Gathering of the giants
Tied up Med style at the docks in Gustavia Harbor this morning, 17 of 38 Bucket superyachts lurched and listed in the northern swell, straining their aft dock lines and looking not unlike wild horses wanting to be freed from their restraints. It took well more than an hour for the lot to leave, one by one and in planned order but only after divers had cleared their bow anchors, allowing them to join the balance of the fleet (freed from moorings in the outer harbor) on the Caribbean Sea for a 20-some-odd-mile race around the island of St Barths.
Yesterday's forecast of heavy winds, which could have possibly posed a threat to racing, thankfully did not materialise, and a more accommodating 20 knot breeze allowed the four classes (Gazelles, Elegantes, Mademoiselles and Grandes Dames) to strut their extraordinarily beautiful stuff in front of a large spectator fleet and curious eyes that peered from various vantage points along the shore and on the cliffs and peaks of the island's mere 21 sqkm volcanic land.
"Everyone was a little nervous, but it ended up being a really nice day," said John Barrett, navigator aboard the 27.5m yawl Bequia, which won the Mademoiselle class and was the very first yacht to cross the line after approximately 2.5 hours of racing, with the 37m Moonbird tantalisingly close behind. "With pursuit racing that's how it should be," said Barrett, estimating a 10 second delta between the two yachts. "It means they got the ratings (based on the international superyacht rule) right."
Barrett described seeing the Grandes Dames, in the class starting before his, taking long tacks upwind to Roches Rouges before cracking off to Les Grenadiers and subsequent way points of Ile Toc Vers and Ile Fourchue (located between St. Barths and St. Martin), while Bequia chose to short-tack closer to shore to minimise the effects of a lumpy sea state. After the rounding of Ile Fourchue, it was then a "drag race" back to the finish. (The Grande Dames sailed an additional 3.5nm on a course that took them around Roche Table, Groupers and Petite Groupers before heading back.) "It was especially challenging near Shell Beach where the wind coming across the island got patchy. One minute we were standing up straight and another minute we were on our ear."
Seahawk, Marie and Visione won the Grande Dames, Elegantes and Gazelles classes, respectively.
"We are 550 tons, which is pretty heavy," said David Powys, the Australian tactician aboard the newly launched Seahawk, adding that gusts of 25-26 knots were quite handy for moving the boat along. "To be honest, today was our day (as opposed to tomorrow, which promises to be lighter), and if we hadn't have won, we would've been disappointed. As for our rating, we couldn't have been more happy, as there were six of us who finished within a minute or two."
Powys likened the Bucket to a traditional car rally where very good friends meet, enjoy some social events and then race in ernest, yet with great reverence to the spirit of tradition: "This race gets more and more competitive each year, but we have to remember its original essence."
Major sponsors for the St. Barths Bucket are Alloy Yachts, Holland Jachtbouw, Perini Navi, Royal Huisman and Vitters Shipyard.
Supporting sponsors are Burgess, Camper & Nicholson, Doehle Yachts, Doyle, Future Fibres, Newport Shipyard, North Sails, Pantaenius, Pendennis, Rybovich, Skuld Yacht, the Superyacht Report, Tradewind Aviation, US Trust, and ZIS Insurance.
The four class winners will each receive a handcrafted Ship's Bell Clock from Chelsea Clock.
Photos by Carlo Borlenghi / www.borlenghi.com