have fun. We’ll be back in St. Barth’s next year for sure!”
As for the French J/111 J-BOSS sailed by Eddy Chalono’s crew and Stéphane Blanchard’s LE JOUET crew, it was an event that will be remembered for a long time. Blanchard commented, “Back from St Barthélemy today. Too many photos and videos of memories that prevents me to do everything right away. Such beautiful water, magnificent winds 10-30 kts, with four days of racing with one race per day. Every race counts and OCS’s are heavily taxed, there is no need to return for line!
In our category CSA 3 with much larger boats, we had as a main rival the Grand Soleil 43 (just like the one in Quiberon Bay). Race 1 and 2 were run in the light-medium winds and we end up scoring two seconds on handicap to the GS43.
In the third race, it was a sustained 25 kts of breeze and with not many tactics involved, we finish second overall but fourth on handicap.
We finally have our revenge at the end of the race 4, because after tacking upwind in a steady wind at 25 kts gusting to 30 kts, we return to Gustavia harbor with a great downwind ‘sleigh-ride’ that I think will live long in the memory of our crew members (half J-BOSS/ half-LeJOUET). We had consistent speed under spinnaker around 14-15 kts with several long planes in excess of 20 kts and a peak at 21.6 kts!!
Second overall, hugs for all on arrival at the finish line, sprinkled Veuve Clicquot champagne everywhere (it was given to us at the finish line), have closed masterfully this beautiful event. More to follow.” Thanks to Stephane Blanchard for his contribution- see more here.
A special note- there was an extraordinary team of life-long “J” sailors and college champions aboard the 56 footer WHITE RHINO in Class 2. Skipper-in-charge was Steve Cucchiaro (M.I.T.) sailing with a cast of characters, including Jack Slattery (Boston University), Stu Johnstone (Tufts), Cam Lewis (Univ. Rhode Island), and Brian Thomas/ Mark Laura (Univ. Washington)- in total this gang have amassed 11 College All-American awards, one College Sailor of the Year award, two J/105 North American Championships, at least one each of J/24 World, North American and West Coast Championships, two Finn Gold Cup World Championships, the first Trophee Jules Verne Record holder (breaking the famous 80 days record around the world), a second in the 470 Olympic Trials 1980, and many other awards too numerous to mention. With that deeply talented team, they managed a second place after losing a tie-break on identical records with their arch-rival AFFINITY (each boat had two 1sts and two 2nds!). The winner in that epic battle? Jack’s brother Bob Slattery (Boston Univ.) sailing as tactician (yet another College All-American)! Small world.
The dates for the next edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth will be April 13 – 18, 2015. Event Organizer François Tolède said, “This has been another great edition, another success. I am really pleased with the level of competition and camaraderie among all competitors and partners. The professionalism both on the water and onshore has been amazing. Thanks to all our teams, Les Voiles de St. Barth is now running smoothly, while still maintaining welcoming scale for all to enjoy.”
The evening prize-giving dockside was held in the Les Voiles de St. Barth race village, on the Quai General de Gaulle in Gustavia Harbor. Race organizers presented top-three finishers in each class with trophies, champagne and other prizes. Competitors and guests were treated to a spectacular fireworks display over Gustavia Harbor, accompanied by the live music of Joyful Noise. West Indies Management Company (WIMCO), luxury villa rental management specialist, presented each of the winners in all eight classes a week’s stay in a luxury villa in St. Barth. Winners also were presented with magnums of Veuve Clicquot champagne and Mount Gay Rum. No wonder so many sailing teams insist on returning after experiencing “champagne sailing and rose’ afternoons” for an entire week! For more Les Voiles de St Barths sailing information