Les Voiles de St. Barth gets underway tomorrow and with winter weather persisting in northern parts of the U.S. and Europe, sailors could be envied for heading to the Caribbean to extend their racing calendars. As it is, over 60 yachts and crew are currently on the island of St Barths, in the French West Indies. The fourth edition of this regatta will offer up four days of racing on a mix of courses and a social schedule equally as demanding, with dockside entertainment each evening and a lay day (Thursday) full of activities at Nikki Beach on St. Jean Bay.
As it has for its prior three editions, Les Voiles de St. Barth again has drawn a competitive mix of international yachts and crews from the UK, USA, France, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and South Africa, as well as a strong Caribbean contingent from Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Anguilla, Antigua, and Trinidad.
The inaugural event in 2010 drew 27 boats, and since then, entries have steadily grown as the media and sailing’s coconut telegraph helped spread the word. Event Director François Paul Tolède was enthusiastic as yachts tied up stern-to at the Quai General de Gaulle in Gustavia.
'The atmosphere is great on shore and the weather looks perfect,' he said. 'With 62 boats entered so far (registration closes at 5 p.m. today) and considering the current economic climate, the turnout shows what great regard the yacht owners have for the Voiles de Saint Barth.'
Tolède continued: 'Luc Poupon (Course Director) has come up with some new courses, slightly longer in some cases, as many of the sailors wanted to spend more time on the water, and so racing will start a little earlier. We expect anywhere between 15 to 20+ knots of wind this week -- ideal conditions for the fleet, which ranges from 24 feet (Melges) to 100 feet (the Swan 100 Varsovie).'
The fleet is divided into eight classes: Maxis; Spinnaker 1, 2, and 3; Melges 24; Non-Spinnaker; Classics; and Multi-hulls. Organizers can chose between 28 course variations, from 11 to 40 nautical miles. Racing begins tomorrow, Tuesday April 9, with the first signal at 1100.
Jim Swartz, owner/skipper of the TP52 Vesper, is the anointed 'godfather' of this year’s regatta. An enthusiastic competitor, he has participated in all four editions.
For Swartz it is a do-not-miss event. 'The conditions are fabulous,' he said. 'Sailing around this island is beautiful -- the winds are always predictable, they are always a lot of fun, particularly when we get a good breeze on the back (windward) side of the island.'
Sailing onboard Vesper will be former America’s Cup sailors Gavin Brady (tactician), Rob Salthouse (jib trim), Kazuhiko Sofuku (mid bow), and Jamie Gale (navigator), past Volvo Ocean Race crew.
After Vesper competed in the TP52 Worlds in Miami last month, the boat was shipped to St. Thomas to get it race ready and then delivered to St. Barths this week.
'Les Voiles is always on our calendar,' Swartz said, 'It’s the atmosphere -- the racing is great, the people are great, as is the organization. It all runs very well. And the dining and shopping (for the ladies)…all that St. Barths is about, we enjoy the same thing!'
Over half the boats and skippers are return competitors. Notable new editions this year include Jens Kellinghusen’s Ker 51 Varuna, which has raced in the year since its launch at Kiel Week and Les Voiles de St. Tropez; the Volvo 60 Cuba Libre (ex-Heineken) in Non-Spinnaker (while the V60 Ambersail will be in Spinnaker 1); Phil Lotz’ Swan 42 Arethusa, which is fresh off winning the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean; Jolt 2, a Baltic 45 that has already stretched its legs on the recent RORC Caribbean 600; in the Classic class, Heroina, a 74’ cold molded Frers design build in the ‘90s; and the 51’ Aage Nielsen-designed ketch Saphaedra, a seasoned ocean racer.
At this morning’s media briefing at Hotel Carl Gustaf on the hill overlooking the harbor of Gustavia, Nils Dufau, Vice President of the Collectivity of St. Barth’s and president for the Tourism Committee, said, 'Les Voiles de St. Barth has become a formidable communication tool for our island as an up-market destination. This event conveys to all the 'state of mind' of an island that has built up over time and which today has become a haven of peace and stability -- the very basis of its reputation.'
In a further nod to this relatively new event, the Caribbean Sailing Association named Les Voiles de St. Barth and the BVI Spring Regatta 'Best Events of 2012.'
This evening is the Skipper’s Briefing after which event organizers will kick off the week with the Opening Ceremony and party in the Race Village on the Quai General de Gaulle.
Les Voiles de St Barth
by Fabrice Thomazeau
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8:49 PM Mon 8 Apr 2013GMT
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