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Les Voiles de Saint-Barth countdown begins

by Sabina Mollart-Rogerson on 20 Jan 2012
Mariella - Les Voiles de Saint-Barth 2011 © Christophe Jouany / Les Voiles de St. Barth
We have entered the New Year and now begin the countdown for all who are involved with organizing the third Les Voiles de Saint-Barth. Once again, yachtsmen, skippers, and sailors from all kinds of backgrounds are invited to come along between 2nd and 7th April for a week of enjoyable, friendly racing at one of the planet’s finest sailing venues.

Although the Voiles is only entering its third year of existence, the event set up by François Tolède, Luc Poupon and the Saint-Barth Yacht Club continues to show signs of healthy growth, offering all those, who enjoy fine racing, an increasingly competitive line-up and a well-judged programme bringing together racing and festivities back on dry land and out on the water.

The aim of reaching 70 entrants looks like being achieved and with the participation of legendary classic yachts like Dorade (Olin Stephens 1930) and the introduction of the IRC 52 class, the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth is certainly proving to be a popular event, building on the reputation it has already acquired throughout the Caribbean.

François Tolède has never shied away from the fact that it is berthing limitations in the delightful harbour in Gustavia that is limiting the exponential growth in terms of popularity and the number of entrants at the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth. With 70 boats registered or on their way to doing so for the 2012 edition, the line-up is practically complete and in the six categories that have been drawn up, we can look forward to some exciting racing:

'With more than 30% more entries than in 2011, we are able to have more classes, making the racing that much tighter in each,' explained Annalisa Gee of the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth, who is in charge of promoting the event in the United States. Time for us to look at those attending …

The big, spectacular Maxis, including some faithful boats such as Sojana (Farr 115) and Highland Breeze (Swan 112) will have to face the challenge of competing against some amazing prototypes like Rambler 90 and Idea, a 78-foot Reichel Pugh designed boat within their group comprising of around ten boats.

The 112-foot Nilaya will be making her first appearance at the Les Voiles; in her first year of racing she won the Super Yacht Cup in Palma and the Super Maxi division in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia. The Dutch sailor, Bouwe Bekking, tactician last year on Highland Breeze will be taking care of tactics on board Nilaya this year.

'We have a great team, which has been sailing together for several years on Filip Balcaen, the owner's previous boats. The crew is predominantly from Belgium and Holland,' explains Bekking. 'Sojana and Highland Breeze are the real competition, as it is apples for apples to compare us. Rambler and Firefly are very different and flat-out racers. But we might be in for a surprise, as we have beaten many racers during the Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez.'

Bekking pointed out that Highland Breeze and her owner Ben Kolff will be present this year in Saint Barth with a very competitive crew, who will be keen to show what they can do, before adding, 'The waters around Saint-Barth are just phenomenal. Fantastic colours and, of course, always a good breeze—this, with some great can't get a much better setting for racing.'

Vesper and her all-star crew from New Zealand brilliantly led by Gavin Brady dominated last year’s event in Saint-Barth and enabled the owner Jim Swartz to achieve a clear victory. The speed, elegance, and professionalism associated with these 52-foot one-design boats led the organisers of the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth to reply favourably to Jim Swartz’s proposal to open up the racing to owners and skippers wishing to show off the full potential of their one-design boats.

Four TP 52s have already replied to the invitation, including Peter Cunningham’s mighty PowerPlay. In addition to the Reichel Pugh-designed IRC 52 'Highland Fling XII' (with Peter Holmberg) and 'Mayhem', these TP 52s will be competing at the Voiles under IRC rules and will be given their own separate rankings.

'The news of the collapse of the MedCup (official international competition of the TP52 and Soto 40 classes) is bad for the Grand Prix corporate-sponsored end of the sport but okay for the rest of us' said Powerplay project manager and crew member Tony Rey, 'As all the existing TP52s will race together under IRC in 2012 at several fantastic Mediterranean venues.' With eight IRC 52s, including PowerPlay, currently competing in Key West, Rey knows that having four already signed up for Les Voiles de Saint Barth insures yet another worthy contest right before the boat is scheduled to ship overseas. Tony Rey, a veteran America’s Cup racer finished by telling us, 'Peter Cunningham is very excited about the idea of racing with the PowerPlay Racing team in the Caribbean.'

In addition to the elegance and high performance level of the Maxi Yachts, this elite class will be adding even more colour to the racing at the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth.

Whilst all eyes will be focusing on these big Maxis and IRC52s, the group of Racing boats in the Spinnaker division will stand out because of their numbers on the starting line and around the marks. 18 boats are so far registered in this Racing Spinnaker group of boats measuring between 35 and 65 feet. It is in this group that the local sailor, Patrick Demarchelier will compete, taking the helm of his Swan 45 Puffy and hoping to achieve success in his home waters. The registrations continue to pour in and no fewer than five additional boats may well soon be joining the fleet.

The category Racing non spinnaker is also proving to be very popular with no fewer than ten boats currently registering in addition to the seven that had already signed up. Once again here, the battle between J 120s, Grand Soleils, Firsts, Elans, Kiwis and X Yachts looks like offering us an exciting international contest between crews coming from Europe, America and the West Indies.

We should not forget the multihulls, as just like each of the six groups taking part in the 2012 Les Voiles de Saint-Barth, their particular group is also growing rapidly with the arrival of new cruiser racing catamarans and trimarans.

Les Voiles de Saint-Barth is continuing to do what it has already done so well. The elegant classic yachts are clearly well suited to the magnificent setting of Saint-Barth and each year the line-up tends to grow with in 2012 a newcomer to the event, the sublime Bermuda rig yawl Dorade, which resulted from a combination of the genius of the designer Olin Stephens, and the know-how of the Minneford Yard in New York.

From her launch in 1931, Dorade was considered to be the first yacht of the modern age with her straight lines and ingenious ballast system. Her win that very year in the transatlantic race from west to east, when she was up against some very powerful boats would seal the association between the two young talents Sparkman and Stephens and lead to the emergence of generations of fast and elegant yawls and ketches, like the legendary Stormy Weather (1934).

After the world renowned fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier in 2010, and the singer Jimmy Buffett last year, it is the British businessman and self-made man Peter Harrison, the owner of the Maxi ketch Sojana who will be taking on this honorary title of godfather at the 2012 Les Voiles de Saint-Barth'. Peter loves Saint-Barth and would not wish to miss out on an opportunity to set his 115-foot maxi Sojana free for anything in the world. He knows that with the Frenchmen Lionel Péan and Jacques Vincent, he has some true professionals, who are able to lead a very international crew, while at the same time maintaining the high standards you would expect aboard a Maxi Yacht.

'This is obviously a very strong competitor group and it will be difficult for Sojana and crew to retain or improve on its third (finish) position in 2011,' said Harrison, who counts this as his third time competing in the Les Voiles de Saint-Barth and senses that it is his 'strong sense of adventure and competitiveness' that helped gain him the honour of being named its Godfather. Among the reasons Harrison gives for the regatta’s success are its 'location...the impressive organization ... the strength and quality of the competitors, and of course the concomitant social and fun part of meeting the other crew.'

Les Voiles de Saint-Barth website

Mackay 2014