Yachting World contributor Daphne takes us through the highlights of this year's regatta in St Barth

St. Barths really knows how to turn it on: turquoise
seas, rustling palm fronds, turtles and rumours of a pod of whales breaching
off the coast. So too does Les Voiles: a record fleet, a new ‘Godfather’, some
competitive racing and testing conditions!

As 700 international sailors flocked into St. Barths’ dinky
toy airport and poured off the ferry, a hundred or more Les Voiles organisers
and volunteers beetled about in their bright Gaastra clothing putting the final
touches to Gustavia ahead of the regatta. 

Exported from St Tropez three years ago, Les Voiles is a
natural fit for the glamorous French West Indian island. It is polished and
competitive and is attracting an ever growing fleet with 28 yachts in 2010, 48
in 2011 and a record 65 entries this year. This has prompted race organisers to
mention capping the fleet at 80 or 90 in the future – a nice situation to be

The fleet was split into seven classes this year (six CSA
and one IRC for the first time) that included: Maxi (> 21 metres),
IRC52 (former TP52s that have been optimised for the IRC rule), Spinnaker I, Spinnaker
II, Non-Spinnaker (racer/cruiser), Classic and Multihull, and with the event
slotting conveniently between other Caribbean classics many are returning

Conditions throughout the week were light to moderate with
a few 20knot squalls on race day three. First place was still in play in four
of the seven classes going into the final day.

Classic: Dorade Vs Mariella

With several yachts pulling out before the regatta, the
Classic class was reduced to two yawls, but you couldn’t have picked two more
standout beauties than the 52ft 1930 Olin Stephens, Dorade, and the 80ft Fife, Mariella. Dorade
was fresh from an extensive refit in Rhode Island courtesy of new American
owner, Matt Brooks, and is looking every bit the champion offshore racer of her
youth. Her appearance at Les Voiles (first time in the Caribbean) was an
opportunity to stretch her legs ahead of a new offshore campaign starting with
the Newport-Bermuda Race in June. Brooks is keen to re-live Dorade‘s early successes, as his wife Pam pointed out: “Our
goal is to take her back to what she was designed to do and we want other
people who own classic yachts to be encouraged to do that too.” It has been a
few years since Dorade graced the
results board at a regatta and it was good to see her back. Tactician Jamie
Hilton summed up the delicate balance of racing an antique: “We are sailing a
boat that is one of the richest pieces of yacht racing history and at the same
time we are trying to race her hard while always being cognisant of what it is
we are sailing on!”


1) Dorade, Matt
Brooks (USA) 4 points (1,1,1,1)

2) Mariella, Carlo
Falcone (ITA) 8 points (2,2,2,2)

(Two in class)

Spinnaker 2: Defiance
Vs. Decision and the new High Performance Rule

If wood and overhangs don’t do it for you, then look no
further than the Spinnaker 2 class where the brand new all-carbon Carkeek 40, Decision (South African designer Shaun Carkeek’s first launch
since parting ways with Marcelino Botin) was turning heads. Owned by Stephen
Murray from Louisiana and built at McConaghy in China, the out and out racing
yacht is designed to the new High Performance Rule (HPR) and on its second time
out in anger was nipping at the heels of 49ft Marten designed Defiance chartered by racing enthusiast, Clay Deutsch,
ex-owner of Swan 68, Chippewa. “We
still have a long way to go before Decision is sailing at 100%, but the performance is explosive
and although the yacht doesn’t rate well under CSA we’ve exceeded all
expectations successfully introducing and proving the new high performance
concept,” said designer Carkeek. He added: “I’m confident this groundbreaking
design represents the birth of a new era in offshore yacht racing and is the
type form of the future. Owners, particularly those racing in yachts under
50ft, will finally have a rule and the opportunity to build pure fast racing
yachts. I believe HPR will soon become the global top end racing handicap rule.”
Carkeek is also on the NYYC technical committee that is behind the HPR rule and
base yachts. The concept is influenced by experience gained designing TP and
IRC52s (over 15, including the winners of the last four MedCups and two World
Championship events).

Racing against Swans, a Volvo 60, an X-Yacht and a Pogo
10.5 in St. Barths these two powerhouses had a whale of a time at the front of
the fleet with Defiance eventually
coming out on top.


1) Defiance, Clay
Deutsch (BVI) 5 points (1,1,1,2)

2) Decision, Stephen
Murray (USA) 7 points (2,2,2,1)

3) Affinity, Jack
Desmond (USA) 12 points (3,3,3,3)

(10 in class)

IRC: Close racing for ex-TP52s

In response to owner input, Les Voiles introduced an IRC
class for this edition and three former TP52s optimised for the IRC rule had
some very tight racing, swapping leads throughout the week. The North American
fleet was peppered with pro sailing talent with Tony Rey calling tactics on
Peter Cunningham’s Powerplay alongside
Nacho Postigo who was navigating. Ashley Wolfe had past Olympians Charlie McKee
(tactician) and Ross MacDonald (strategist) racing on board Mayhem along with her father in the pit and husband who was
grinding. Jim Swartz was racing Vesper in good company with Gavin Brady calling tactics. The IRC52s shared
the start line with the Maxi class, which put a dozen boats on the line, half
of which were over 90ft so tactics and timing were key. On the final day of
racing only one point separated the top two slots on the leader board, but
after four days and a win for each boat, Mayhem came out on top. Winning skipper Ashley Wolfe has
been sailing with her core crew for 10 years: “It was all down to today. The
week was fantastic, very tight racing back and forth – it could have been
anybody, one day we were first, one day last, the next day second. No mistakes
and some luck.” Asked about a return visit, Wolfe said, “I’ve heard there’s
more breeze other years, so I think I’ll come back, but no complaints at all,
it was a fabulous regatta!”


