The warm tropical breeze and clear blue sky is not lost on the sailors here at Les Voiles de St. Barth – especially those from the colder climes of the US where spring has not quite yet sprung. Even normally jaded professional sailors were waxing on about the conditions here. Today offered 15-16 knots of breeze and a much reduced sea from yesterday, when many boats returned to the quay to lick their wounds and effect repairs, which included torn sails, broken head foils, and damaged rigging.
Ken Read, skipper of Rambler 100, said: “I was here last week sailing in the Bucket, and now here we are again: same weather, same conditions, it’s like Groundhog Day. You just come back here, and it blows hard and it’s beautiful weather. I haven’t worn a jacket yet, and I think I’ve been wearing this shirt for about a month now. You can’t find any better conditions to go sailing in.”
The Puma Volvo Ocean Race skipper continued: “This Rambler is clearly an animal…it’s a beast. The old Rambler was a 90-footer, water- ballasted, a big, powerful boat. This boat is a whole new step. It’s really cool to sail the boat how we sailed it yesterday, really like a normal 50-footer, around the track. Every day is a new experience. You’re looking at the loads on a boat like this, the speeds and its’ potential, and the amount of water coming over the bow yesterday. It’s a dangerous boat, it’s a big powerful boat.
“Rambler 100 was made to sail out in the ocean, so sailing these quick little legs around here, it’s a whole new thing. It’s a different mentality, there’s actually some different equipment. We had a couple sails built for inshore, but the sail system broke in trials so we couldn’t even use it. It’s a whole new way of thinking on a boat like this. You have to have the best sailors you can find from bow to stern. Without that, you really could get in trouble fast. And when you get in trouble, somebody gets hurt. It’s a different mentality, it’s a different game altogether, and we’re still learning. We’re not perfect out there right now, but we’re still learning.”
"It’s interesting, the bigger the boat, the fewer the sails you carry. Yesterday we went around the course with a mainsail, two jibs, one reaching spinnaker, and one running spinnaker, and that was it. And the main reason is it’s really hard to change sails on a boat like that. So each sail has a very, very wide range.”
At all four race starts, the groupings were much tighter as crews ramped up their performances and rivalries reared their heads: Rambler 100 versus Genuine Risk, Vesper versus Venomous, Black Hole versus Nix (versus Affinity today). Make no mistake, with the dock lines cast off, and the prior nights’ dustiness cleared away, whether amateur or professional, most sailors here are keen to win.
The Racing Cruising class, the largest at Les Voiles with 24 entries, today was again sent on a 16 nautical mile course, which was much less punishing than yesterday’s opening race. “Today was less windy, less wavy, so we weren’t crashing into 10 foot waves,” said Jack Desmond (Marion, Massachusetts), owner of the Swan 48 Affinity. “We sailed a little more conservatively today, a little smarter. We only have nine crew and we’re pretty well organized being short-handed. Yesterday we ripped the number three jib and the spinnaker. We didn’t rip anything today, so all in all a good day, and not very expensive.”
Desmond went on to count off Black Hole, Nix and Fenix, as his primary competition. Fenix is a 14-year old Swan 60 from Guernsey, whose prior event this season was the RORC Caribbean 600 where they were third in class. Skipper Mortiz Burmester felt the coastal courses suited the crew well, as they are a mix of amateurs and professionals. “So it’s nice to have some slow bear-aways around the rocks.”
Of the original five entries in the Multihull class, only Fat Cat and Bordelo are still competing. Today, Blanca, a 30ft Seacart trimaran, lost its mast, while the 40ft trimaran Dauphine Telecom and the 66ft Gunboat catamaran Phaedo did not start.
Thursday, April 7 is a lay day, which will give the crews a chance to relax and enjoy themselves with a full and varied program of events planned at St Jean Beach, including an RC (radio control) model boat regatta and lunch with music.
Racing continues on Friday and Saturday with a first warning signal at 1100.
The closing ceremony and fireworks will follow the awards ceremony on Saturday, April 9.
Place, Boat Name, Skipper, Race 1-2, Total Points
1) Genuine Risk, Hugo Stenbeck (USA), 2-1, 3.0 points
2) Rambler 100, Ken Read (USA), 1-2, 3.0
3) Sojana, Marc Fitzgerald (GBR), 3-3, 6.0
1) Vesper, Jim Swartz (USA), 2-1, 3.0 points
2) Antilope, Willem Wester (NED), 1-2, 3.0
3) Venemous, Peter Cunningham (CAY), 3-3, 6.0
1) Nix, Nico Cortlever (NED), 2-1, 3.0 points
2) Black Hole, Jeroen Min (GBR), 1-2, 3.0
3) Lost Horizon, James Dobbs, (Antigua, W.I.), 4-3, 7.0
1) Mariella, Carlo Falcone (ITA), 1-1, 2.0 points
2) White Wings, Faraday Rosenberg (USA), 2-2, 4.0
3) Kate Dutch Sailing Team, Philip Walwyn (St. Kitt’s, W.I.), 3-3, 6.0
1) Fat Cat, John Winter (USA), 1-1, 2.0 points
2) Bordelo, Stephane Penigaud (St. Barth, FWI), 2-2, 4.0
3) Dauphin Telecom, Erick Clement (FRA), 6-3, 9.0