Matthew Sheahan joins the fleet at a Caribbean regatta that is continuing to grow its reputation
When saxophonist Jim Rolland, aka ‘Jimmy Sax’, climbed onto the table and belted out his live solo to Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ the party kicked off.
Fuelled by a plentiful supply of rose wine and the most superb lunch with sushi starters and a feast of a BBQ to follow, for once I had to admit that I was happier ashore than I could possibly have been afloat. And that takes some doing when you’re surrounded by a decent breeze, bright sunshine and great surfing waves in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Lay day is a special day at the Voiles de Saint Bart’s, especially if you take part in the lunch party at Nikki Beach.
But its hard work having that much fun at lunchtime and by the late afternoon it was becoming clear that it was time to throttle back to ensure that the price of the festivities didn’t take its toll when racing resumed on day three of the event.
Which, was just as well because the tricky conditions that greeted the fleet for Friday’s racing required everyone to be on the ball.
Here, the light 8-15 knot breeze was made trickier than expected as rain showers swept across the course, each one threatening to disrupt the strength and direction of the breeze. Not all of the showers caused problems yet the UK style rain, diffused light and overcast skies made for a strangely disorientating experience when compared to the more typical Caribbean conditions that the fleet was expecting.
Aboard Peter Harrison’s TP52 Sorcha our goal was to beat Jim Swartz’ Vesper, another TP52 and current class leader with nothing but firsts on their scorecard. But while we made a good fist of the first half of the 20 mile course, Vesper’s crew read the fickle conditions and difficult sea state, (made more complicated by the reflection off the island’s coastline), that bit more effectively and stretched their lead to take an unequivocal third win in class CSA Spinnaker 0.
Now in it’s sixth year, the Voiles de Saint Barths continues to evolve and now plays host to an impressive range of boats in its 70 strong fleet from the giant 100footer Comanche and the dazzling MOD70 trimaran Phaedo 3 through to a fleet of Melges 24s. In between the extreme ends of the fleet there is a wide variety of machines including the new Rambler 88 and the elegant mini maxi Bella Mente. Including Comanche, three staggeringly impressive machines capable of causing a partial eclipse every time they unfurl their masthead zeros.
There is the brand new, bright orange foiling Gunboat G4 Timbalero III that is the talk of the dockside, especially when this distinctive ‘cruising’ cat is up on her foils and hammering off the breeze, looking like she’s riding on a ball of spray amidships under the leeward hull.
Elsewhere in the overall fleet there are three TP52s, Steve Benjamin’s Carkeek 40 Spookie and the Ker 43 Otra Vez among other grand prix racers.
Dockside and around the regatta bar area set just a few paces away from the fleet that is moored stern to, there are some of the biggest names in sailing milling around and chatting in a way rarely seen in the modern professional sailing world.
But perhaps what’s most impressive is that such a line up of racers hasn’t been at the expense of the more conventional cruiser/racer fleet.
Here there are various J boats and Swans, a pair of Beneteau First 40s, a Salona 44, Dehlers, Dufours and other mainstream models crewed by Corinthian teams. There are charter crews too as the pay to play fleet takes its part in proceedings. This may be a prestigious and glamorous event, but it is one that is determined to stay inclusive.
This is an event that appears to have everything you would want for a regatta, including plenty of talented musicians and entertainers who can start the party in case you’d forgotten how to.