Gearing up for Les Voiles de St Barth
On the eve of the third running of Les Voiles de St. Barth, over 2-7 April, the palm-fringed port of Gustavia, St Barts is filled with an impressive array of race boats: ocean-racing maxis including the 90ft Rambler and the Swan 112 Highland Breeze; classic beauties such the Olin Stephen-designed Dorade and the Fife-built yawl Mariella; a trio of IRC 52s, multihulls including the Gunboat 66 Phaedo, and two large racing classes with a mix of Melges, J/Boats, and 40-footers, including the new Carkeek 40, Decision.
More than 60 boats are registered for this year's event, with a large number of returning entries. Among the sailors taking part are those from the America's Cup, round-the-world races, the Olympics, including Gavin Brady (Vesper), Scott Vogel (Rambler), Bouwe Bekking (Nilaya), Cam Lewis (Paradox), Charlie McKee and Ross MacDonald (Mayhem), Tony Rey, Jeff Madrigali, and Nacho Postigo (Powerplay) and Dee Smith (Decision).
Francesco Mongelli, navigator onboard Jim Swartz' IRC52 Vesper, is here racing in St Barts for the first time. The Italian, who sails primarily in Europe, has been racing on Vesper since last October, and was clearly keen to have touched down in this French paradise, and its mix of all the best sailing places, together with perfect weather and good food. Mongelli commented: "Its pretty similar to Porto Cervo. The difference is that there you more or less know where everything is, and the charts are accurate. You cannot take the same risk here that we'd take in Porto Cervo."
Racing will run from Tuesday, 3 April until Saturday, 7 April and will feature a mix of Olympic triangles, short coastal courses, and a 20-30 nautical mile round-the island race.
The fleet will be split into seven classes: Maxi (> 21 meters), IRC52 (former TP52s that have been optimized for the IRC rule), Spinnaker I + II, Non-Spinnaker (racer/cruiser), Classic (vintage/traditional), and Multihull. Thursday is a layday at Nikki Beach, with lunch and a full afternoon of activities, including a paddleboard competition.
Many of the competing boats are moored stern-to at the Quai General de Gaulle, site of the Race Village, where all of the daily breakfast and post-race activities and music take place. This evening, skippers and tacticians were on hand for the Skippers Briefing led by Loic Ponceau, Race Committee Chairman, and organizers Francois Tolede, Luc Poupon, and Annelisa Gee. Following that was Les Voiles St. Barth Opening Ceremony, where Bruno Magras, President of the Collectivit of St. Barth, welcomed more than 500 sailors to the week long event.
A regular and enthusiastic competitor in the Caribbean, Sir Peter Harrison was named the godfather or patron of this years Les Voiles. Owner of the 115ft Farr ketch Sojana, Harrison told the crowd: "As a visitor from England to this beautiful French island, one of the most beautiful in the West Indies, I'm thrilled to be asked to the patron of Les Voiles. Bon vent Les Voiles de St Barth, and good luck, everyone!"
Sailing on Sojana is Lionel Pean, back for his third Les Voiles. "Obviously there are plenty of good reasons to be here, and to come back every year with the same enthusiasm: this place is made for sailing. In a very short time, Les Voiles de St. Barth has become the place to be, very much like St Tropez in the Mediterranean. And the word is spreading around. Shortly there will be a waiting list to be a part of the event!"
The weather forecast for the next few days calls for light winds, though the breeze is expected to increase throughout the week. Racing is scheduled to start tomorrow, two miles northwest of Sugarloaf Rock off Gustavia. One race is scheduled with a start time of 1200 local.