The final day’s racing proved why this is a must do event. Matthew Sheahan joined Peter Harrison’s crew aboard the TP52 Sorcha and reports from the prestigious Caribbean regatta
“Breeze coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…full hike, press her down guys!”
As we threw ourselves against the padded lower guard wire, arms outstretched to windward as if reaching for an imaginary golden carrot on a stick, you could feel the boat come upright as our TP52 ‘Sorcha’, owned by Peter Harrison flattened out, squatted down and accelerated downwind. As the arc of the bow wave to leeward rose, the low frequency thundering sound of thousands of litres of water rushing past the boat was matched by the wailing, high pitched humm from the rudder and keel, a harmony that increased in intensity and in pitch as our speed climbed from 16 to 20 knots.
If you weren’t moved by the visual display, it was impossible not to feel a rush of excitement when the boat’s natural volume was cranked up. I’d forgotten how much fun TP52s are to sail in a breeze and waves.
Wild, powerful, dynamic and, thanks to their rudder being well forward on the hull when compared to say a Class 40 or Volvo 65, a full bucking bronco experience for those hiking hard at the back of the bus. Each twitch of the tiller by our Canadian Olympic helmsman Ross MacDonald as he guided Sorcha’s bow towards the fastest route through the waves ahead, launched the crew from side to side like a train that has just been derailed.
After a series beats around the northern end of St Barths, this was what we had come for, a smoking downhill ride in 20 knots of wind with surfing waves to match.
Looking around at the fleet revealed all our TP52 competitors enjoying similar sleigh rides, Jim Swartz’s ‘Vesper’ ahead, Ola Hox’s ‘Team Varg’ astern, both flying large masthead A4 kites, their hulls surrounded in white foaming water.
Vesper’s faultless performance during the week meant that an overall class victory was assured without needing to race the final day, but of course that’s not how these boats are run.
“You go into these regattas where you’re in good shape going into the last day, but there is only one way to sail these boats and that is at 100 per cent,” said Vesper’s tactician Gavin Brady. “Today we pushed as hard as every other day, which is the best thing for the boat and the best thing for the team.”
The final day of the 6th edition of the Voiles de Saint Barths was a spectacular affair, classic Caribbean conditions. No one wanted to miss a minute of it, yet some were forced to as the day didn’t go perfectly for all.
Eduardo Perez’s foiling Gunboat G4, ‘Timbalero III’, one of the most talked about boats at the regatta, took a tumble on the downwind leg and capsized when the mainsail didn’t get dumped in a gust. To add to their embarrassment a helicopter was filming at the time and caught the whole incident, including the righting of the boat, on video (see below).
Meanwhile, Lloyd Thornburg’s striking green MOD70 Phaedo3 took off in a ball of spray hitting over 30 knots each time the big sails came out and the sheets got eased.
Those that were close to Jim Clark’s 100ft weapon Comanche, felt the light dim as the super maxi’s massive, jet black sail plan cast a shadow across parts of the race course as she took giant’s steps upwind.
And then, one of the most impressive displays of speed, control and a snapshot of the future, Eric Maris’s foiling GC32 catamaran in the last class to start, scorched around the race course like an eager Pacman gobbling up the fleet as she went. The pace and control of this boat, be it upwind or down, was breathtaking.
At the risk of sounding like the opening to next year’s regatta brochure, this was a spectacular end to a superb event that is rapidly becoming the prime regatta of the Caribbean season.
Whether you’re sailing aboard one of the top boats or racing in the various other classes where more conventional and mainstream cruiser/racers hang out, there is plenty to see and soak up on the race track. Indeed, with such a wide spread of spectacular boats to see, concentrating on your own racing is quite tough at times.
The success of the event has been no accident.
When it came to the overall trophy it was a battle between the biggest in the fleet. While Comanche was as quick as you’d expect of a 100ft carbon machine, taking line honours on every occasion, she couldn’t break free from George David’s Rambler 88 on corrected time.
Yet Comanche’s skipper Ken Read was pragmatic.
“The first time we sailed this boat we were scared to death. But every day since we’ve got better at managing her,” he said. “But that fact is that she was designed to break records rather than race around the cans so we knew this event would be tough. The regatta is clever though as its making owners happy. Our boat was designed to cross the line first, George David wants to win on handicap.”
Which was precisely what his team did by the end of the event.
“I’m very happy,” said David. “I think we sailed very well to rating, and we are just a click off Comanche. Of course, they have the big-boat edge and get in front, and that tends to help a little bit, but I am impressed by how fast we are. In fact, I’m very impressed. This boat is wicked quick and I think we’ll do even better in the future. I don’t count us out for records, including the Transatlantic Race 2015 this summer, which we hold already (with Rambler 100).”
David’s efforts were rewarded with a Richard Mille Caliber RM 60-01 Regatta watch with a price tag of €154,500.
Hiking hard had clearly been worth it.
Behind, the fight for the runners up trophy was intense.
Bella Mente, Lucky and Comanche had all shared the same point score after the final race, but Bella Mente’s win on corrected time in the last race handed the tiebreaker to their team.
Tight at the front, spectacular all over, this year’s Voiles de Saint Barth has further enhanced its impressive reputation.
This is definitely one for the bucket list.