A number of decidedly national sailing teams will take part this year in the fourth edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth, which has become one of the most colorful and anticipated racing opportunities in the Caribbean. Scheduled for April 8-13, the event draws teams from around the world who enjoy extending their competitive sailing season in a warm, dependably breezy tropical clime.
And no one minds, while they are at it, that the famously trendy island of St. Barth has a French flair that permeates everything from the language that is spoken to the delectable wine and fine cuisine that is offered.
'There are international festivals of all types,' said Luc Poupon, one of the organizers for the event, 'and this truly is a five-day festival of fantastic sailing along with the camaraderie and fun that comes with hundreds of people sharing that experience.'
The Dutch team aboard the chartered Swan 45 Satori is considered 'serious' by most racers, but trimmer Maurits van Oranje is modest about this. 'We'd never take ourselves too serious, but in one way or the other someone will hopefully think of us as champions,' he said. 'Apart from Gerard Verduyn (skipper), who has set up several international sail race teams and raced with world class sailors, most of the team members are experienced, yet not professional. We have sailed as a team for over 20 years on different boats and various international events.'
Les Voiles de St Barth
Van Oranje says what his team likes most about Les Voiles de St. Barth is that it is very well organized and provides an appealing mix of competition and high quality leisure activities. 'Furthermore, the island’s geography inhibits the event from growing too big, which allows it to genuinely focus on first-class racing,' added van Oranje.
In an untraditional way, the 1965 ketch Saphaedra will represent the USA in the Classic Yacht Division, reserved for the most historic and aesthetically pleasing of the entrants. The yacht’s captain, Jamie Enos (Kennebunk, Maine/Hamilton, Mass.), will sail with only one other crew—her first-mate Amanda Sparks — perhaps, if they can 'get away with it.'
'Saphaedra is just 51 feet long, and we are used to delivering it to different places on our own, but we’ll have to see how exhausted we are after the first day!,' said Enos.
The 27-year-old, who one month after college became a deckhand on Saphaedra and grew into a position of command by 2008, explained that the family that owns the yacht doesn’t race. 'So we started in 2010 to sail in the Antigua Classics and other classic yacht regattas in New England like the Martha’s Vineyard ’Round the Island Race and the Nantucket Opera House Cup with friends we had met along the way.'
Last year, Enos sailed as crew on Carlo Falcone’s 1938 Bermudian yawl Mariella after she stumbled upon the regatta while bringing Saphaedra through the Caribbean (the yacht summers in Northeast Harbor, Maine, and winters in the islands). This year, Saphaedra is likely to sail against Mariella, which Enos says is faster in heavy air, but not unbeatable, since Saphaedra has beaten her on corrected time at Antigua Classics.
'We’re really excited to do it; we had a lot of fun the first time, and it’s one of our favorite places to sail,' said Enos.
Among the other entrants that will be proudly flying their nation’s flags are the J/122 Lazy Dog, skippered by Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagramoso and the Ker 51 Varuna, owned by Germany’s Jens Kellinghusen. The 92-foot carbon Super Maxi Med Spirit will be returning for a second year with its all-French team that includes owner Jean Pierre Dreau. The boat, originally designed to break sailing records, typically charters in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, but once Dreau got a taste of Les Voiles last year, he decided to keep it on his schedule as a 'downtime' event that he could enjoy with friends from Paris serving as crew.
Annelisa Gee, another of the organizers, explained that delivering a good event on the water has been paramount to the growth in popularity that Les Voiles de St. Barth has experienced over the three short years since its inception. 'When sailors are competing, they want it hard-core on the water with a professional race management team, and when they come back ashore, they want to mingle, swap race stories and experience the culture of the island with their fellow sailors, their families and their friends.'
Les Voiles de St. Barth offers divisions for CSA Spinnaker and Non-Spinnaker, Classics and Multihulls. Racing runs Tuesday through Saturday, with a lay day scheduled for Thursday, when water sports at Nikki Beach will be the activity of choice for hundreds of sailors. While most teams bring their own boats, several charter opportunities exist for full teams or even individuals who want to join a boat already delivered to St. Barth.
'No one really quite knows until they get here how all this chemistry among sailors is going to come together,' said Gee, 'but that’s what makes the regatta, and the sport of competitive sailboat racing, so much fun.'
2013 Notice of Race
Les Voiles de St Barth website