Anticipating seventy or more boats, the Les Voiles de St. Barth is adding entries at a good clip leading up to its 2014 regatta dates of April 14-19. Sixty two racing yachts have thus far confirmed plans to line the docks or otherwise slip into the warm embrace of Gustavia’s inner harbor and protected anchorage on the western side of St. Barthelemy island where the Quai Général de Gaulle is the event’s headquarters and lively epicenter for shoreside socializing.
Seven or more 'maxis' (to be further separated into Maxi-Racing and Maxi-Racing Cruising/CSA Rating) are sure to steal the show in terms of sheer elegance and their precisely calculated approaches to competition, while at least 39 'spinnaker' yachts (to be further sorted into Spinnaker 1 and 2/CSA Rating), three IRC 52s, five Non-Spinnaker yachts and eight Racing Multihulls will impress with a dazzling array of sailing talent aboard, ranging from home-grown Corinthians to worldly professionals.
'We’re delighted to be coming back to Les Voiles de St. Barth with Rambler (a Reichel-Pugh designed 90 footer),' said owner George David (Hartford, Connecticut), giving an appreciative nod to the event’s fifth anniversary. 'It’s an exceptional regatta given its venue and organization, and this will be the fourth year for us (three in the 90’ Rambler and one in Rambler 100). The winds begin to moderate seasonally in April, but we recall a good many days of well over 20 knots.'
Although he credits consistently good sailing with helping Rambler to win its class in three prior appearances, David expects tough competition in 2014 from at least two of the newer mini-maxis. 'They’re quicker around shorter courses than we are, and they’re a decade newer in design and build.'
David’s reference is undoubtedly to Hap Fauth’s (Minneapolis, Minn.) Judel/Vrolik 72 Bella Mente and Alex Schaerer’s (Newport, R.I.) Mills 68 Caol Ila R. Both are new to the regatta.
'I’ve done a fair amount of racing at the St. Barths Bucket, about five or six, over the years, but I’ve never done this regatta,' said Fauth. 'I love sailing around St. Barths. We keep (our cruising sailboat) Whisper there a lot, and the conditions are just fantastic. It will be fun to race a raceboat in this environment, which I know from a cruising standpoint.'
Just off the high of steering Bella Mente to win the mini maxi class at Key West Race Week (where Caol Ila R came second) and finish second overall and second in IRC Z class at the RORC 600, where Rambler finished sixth and fifth, respectively, Fauth added, 'Rambler has got a lot of waterline, and they’re tough; they’re well sailed. We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves, and our team will get four days of practice in and then we’ll let ‘er go. It should be fun.'
Bella Mente finished fourth to Caol Ila R‘s fifth at last year’s Mini Maxi Worlds and, according to Fauth, is 'tactically and strategically up to speed' on the coastal racing that is signature to Les Voiles de St. Barth. 'If we sail well and don’t make any mistakes, the outcome will take care of itself, but you’ve got to practice before these regattas to get the crew back in sync.'
As many teams will do during the regatta, Bella Mente Racing will spread out over several villas, with one central gathering house designated for meetings and meals that are not enjoyed at the regatta or at local restaurants. 'We are going to tie up next to Whisper in the anchorage because Bella Mente draws so much water,' said Fauth.
Along with the 72’ Aragon, the 77’ Ocean Phoenix and the 112’ Highland Breeze, Wendy Schmidt’s Swan 80 Selene will be another decidedly American entry to watch among the Maxis. Having last year won Maxi class overall, Schmidt will be traveling over 2300 miles for her repeat appearance, yet she will find St. Barth in many ways similar to her home island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts.
Only eight square miles, the tiny collectivity of St. Barth--nestled among the leeward islands that comprise the French West Indies--is at once both sophisticated and quaint, busy and laid back, complicated and simple. In-season, it’s a luxurious destination for the rich and famous, with its cobblestone streets, gingerbread architecture, fine restaurants and fancy boutiques, while off-season, during Les Voiles de St. Barth, it’s the perfect playground for enjoying all of that plus the best regatta action in the Caribbean.