Around St Barts warm-up
As a prelude to Monday's start of the singlehanded Transat B to B from St Barts to Lorient in northwest France, at 1130 local time on Saturday half of the IMOCA 60 entries took part in the Round the Island Exhibition Race.
The locals were out in force at Fort Oscar, which overlooks the start line between the islands of Le Pain de Sucre and Les Gros Islets, and were able to witness Mike Golding's team on Gamesa timing the start to perfection. On port tack, under full mainsail and headsail, the IMOCA 60s set sail to the south-east, all the boats jockeying for position in their anticlockwise sprint around Saint Barts in a northeasterly breeze of around ten knots, with bright, but cloudy conditions and a slight swell.
Around the south side of the island, Gamesa, Marc Guillemot's Safran and Armel Le Cleac'h's Banque Populaire were trying various options, inshore and offshore in a bid to gain the upper hand. Vincent Riou's PRB trailed initially until she managed to gain ground. Hugging the coast at Pointe Nègre, Banque Populaire fell into a wind hole at the foot of the cliffs and, despite attempting to get back into the match further up the track, was always a little off the pace in relation to the other three after she suffered a tear in her gennaker.
Obliged to leave Ile Coco and Roche Roubes to port, all the boats continued offshore with only Safran cutting back into the coast briefly before switching back to a less extreme offshore option. However, this tactic didn't pay off and it was PRB that led into Les Grenadins, with Safran second.
Passing between the beautiful islands of Ile Chevreau (locally known as Ile Bonhomme) and Ile Fregate, PRB managed to extend lead, leaving the battle for second place. Safran and Gamesa were absolutely neck and neck picking their way through the islands and at one stage it looked like the British IMOCA 60 had the edge. However, it wasn't till Ile Fourchue that Golding's team managed to change gear, hoisting their gennaker and screaming down the home straight along Saint Barts' eastern seaboard. Up ahead PRB crossed the line to take a clear victory with a race time of 2hrs 14m 45s. Snatching second, just over three minutes behind, was Gamesa, with Safran nearly two minutes astern and Banque Populaire limping in over three minutes stray of third place.
On the return of the Round the Island fleet to the port of Gustavia, Bureau Vallée skippered by Louis Burton, was safely tied up at the dock. Just a short time later, Hugo Boss, skippered by Alex Thomson, arrived after successfully making repairs in nearby Saint Maarten.
On Saturday night's cocktail gathering in Gustavia's luxurious Carl Gustaf Hotel, kindly laid on by the local authorities for all those involved in the Transat B to B, seven of the eight skippers were in attendance, with just Bureau Vallee's Louis Burton yet to make it to Saint Barts for Monday's race start. MACIF and Virbac-Paprec 3 are due in over the course of the weekend.