Tight at the top
Better breeze was on tap today for the Les Voiles de St. Barth fleet with a variable 8-12 knot easterly which offered all classes a proper chance to perform. The race committee chose well again – reaching into their bag of 25+ courses and selecting picture postcard worthy courses around the northwestern end of the island and neighboring islets: 20-nautical mile for the Maxi and IRC 52 classes, and 17 miles for all of the other classes.
The first off the line were Classic and Non-Spinnaker Racing classes. With several dropouts before the regatta began, the Classic class was reduced to two, but you couldn’t have come up with two more standout beauties than the Olin Stephens-designed yawl Dorade and the Fife-built 80ft yawl Mariella.
Dorade was originally launched in 1930 and was considered, then and now, a breakthrough in yacht racing design. Purchased by American Matt Brooks three years ago, she underwent an extensive refit in Rhode Island to ready the boat for a return to ocean racing. Brooks is keen to repeat all of Dorade’s early races, starting with the Newport-Bermuda race in June.
Jamie Hilton, tactician on board, said: “What is unique is that you are sailing a boat that is one of the richest pieces of yacht racing history and then at the same time you are trying to race her hard and be cognisant of what it is we are sailing on.” Brooks’ wife Pam, added, “Our goal is to take her back to what she was designed to do. We want other people who own classic yachts to be encouraged to do that too.”
In the Non-Spinnaker Racing class, Antiguan Bernie Evan-Wong's High Tension is leading overall, though at a protest remains pending. Only a point back is Ben Jelic’s J/120 Jaguar Island Water World from St. Maarten.
Next off was Spinnaker Racing 1, with 19 boats the biggest class, and one rife with competition. Leading after two days is Sergio Sagramoso’s J/122 Lazy Dog with two bullets, followed by Frits Bus’ Melges 24 Coors Light with two second place finishes.
The Martin 49 Defiance is making its first appearance at Les Voiles, along with chartering skipper Clay Deutsch and his crew. But Deutsch is no stranger to the Caribbean racing circuit where he campaigned his Swan 68 Chippewa – very successfully – until he sold it three years ago.
Boatless, he didn’t need much encouragement to get back on the race course, “We had done the St Tropez regatta and for years I dreamed of a St Barth’s regatta, and the moment I sold my boat the regatta started! Tony [his captain on Chippewa] knows I have always fantasized about this regatta and he called when he knew this boat became available. This is the first time in St Barth’s for almost all of my crew, and they are just blown away – it’s like sailing in the Med!”
At the start of Spinnaker Racing 2, both the newly launched Carkeek 40 Decision and Defiance were keeping tabs on the other. Deutsch said: "We had a good start with Dee (Smith, Decision’s tactician) calling the shots. They took us right to weather, so we tried to stay clear. The nice thing with this boat is it accelerates shockingly fast. No question they had the advantage at the start, and they threw dirt at us for most of the weather leg. They had a nice lead early on.” A lead they would hold until the races final miles where the fleet rounded the rock of Le Pain du Sucre.
Defiance’s crew could see both Rambler and Decision struggle in the lighter breeze there. Deutsch continued: “We were pacing ourselves with Decision, a quick, well-sailed boat. We got lucky, everyone else got stood up in there, so we kind of took the great circle route and had good breeze all the way around. And we made up a minute and a half deficit at the rock.
“We are kind of optimising the boat as we go. We did get two practice days, which gives a lot and we did as much rig tuning as we could, which is a big deal with these kinds of conditions. I think we have the boat set up really well. The boat has a lifting keel, a bow thruster, and a full interior; I’m shocked the boat is as fast as it is. It is impressive to sail this fast in light air.”
In the Maxi class, George David’s 90ft Rambler, continues to ramble away relatively unchallenged, maintaining both the line honours and corrected time lead after two days. Just behind is the Swan 80 Selene and the 112ft Baltic Niyala.
For the three boats in the IRC52 class, it’s close racing with lead changes, and no completely clear winner yet. In today’s race, Powerplay won by 1m 20sec, while Vesper led Mayhem by only eight seconds.
Leading after two days is Peter Cunningham’s Powerplay. “It was fantastic, it was nail biting around the course," said Cunningham. "There were big shifts, both velocity and directional. Tony [Rey, tactician] made some great calls, and with Nacho Postigo [navigator] and Jeff Madrigali [strategist] they just get together and have a great brains trust going, and I just do what I’m told!
Cunningham sails regularly on San Francisco Bay where the wind is very predictable and steady with small oscillations. He continued: “This variable stuff is much more challenging racing – but it’s beautiful, you’ve got the islands, the rocks, the water. It’s truly a beautiful place.”
Tomorrow is a layday for competitors, with a full day of activities planned at Nikki Beach. Racing continues on Friday, with two races planned and a first start at 11:00.