Done and dusted
No one said racing in paradise was easy, and on Saturday, the final race day at Les Voiles de St Barth, crews were again tested with light and variable winds. Tacticians and navigators found it challenging – as did helmsman and trimmers who were looking for any advantage in the changeable conditions.
But with first place still in play in more than half the classes going into the final race, there was plenty of incentive to maintain concentration. In IRC52, Spinnaker 1, Non-Spinnaker Racing, and Multihull classes, only one point separated the first two positions. Les Voiles de St Barth Race Committee sent the fleet on an initial upwind beat and then around the western islands including Ile Fourchue. Though after several hours, with the breeze lightning even more and with much of the fleet only halfway around, the race committee elected to shorten the course.
In the Maxi class, George David’s 90ft Rambler posted four wins for the week. David has won the two prior editions of Les Voiles, last year with his former boat, Rambler 100. The high-tech monohull, built to break ocean records, capsized in dramatic fashion last August off the Fastnet Rock, when her keel snapped off. Many of the crew from the 100 footer were in St Barts racing on Rambler this year.
David is a big fan of Les Voiles: “This is a great regatta for a bunch of reasons: it’s a beautiful island, and it’s a vertical island, so it’s scenic to sail around, and you can get some very complicated courses. The race committee does a great job in setting the courses and the breeze can be quite shifty in close to shore, so there are typically lots of turns in this race course. This week, we had between 20-23 mile long races, typically seven legs or so, so lots of crew activity and a lot of opportunity for error.”
David described the inner workings of the water-ballasted speedster: “The big advantage we have, especially in lighter air like this, is we can unload the ballast. Two numbers are important: this boat dry displaces 21 tons and then we add six tons of water ballast to it. Especially in light air conditions, if you can get the boat to float higher and take less power to push it like today, we just slip away. The water ballast is a tremendous advantage. Racing is a little bit about luck. It’s also about organization and teamwork, and I think that’s one place where Rambler does no shy from; it’s a mature program, we’ve been racing together now for six years. And we have more miles on the boat than is typical.”
It’s a great place to have a regatta, well sponsored, the shore side parties and race committee work is great. If you talk to all competitors, you’d have to scramble to find a complaint. It just gets better all the time, but it was a pretty high standard in the first place.
This year an IRC class was added in response to the owners input. The new class proved successful as racing for the IRC52 was close all week with each of the boats, Mayhem, Vesper and PowerPlay winning a race. Today Jim Swartz’ Vesper (USA) took a bullet, but it would be Mayhem that posted the best scoreline, to win the class overall.
Skipper Ashley Wolfe has been sailing with her core crew for the past ten years, and onboard in St Barts were a formidable crew including Ross MacDonald, Charlie McKee, and Mike Mottl. Wolfe said: “It was down to pretty much today. The week was fantastic, very tight racing back and forth – it could have been anybody, one day we were first, one day last, the next day second. No mistakes and some luck." Asked about a return visit, Wolfe said, “I’ve heard there’s more breeze other years, so I think I’ll come back, but no complaints at all, it was a fabulous regatta!”
Spinnaker 1 class came down to a battle between Frits Bus’ Melges 24, Coors Light and Sergio Sagramoso’s J/122, Lazy Dog from Puerto Rico, which finished tied on six points, with the Dutch boat winning on a countback by virtue of their first place finish today. Ashore before the boats docked out, the wind funneled over the hill in Gustavia giving indications of a possibly breezier day. Bus was not optimistic about their chances against a boat with significantly more waterline in those condition; however, competitors eventually encountered much less wind on the course, which suited the Melges 24 and their crew just fine.
In Spinnaker 2, it was Clay Deutsch’s Defiance that held off Stephen Murray’s new Carkeek 40 Decision. Deutsch had chartered the Marten 49 for the regatta and sailed the boat with crew from his previous race boat, Chippewa. Deutsch said, “We’re absolutely thrilled. Decision got us today, but we have enough points for the week. It was tough day today, very draining. It was very light and variable, with virtually no sea state, but boy, it was shifty so driving was challenging. And it was hard tactically."
The newly-launched Decision, with tactician Steve Benjamin onboard, pushed Defiance all week. Deutsch said: “Decision got away from us early, so we sailed our own race. They were basically our competition, and it was great having them here. It’s always more fun when you’re really racing someone and you can go at it back and forth. We were in touch with each other all week, no one ever got more than a couple of minutes ahead.”
Another first-timer at Les Voiles, he said: “We really enjoyed the week, nothing bad happened. I’d love to come back, this was really first class, the race committee did a very good job and the shore side stuff was just fabulous…as only the French can do!”
Non-Spinnaker: Thomas Mullen’s J/95 Shamrock VII just held off Antiguan Bernie Evans-Wong’s High Tension. Shamrock came straight from the BVI regatta, where they won their class. Right after finishing, they delivered the boat to St Barts with barely time to register, let alone practice. Mullen attributed his boat’s win to a combination of bad luck for some of their competitors and extraordinarily hard work on part of his crew.
In the Multihull class, it was Peter Aschenbrenner’s Paradox that tied with Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66 Phaedo to win on countback. The Nigel Irens-designed 63ft trimaran, with American multihull sailor Cam Lewis on board, a veteran of several round the world multihull campaigns, and who provided local knowledge having been in St Barts at the two previous Les Voiles regattas.
In the classics, Matt and Pam Brooks, owners of the Olin Stephens-designed Dorade, were delighted to have brought the famous ocean racing yawl to the Caribbean for the first time ever in the boat’s 80+ years. Brooks said, “We have learned a lot about how to sail the boat and it has been really fun. Everyday the course was good. Yesterday’s round the island race was really challenging because of the varied conditions. It has really been a lot of fun with good course setting and regatta management. This has been a good warm-up for the boat and crew for the Newport Bermuda Race in June."
The prizegiving took place on a stage in the Race Village on the Quai General de Gaulle in Gustavia, with Bruno Magras, President of the Collectivité de Saint-Barthélemy; Ernest Brin, Capitaine of the Port; Sir Peter Harrison, ‘godfather’ of this year’s Les Voiles de St. Barth; Paul Bastard, International Jury Chairman; Marc Grisoli, President of St. Barth Yacht Club; and Francois Tolede, Event Director. Presenting awards to the competitors were Annelisa Gee, Competitions Director, and Kiki Laporte, MC for the evening’s activities.
The top three finishers in each of the three classes – Maxi, IRC, Classic, Spinnaker 1 & 2, Non-Spinnaker, and Multihull – were presented awards. As overall winner of the Maxi Class, George David, owner and skipper of Rambler 90 was also presented a Richard Mille Calibre RM 028 timepiece.
David enthusiastically said; “It’s great to see the way Les Voiles has grown and progressed. Rambler and Sojana are only Maxis that have done it three years. The event started with 28 boats in 2010, so it’s clearly taking off. I think it’s going to be one of the great classic regattas in the Caribbean.”
Dates for the 2013 Les Voiles de St. Barth have been confirmed for 8–13 April.