Bella Mente dismasts
Competitors at Les Voiles de St Barth headed back to the race course today after enjoying the regatta’s traditional lay day yesterday, which gave them a chance to indulge in the French island’s onshore charms.
Many regattas no longer feature such a break in the racing, but Les Voiles has maintained a five-day format (four days of racing with a mid-regatta break) since its inception five years ago, and it has proven to be a success. In fact, more than 400 of the thousand or so sailors racing here gathered at Nikki Beach on Baie Saint Jean for lunch and some organized team sports, including water polo, stand-up paddleboard races and petanque matches.
This morning dawned with a much fresher breeze than yesterday and sailors prepared for a forecasted 18-25 knot southeasterly. With the race course set off the north side of the island, most of the fleet readied by tucking in reefs and setting small jibs while they jockeyed for positions in the starting area.
Shortly before the start for the Maxi and Spinnaker Zero classes, Hap Fauth’s Mini Maxi Bella Mente dismasted and had to retire. Fortunately, there were no injuries during the dismasting, and the boat motored slowly back to it’s mooring, its crew disappointed given that the 72-footer was well-sailed all week and in a close battle with Maxi class leader, Caol Ila R.
With the breeze building, the Race Committee postponed racing, sending the fleet back to shore; however, shortly after noon, signals ashore indicated a 1:30pm start for eight of the nine classes (absent the Melges 24s). With the wind at 20-23 knots, the fleet enjoyed a 16 mile course that took them to the north end where large ocean swells rolled through. Groupama Volvo Ocean Race crewman Brad Marsh, bowman on the 80 foot Selene, commented on how the 60 ton Swan was well-suited for today’s conditions: “This afternoon’s race was fantastic: it was fun, lots of wind, beautiful big sea. Selene is a big heavy boat, in some ways the best boat to be on today – very big, very safe and comfortable. But there’s a lot of load, a lot of coordination to get things done on a big boat, with many people.”
Melges 24s In Force
Fritz Bus, skipper of Island Water World, currently tied for the lead in the Melges 24 class with Budget Marine/Gill, is enthusiastic about the turnout at Les Voiles: “It’s fantastic that we have seven Melges 24s racing. I hope this will stimulate the whole Caribbean to bring more Melges 24s here because one-design racing, that’s the way to go. All these ratings (in other classes), everybody is always complaining, and we have nothing to complain about, only about the skipper. It’s a nice one-design class, but it’s also a very nice, sporty boat to sail. It’s fast, it goes well upwind and especially downwind, and it’s a fantastic experience!”
Bus was comfortable with the decision to keep the Melges 24s ashore when racing resumed this afternoon. An accomplished Melges sailor from Saint Maarten, the Dutch sailor reported 21 knots of boat speed down a wave as they practiced, shortly before racing was postponed. At last year’s Les Voiles, Island Water World was leading its class going into the last day of racing when the backstay broke and the mast toppled over the side, along with their hopes of victory.
“Now we’re back and we’ll try to do it all over again, Bus said. “I like it a bit more when it’s a little lighter air, when you’re playing the shifts, and it’s a little bit more sailing. This (today’s conditions) is a little more banging around the course. It’s hard on the crew in a Melges 24 in these waves. We’ll see how it goes today, and survive – at least it’s going to be fun downwind, so we’re going to have some good spray and wet rides!”
And the Leaders Are…
With today’s win in the Maxi class, Caol Ila R has a solid lead now, given the retirement today of her rival Bella Mente; in Spinnaker Zero, Near Miss scored another victory today to lead its class; Stark Raving Mad took a win to pose a threat to Lazy Dog’s dominance in Spinnaker 1; White Rhino found another bullet to further protect its lead in Spinnaker 2; Eamonn Rohan’s Ramanessin (GBR) notched another victory in Spinnaker 3 for a solid lead; the X-Yacht Maelia leads Visiooptic in Spinnaker 4; and in Non-Spinnaker, L’Esperance has a five-point lead over Speedy Nemo, the same gap that SeaCart 26 Team All Stars has over the Gunboat 63 Elvis in Multihulls.
And they said...
Wendy Schmidt, owner of the Swan 80 Selene, second in Maxi class today. Selene is sailing in its third Les Voiles and won the Maxi class here in 2013. Schmidt owns several boats, including a 'spirit of tradition' W46 class, but she actively sails and races Selene in the Caribbean and Mediterranean: “We love St. Barth; it’s reliably a great place to sail and an interesting place to sail. The races have lots of variety, all sizes of boats…it’s not too big of a regatta. We just have a great time, it is a little bit lower key than some, which is also really nice.”
When Schmidt first started racing Selene in 2009, she had 22 crew members from 10 different countries who spoke nine different languages. Schmidt said, “I don’t think we’re that diverse right now, but we have Kiwis, Brits, people from Newport, Nantucket. It’s just a mix of people who are good sailors, who have friends who are great on our boat. I said this morning to everybody, ‘this boat has many owners,’ and I think that’s why we have such a good time and Selene sails so well. She’s got a fantastic crew.”
Schmidt is an active philanthropist, particularly with regard to the health of the oceans and the environment. One of her organisations is 11th Hour Racing, a project of the Schmidt Family Foundation. Schmidt said, “We look at the world as a series of interconnected issues that have to be resolved in this century. We look not only at climate and energy and food and agriculture systems and human rights issues but also at the oceans and the responsibilities that people have who use our waters for recreation, chiefly sailors and the people in boating. We have a responsibility to be the vanguard of responsibility for the health of the waters and everything living in them.”
Benoit Briand, boat captain on Near Miss (leading Spinnaker Zero class): “On the sailing side, we are quite happy, since we're in a position to win our class. We started in very mild conditions, but the second half of the regatta will see us facing much more wind, from 20 to 25 knots. Things are getting serious and everyone onboard must keep his concentration. On our kind of a boat, the slightest mistake can be catastrophic.
“We have a 15-man crew, quite a motley crew really, with guys coming from New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland and all over France. English is the common language and everybody sticks to his job. We're like a rugby team. I'm a little bit of a coach, but I would never interfere with what the helmsman or the navigator is doing. Everyone knows his job by heart, and things must run smoothly, especially in strong conditions.”
Daniela De Luca, Italian crewmember on Les Voiles au Féminin in Spinnaker 4: “I belong to the all-women's crew from Saint Barthélémy. Our association is called Les Voiles au Feminin. It was created two years ago to promote the sport of sailing among women on the island, as all women must have access to this sport. We therefore have acquired a sailing boat, a J/109 that we bought in Saint Tropez, after Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. Our skipper, Sophie Olivaud sailed the boat across the ocean during the ARC Challenge two years ago. Ever since, we've sailed as many regattas in the Caribbean as we possibly could.
“Our crew is a mix of experienced sailors, and newbies. It works out very well, as the atmosphere onboard is excellent. This does not mean that we don't feel any apprehension at the start of each race, just like any male sailor, I guess. It is very exciting to sail during Les Voiles, as we get to see great sailors and fantastic boats. We feel very fortunate.”