With several classes still up for grabs, crews going into the final day of racing at Les Voiles de St. Barth were eager to get on the race course and best the score. The conditions remained fresh, with a 22–25 knot southeasterly producing an impressive swell on the island’s windward side.
Les Voiles de St Barth Race Committee, led by Race Director Luc Poupon, carefully chose race courses to fit the conditions, sending the Maxi and Spinnaker Zero, 1 and 2 classes on a 22 nautical mile course and Spinnaker 3 and 4, Non-Spinnaker, and Multihull on a 16 nm course. To make up for a missed race yesterday, the six-boat Melges 24 class completed two races, which were run in the more protected waters on the western side of the island. As a further provision, the class mutually agreed not to use spinnakers.
As spectators watched from a sculpted rock plateau 500 feet above the pristine beach of Colombier, the sailing conditions on the northern most point of St. Barths seemed epic: strong, fairly steady wind, with flat water at the starting area and the first rounding mark. At the next mark, however, the fleet began its beat around the island’s northern end into the ocean swell. A two-knot current running counter to the prevailing wind produced six-to-eight foot seas that, while uncomfortable upwind, made for a rollicking ride off the breeze.
The conditions took their toll on some equipment and produced several blown-out spinnakers and sails. Even in the protected area where the Melges 24s were sailing, it was déjà vu for Frits Bus as his Island Water World lost its mast and, just like last year, missed out on a chance to seal a victory.
The change in conditions from the lighter wind of the regatta’s first two days (Monday and Tuesday) to the 20 plus knots on the latter two days (Friday and Saturday) affected several classes with boats that favored one range or the other.
One of these was the hard-fought Spinnaker 1 class, where Jim Madden’s J/125 Stark Raving Mad IV edged out by one point Sergio Sagramoso’s Puerto Rican Melges 32 Lazy Dog (class winner last year). The Puerto Rican sailor foretold the story on Tuesday when he said: “This is the first time in this boat, but I’m sailing against much bigger boats so I’m thinking that perhaps conditions have a lot to do with it. It was very light yesterday, and we did well. We’ll see how we do in heavy winds. There is a 49-footer in our class, so things might change and you might be interviewing somebody else, but hopefully not!”
Class winner Jim Madden said of their battle with Lazy Dog: “It’s a little bit of a luck of the draw. We give them great credit, they were great competitors and I think they sailed really well.”
He added: “We had a fantastic week, one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. Conditions were beautiful the first two days and outrageous the second two days. It was a ton of fun, very competitive – and what a beautiful island and wonderful environment!
“Most of our crew are a core group from southern California that have been sailing together for maybe eight or nine years, and a few folks from Newport, R.I. So it’s a nice group who know their roles; they sail together, they trust each other, and most of all we have a great time, we come here to have fun. We’ll be back in St. Barth’s next year for sure!”
Winner of the Maxi class was Alex Schaerer, owner/skipper of the Mills 68 Caol Ila R. Schaerer and his team enjoyed close racing with Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente for the first part of the week, until Bella Mente suffered a dismasting yesterday. Schaerer said: “We had quite a good start of the regatta, because our forté against Bella Mente is light weather with our set-up on the boat. So we had a 2-1 lead after the light weather; then unfortunately we couldn’t compete with them in the strong winds (due to Bella Mente’s retirement), but I think that would have been tough to win two races, as their forté is reaching in strong weather. Up until then it was a nice, exciting sailing week here.”
Schaerer sails with a seasoned, mostly Australian crew (the lone exception this week was American Gary Weisman, past president of North Sails) from two different Australian boats: Loki which at 63 feet is close in size to the 69ft Caol Ila R, and the super maxi Wild Oats XI, which has won line honours at the Sydney Hobart seven times. “The Australians, of course, help us ‘little’ Swiss get the boat around the marks safely!,” Schaerer said.
A big fan of the ultra-competitive Mini Maxi class, Schaerer added: “They are a great class. There will be two new boats built: one is Rán, and the owner already sold his old boat to a seasoned Italian team, and Stig was sold to the owner of Jethou, where Brad Butterworth is sailing, so it’s really a very competitive class. And next year there’s going to be a new German team, so there’s going to be one more very competitive team. So it’s a lot of fun to sail in this class!”
In Spinnaker Zero class, Franck Noël, owner/skipper of the TP52, Near Miss managed a near perfect score line (1-2-1-1-1) to finish first. Noël said, “When Bella Mente dismasted yesterday, that told us that nothing is really over until the finish line is crossed. Today's race was very similar in wind and sea conditions as yesterday. We had to sail in a very conservative way in order to finish without breaking anything – there could be no useless chances taken.
“The crew has been very professional all week long. Most of all, I appreciate their excellent team spirit and good humor – this is to me the most important thing on board; I hate when people scream at each other. The crew has shown great concentration while at all times keeping its relaxed attitude. It has been perfect!
In Spinnaker 2, Jack Desmond took a long path to a well-deserved class win on his Swan 48 Affinity and had a story to tell about it. In the autumn of 2012, Affinity fell off its cradle at a boatyard in New England and sustained substantial damage, so for last year’s Les Voiles, Desmond chartered the Swan 56 White Rhino. This year, White Rhino was chartered by Steve Cucchiaro who became Desmond’s closest competitor, tying on point score with Affinity, but finishing second on a tiebreaker countback.
Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get it right. Returning this year was the English/Irish team on Ramanessin, which managed a victory in Spinnaker 3 class, after finishing 2nd last year to Lazy Dog. Nigel Young, tactician on board, said: “Things could not be going better for us this year. Last year we came here and had a really tough fight with the J/122 Lazy Dog. This year we are on a Grand Soleil 43. We have been trying to play it conservatively because there is a nasty penalty for an early start, which your race is over if you do that.
“We were really surprised by the light winds on the first day. We were not expecting that, but this boat did us proud. We managed to get the upper hand on the second race by our sail selection and were able to take the lead over the J/111 J Boss (which finished second). We played it conservatively, but then we have an exceptionally good crew, so they do not make any mistakes.”
In Spinnaker 4, David Cullen’s J/109 Pocket Rocket tied with Claude Roth’s Visiooptic, a First 40.7 and won on a count back.
Les Voiles de St. Barth includes quite a few competitors and boats that return for multiple editions. In the Non-Spinnaker class, Bobby Velasquez from Saint Maarten stands out. Velasquez, a well-known marina owner from the Dutch island, has competed at all five editions of Les Voiles, and this is his third class win. He said, “We have done pretty good over the years. We have the same boat, same captain. We really enjoy it and had some good competition in the class with some Swans, some bigger boats like Hotel California (Santa Cruz 70), Speedy Nemo, and others.”
In the nine-boat Racing Multihull class, the smallest boat, Calle Hennix’s SeaCart 26 Team All Stars, won overall. The Multihull class, which continues to grow each edition includes a diverse lot, which this year included the Irens-designed 63ft trimaran Paradox; two 62ft Gunboat catamarans; and two TS 50 catamarans.
In the Melges 24 class, with today’s two races providing the opportunity for the greatest gain or loss, Thierry LeFort’s Lefort Clim saved their best for last, scoring two bullets to upset prior leaders Team Island Water World and Budget Marine/Gill to take the overall class win.
Event Organiser François Tolède said, “This has been another great edition, another success. I am really pleased with the level of competition and camaraderie among all competitors and partners. The professionalism both on the water and onshore has been amazing. Thanks to all our teams, Les Voiles de St. Barth is now running smoothly, while still maintaining welcoming scale for all to enjoy.”
This evening there was a prizegiving dockside in the Les Voiles de St Barth race village, on the Quai General de Gaulle in Gustavia Harbor. Race organisers presented top-three finishers in each class with trophies, champagne and other prizes. Competitors and guests were treated to a spectacular fireworks display over Gustavia Harbor, accompanied by the live music of Joyful Noise.
Principal event Partner Richard Mille presented Alex Schaerer on Caol Ila R, the winner of the Maxi class, with a Richard Mille RM028 special edition 'Les Voiles de St. Barth' timepiece, one of a numbered and limited edition of 100 pieces.
Official event partner Gaastra presented Spinnaker Zero class winners Near Miss with Gaastra Pro crew gear.
West Indies Management Company (WIMCO), luxury villa rental management specialist, presented winners in eight classes (Spinnaker Zero-1-2-3, Non-Spinnaker, Melges 24, Racing Multihull) a week’s stay in a luxury villa in St. Barth.
Winners also were presented with magnums of Veuve Clicquot champagne and Mount Gay Rum.
The dates for the next Les Voiles de St. Barth will be 13–18 April, 2015.
Top three results
1 - Caol Ila R / Alex Schaerer (SUI) / Mills 69
2 - Rambler / George David (USA) / R&P 90
3 - Aragon / Verder Van Nieuwland (NED) / Marten 72
1 - Near Miss / Frank Noël (SUI) / TP 52
2 - Balearia / Bigamist T.G/J.B/P. Mendonca (ESP) BOTIN & CARKEEK
3 - Otra Vez / William Coates (USA) KER 43
1 - Stark Raving Mad IV / Jim Madden (USA) / J/125
2 - Lazy Dog / Sergio Sagramoso (Puerto Rico) / Melges 32
3 - Kick ’em Jenny 2 Ian & Hope Ross (USA) Melges 32
1 - Affinity / Jack Desmond (USA) / SWAN 48
2 - White Rhino / Stephen Cucchiaro (USA) / Swan 56
3 - AronnaX / Alain Charlot (SBH) / X-482
1 - Ramanessin / Eamonn Rohan (GBR) / Grand Soleil 43
2 - J-Boss / Eddy Chalano (FRA) / J/111
3 - Salona Racing Team / Alex Sastre (USA) / Salona
1 - Pocket Rocket / David Cullen (IRL) / J 109
2 - Visiooptic / Claude Roth (FRA) / First 40.7
3 – Maelia / Raphael Magras (SBH) / X-yachts
1 - L’Esperance / Sir Bobby Velasquez (SXM) / Beneteau 45
2 - Hotel California Too / Stephen Schmidt /Santa Cruz 70
3 - Speedy Nemo / Raymond Magras (SBH) / Dufour 34
1 – Sea Cart 26 / Team All Stars / Carl (Calle) Hennix (SWE) / SeaCart 26
2 - Elvis / Scott Bradford (USA) / Gunboat
3 - Le CARRÉ Lounge (CAN) / Toro34
1 - LEFORT CLIM / Thierry LeFort (FRA)
2 - Budget Marine/Gill / Andrea Scarabelli (AHO)
3 - Team Island Water World / Frits Bus (AHO)