Challenging conditions at the Voiles de St Barts
The starting gun was fired a little after 1100 local time and the crews did their best with their sail selection to get the most out of their boat in the breeze. The buoy in the harbour entrance in Gustavia saw some real acrobatics out on the water, with gusts coming down from the nearby hillsides to send some off course and others to come to a sudden standstill.
With everyone hiking out, and with the seaspray flying, the whole fleet soon disappeared, moving well away from the coast heading for Nègre Point. The sea was whipped up by the powerful trade winds and as they approached Coco Island and the Soube Rocks, the waves built to reach almost three metres at times.
Rambler and Sojana were able to reveal their full potential in the conditions. They kept within a few lengths of each other, trailed by Puffy, the Swan 45 belonging to Patrick Demarchelier, and the J/122 Lost Horizon from Antigua.
Today’s course took the fleet around the whole of St Barts and its rocky isles, before finishing with a long downwind run windward of Forked Island.
On board Peter Harrison's Farr-designed ketch Sojana, there is an all-star cast including French multihull star, Loïck Peyron, most recently Ernesto Bertarelli's shot-gun helm on Alinghi 5.
"St Barts is a picture postcard location," commented Peyron. "I usually only end up in the West Indies at the finish of a transatlantic race, and with all the tiredness that has built up, I normally want just one thing and that is to go home as soon as I can. This week, I can really enjoy my stay. There’s the wind, blue seas, and some fine boats... Hardly anything has in fact changed since the last time I was here ten years or more ago. Just a few more big boats. It’s a fantastic place. We’re really fortunate to be able to sail in the Caribbean.
"The timing is just perfect for me. I’ve just had a really great time and have been through a great adventure. It was a fabulous period in my life being with one of the best sailing teams in the world with Alinghi just a few weeks ago. This week I’m taking a little break. And I’ll soon be starting the new season on small, very fast catamarans with the Oman Sail team in the framework of the Extreme 40 Championship in Europe, and on the D35s on the Swiss lakes.
"Sojana is a very elegant monohull, which belongs to a very elegant gentleman with a nice personality. I’d already seen the boat in Saint-Tropez and now I’m discovering her from the inside; I like the way she sails so smoothly without any pressure. Peter Holmberg is at the helm. He was also a helmsman for Alinghi. So there are two former helmsmen from Alinghi aboard Sojana! Everything is very serious on board, as with such a big boat any mistake is serious. You really need to pay attention to every little detail. I’m in charge of trimming at the mizzen mast, and I work in close collaboration with the helmsman. The whole crew has a very high level. We’re battling it out with a real racing boat Rambler and it’s a huge challenge. With a little more wind, 20 knots, we hope to be able to get up there with them."
Sojana's helmsman Peter Holmberg added: "I was one of the first skippers that Luc Poupon contacted to take part in the Voiles de Saint-Barth. It seemed like an interesting concept to me. I wanted to lend a hand to get the event going. I’m pleased to be here.
Each island has its own race and St Barts seems to me to be a major sailing festival, an occasion, which brings together all sorts of different yachts, which is a very good thing for our sport.
We selected a very fine team with Peyron and some top notch racers. Yesterday we didn’t make any mistakes. The longer the race, the more chance we have. We’re in a pattern of strong trade winds, which is good for Sojana.
The Voiles de Saint-Barth seems to have found its footing. The Committee has come up with some great courses. The starts were clear and safety came first out on the water... I’ll give them a very high score. Back on the island, there was a very relaxed atmosphere last night with some nice music. Once again it was a great success.
Among the line-up on Sojana is round the world veteran Jacques Vincent, who said: "The English speakers on board and there are a lot of them, were amazed by the course, which was much more varied and interesting than during the Bucket regatta. The boats are able to show what they can do in the strong trade wind, and Sojana has shown off her superb qualities in every point of sail. We were up to eighteen knots under gennaker. The heavy swell on the windward side of the island did not worry us at all, as our hull seems to cope very well with these conditions. The atmosphere on board is very calm. It’s one of the characteristics of the boat’s owner, Peter Harrison. We have a top class guest on board, a certain Loïck Peyron, who is in charge of trimming at the mizzen mast..."