1) Mayhem, Ashley
Wolfe (CAN) 7 points (1,3,1,2)

2) Vesper, Jim
Swartz (USA) 8 points (3,2,2,1)

3) Power Play, Peter
Cunningham (USA) 9 points (2,1,3,3)

(Three in class)

Maxi: Rambler victorious and Peter Harrison named

In the Maxi class, George David’s 90ft ocean-racer Rambler was the boat to beat, but neither Filip Balcaen with
his impressive 112ft Baltic Nilaya,
nor Selene, a Swan 80, could make
a dent in David’s four consistent first places, despite best efforts. Bouwe
Bekking, Nilaya tactician, hit the nail on the head: “Given the displacement,
it’s really hard to sail against RamblerNilaya weighs
90 tons and they weigh about 30, so when the breeze starts dropping, they just
accelerate away from us.” Other yachts in the class that would have enjoyed
more wind were the Gaastra flagship, 112ft Swan Highland Breeze, and 115ft Farr-designed, Sojana, owned by Sir Peter Harrison, a regular and
enthusiastic competitor in the Caribbean. Harrison, who along with David has
competed in all three editions of Les Voiles, was named ‘Godfather’ of this
event: “As a visitor from England to this beautiful French island, one of the
most beautiful in the West Indies, I’m thrilled to be asked to be the patron of
Les Voiles. Bon vent Les Voiles de St. Barth, and good luck to everyone!” he

George David has won his class in all three editions of Les
Voiles; last year he did so with his 100ft Rambler that capsized during the
2011 Fastnet. “This is a great regatta for a bunch of reasons: it’s a beautiful
island, and it’s vertical, so it’s scenic to sail around and you get some very
complicated courses. The race committee does a great job and the breeze can be
quite shifty in close to shore, so there are typically lots of turns. This
week, we had 20-23 mile races, typically seven legs or so, so lots of crew
activity and a lot of opportunity for error,” he said at the end of the event.
As winner this year David was presented with a Richard Mille watch.


1) Rambler 90,
George David (USA) 4 points (1,1,1,1)

2) Nilaya, Filip
Balcaen (GBR) 10 points (2,3,2,3)

3) Selene, Team
Selene (CAY) 13 points (3,2,4,4)

(Nine in class)

Battle of the multihulls: Cat Vs. Tri

Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66, Phaedo (the only catamaran in the class), and Peter
Aschenbrenner’s 63ft Nigel Irens trimaran, Paradox, battled it out for first place exchanging the lead
back and forth throughout the week until they were tied after race 4. Paradox
eventually won on count back.


1) Paradox, Peter
Aschenbrenner (CAY) 6 points (1,2,2,1)

2) Phaedo, Lloyd
Thornburg (BLM) 6 points (2,1,1,2)

3) Rayon Vert Ville de St Francois, Alain Delhumeau (GLP) 13 points (3,3,4,3)

(Five in class)


After a week of back and forth at the top of the leader
board and with only a point separating first and second going into the last
race, Thomas Mullen’s J-95, Shamrock VII
just managed to hold off Bernie Evans-Wong’s High Tension. Mullen attributed his win to a combination of bad
luck for some of their competitors and his crew’s extraordinary hard work.


1) Shamrock VII,
Thomas Mullen (USA) 11 points (3,1,4,3)

2) High Tension, Bernie
Evan-Wong (ANT) 13 points (2,DNS,1,1)

3) Alpha Centauri, Bruno Chardon (ITA) 13 points (4,3,2,4)                

(Eight in class)

Spinnaker 1

It’s not just the professionals that flock to Les Voiles de
St. Barths, the regatta programme and mix of courses also appeals to a
competitive group of amateur and family racers. Spinnaker 1 was the biggest
class of the week with 19 competitors on the start line and it came down to a battle
between Frits Bus’ Melges 24, Coors Light,
from St Maarten and Sergio Sagramoso’s J-122, Lazy Dog, from Puerto Rico. The pair finished tied on six
points, but Coors Light won on
count back having snatched first place on Saturday.


1) Coors Light, Bus
Frits (SXM) 6 points (2,2,1,1)

2) Lazy Dog, Sergio
Sagramoso (PUR) 6 points (1,1,2,2)

3) Mae-Lia, Raphael
Magras (BLM) 20 points (6,5,3,6)

(19 in class)

Les Voiles de St. Barths has a strong raison d’être, it gives the island an end of season tourism boost
and brings a taste of ‘La Belle France’ to the Caribbean racing season, which
goes down well with owners and crew alike. While this edition was lacking its
usual trade wind conditions, the last word should go to the man that has won
three years running, George David, owner of Rambler, who said: “I think it’s going to be one of the
great classic regattas in the Caribbean.”

Photos © Christophe Jouany / Les Voiles de St. Barth