Les Voiles de St. Barth. The name has a ring to it all its own, though it describes but a single regatta among several in a series that lures the world’s best sailors to the Caribbean each spring. The name rolls as lightly off the tongues of the French sailors/organizers (François Tolède, Luc Poupon, and Annelisa Gee) who conceived it as it does the international sailors who have come to revere it as one of the best managed and presented events in the global realm of yacht racing.
Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
'It is a first-class event that draws very serious teams and boats,' said Jim Swartz (Park City, Utah), who has been anointed the 'godfather' of the 2013 competition scheduled for April 8-13. Swartz, like godfathers Sir Peter Harrison and Jimmy Buffet before him, is an impressive sailor. An IRC North American and East Coast champion, he won the 2011 event with his IRC 52 Vesper and epitomizes the quality of competition that fills the Les Voiles ranks. He has raced in all of the event’s previous three runnings and will return with Vesper to compete again this year with his 16-member crew that includes such recognizable names from America’s Cup, match racing and other high-profile sailing arenas as Gavin Brady, Jamie Gale, Ken Keefe, James Baxter and Ben Beer.
'Key to the event’s success is the fair division by rating in each of the classes, with deep competition within; the race courses, which are very distinct and class appropriate; and the professionalism of the race committee itself,' said Swartz.
'This combination attracts the top professional teams in the sport, yet there is ample room and reason for amateur teams to participate as well.' Swartz added that divisions for IRC-rated yachts, CSA Spinnaker and Non-Spinnaker, Classics and Multihulls attract all levels of sailors from all corners of the world. Most teams bring their own boats; however, several charter opportunities exist for full teams or even individuals who want to join a boat already delivered to St. Barth.
Varuna, the Ker 51 owned by Germany’s Jens Kellinghusen (Hamburg), can’t wait to match up its mostly amateur crew of university students against the big-name veterans aboard Vesper. The boat is relatively new to the international race circuit, having been launched only last April and with just Kiel Week (where it won its class) and Les Voiles de St. Tropez (third in class) as its only tests, thus far, in around-the-buoys racing.
Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
Kellinghusen, age 64, has been building his current sailing team since the beginning of 2010 when he campaigned a Rogers 46, also named Varuna.
'After he completed the 2011 Transatlantic Race and the Rolex Fastnet Race, he wanted to buy an existing TP 52 and modify it so it would be capable of offshore racing, but then the decision was made to build a new boat,' said Vasco Ollero, a law student who has been Kellinghusen’s bow man for 15 years. 'The layout of the new boat and its sail inventory are mainly for offshore, but the concept is that it is good for course racing, too: almost the size of a TP 52, fast on real time and slow on corrected time.'
When all is said and done, however, the offshore/inshore transitions will add an extra layer of difficulty for the team during Les Voiles de St. Barth, says Ollero.
'The thing about mixed campaigns is that in offshore races, maneuvers are slower, so with inshore races we need to get the crews together to get everybody up to speed. This is the first time for us at Les Voiles de St. Barth. We chose it because the plan was to get the boat to the Caribbean for the RORC Caribbean 600 distance race (starting February 18), and the next main event is the Transpac in June, so we needed something in between to get the guys on the boat again so we didn’t have too long of a gap. We decided this is the best race for us, especially with the competition we are facing. We can gain a lot by taking part and being as fast as possible.'
For the Varuna team, just as it is for Phil Lotz’s team aboard the Swan 42 Arethusa, the Les Voiles de St. Barth allows them to stretch their sailing season and get more racing in where there is a guarantee of warm weather and good wind. Lotz, who won the IRC East Coast Championships last fall, shipped Arethusa from Newport, R.I., to Florida for Quantum Key West Race Week, where his team finished third in the Swan 42 class.
'We wanted to try some new venues and have heard good things about this event,' said Lotz. 'It fit well, as we are doing the new Swan Cup and Antigua, so the separation between those events works for us. I also expect good boats and a mix from the U.S., Caribbean and Europe.'
Lotz also heard through word of mouth about the island of Saint Barth’s magic, conjured by turquoise waters, the whitest of sand beaches and constant trade winds, not to mention the spectacular views that are to be had from every nook and cranny of its 16 square mile silhouette. Then for the sailors lucky enough to have a ride at Les Voiles de St. Barth, there is the picturesque harbor of Gustavia, which serves as Regatta Central, and a full schedule of regatta parties and activities that showcase the finest of French wine, cuisine and music.
Les Voiles de St Barth website