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Les Voiles de St. Barth - Preparing to rock Saint Barthélemy waters

by Fabrice Thomazeau on 12 Apr 2014
Elvis in action off St Maarten © Ocean Images
Les Voiles de St. Barth, which in five short years has become one of the most beloved regattas on the Caribbean sailing circuit, is getting ready once again to rock the waters off the island of Saint Barthélemy. Scheduled for next week, April 14-19, the event has become progressively more seasoned while its participating teams have, in parallel fashion, become increasingly more impressive in terms of talent on board. Currently 70 strong and counting, the Les Voiles fleet of racing boats -ranging in size from 24 to 112 feet- will be divided into Maxi, IRC 52, Spinnaker, Melges 24, Non Spinnaker and Racing Multihull divisions.

No one knows yet how the Spinnaker division will be further divided into classes, but White Rhino, the Swan 56 chartered by Steve Cuchiarro (Boston, Mass.), is hoping to have a good run against Canadian Leo van den Thillart’s Kernan 47 True, with Jono Swain, of Volvo Ocean Race fame, at the helm.

'True will be very difficult to beat if we sail against them, and there is a good chance of that,' said White Rhino’s tactician Jack Slattery (Marblehead, Mass.), who in the years since twice being named a Collegiate All-American has worked his way into demand as an afterguard pick for various grand-prix racing programs. 'Also Otra Vez (William Coates, Houston, Texas), which just won Key West Race Week and was second at the Heineken Regatta, is a frontrunner, but you never know…both of those boats could be put with the (IRC) 52s since they are more similar to them than to us (sport boat vs. displacement). We are the longest boat in the division but not the quickest. But either way, we are ‘going for placing.'

Slattery is neither a newcomer to Les Voiles nor a neophyte when it comes to optimizing a charter boat for racing, as he finished second last year aboard the chartered Marten 49 Defiance (with Cuchiarro at the helm) and won the prior year aboard the same boat. 'White Rhino has been optimized for racing and has an up-to-date inventory,' said Slattery. 'Since the owner of Defiance wanted to put his own team together for this year, we started looking around for a reasonable boat to charter and White Rhino came up on the radar screen.'

Among the notable crew on White Rhino are Cucchiaro’s son Connor Cucchiaro, Slattery’s wife Dru Slattery, Mark Laura (main sheet), Stu Johnstone (strategist), Cam Lewis (mast) and Larry Rosenfeld (navigator).

Team True will rely on the talents of several sailors from the U.S., including Swain, a native South African, and Kevin Miller (tactician), Karl Funk (bow man), John Hayes, Patrick McMath, Nick Diephouse and Patrick Farrell, all of whom have lengthy, impressive resumes in racing sailing. And if more miles among them are needed to impress, another American crew member Rives Sutherland can throw in that he has sailed a 48-footer one-and-a-half laps around the world in 12 months, including a Rolex Sydney Hobart Race and a Newport Bermuda Race in the accomplishment.

'Team True has been slowly assembled by Leo and Jono, with consideration both for talent and personality,' said Funk, who is also the boat captain. 'With a move from our 1D35/Melges20 program, we have had to increase thesize of our crew. As this is our first event with this new-to-us boat, our expectations are in check. We will be leaning heavily on the experience of Kevin Miller (the project manager for the initial build and racing program of this boat as Katana) and John Hayes (who crewed with Katana extensively). We certainly expect to have fun and to look good doing so!'

Funk identified his team’s primary competition as Otra Vez, which he says he knows very well, as he was with the boat for the first year and a half, starting with its launch in New Zealand as Ptarmigan.

Others to watch in the Spinnaker Division are Stark Raving Mad, Jim Madden’s J/125 that finished fifth in class at Key West and more recently first in class at the Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten; Jack Desmond’s return entry Affinity, a Swan 48; and the Volvo 60 Spirit of Adventure skippered by solo around-the-world sailor Derek Hatfield.

Returning to the event, but with a very different boat this time, will be Phil Lotz (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). He has chartered the 62’ Gunboat Zenyatta to compete with the multihulls, which is a far cry from sailing his Swan 42 Arethusa – and winning with it – at monohull events all over the world. (He finished third at last year’s Les Voiles with Arethusa.)

'We are building a Gunboat 60, and we’ve got some distance racing we want to do with it, starting with the Caribbean 600 and then from there, hopefully, the Transatlantic Race in 2015,' said Lotz, Rear Commodore of the New York Yacht Club whose wife Wendy always crews with him. 'This will give us a chance to get some of the basics down.' He explained that only one other from his Arethusa crew will join the Zenyatta crew and the balance will be comprised primarily of Gunboat and other catamaran sailing experts, including Zenyatta’s captain Nils Erikson, who just sailed his Formula 40 to a first in class in St Maarten.

No doubt, their toughest competition will be Jason Carroll’s Elvis, which also will be fresh off a victory in St Maarten.

'Our expectations are not very high; it’s mostly about taking the opportunity to spend time on the boat, with some experienced crew, before we get our Gunboat,' said Lotz. 'St. Barths is a very nice place to be out in the ocean, and for this event, it’s not round-the-buoys and you can enjoy a catamaran in more point-to-point racing.'

Among the high-profile American entries in the Maxi division are Bella Mente (Hap Fauth, Minneapolis, Minn.), Rambler (George David, Hartford, Conn.) and Selene (Wendy Schmidt, Nantucket, Mass.)

Les Voiles de St. Barth consists of four days of racing, starting Tuesday, April 15, with one lay-day for merry making at Nikki Beach before the regatta concludes on Saturday, April 19 with an awards ceremony on the Quay at Gustavia Harbor. Event website

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