Philippe Falle looks back at the key ingredients in Quokka’s class win at Voiles de St Barths

The final day of St Barths promised to be another whopper with a big forecast and it certainly did not disappoint! As we slipped the dock, once again, the main talk pre-race was about safety. We were in a comfortable position and had to be beaten by seven points in the final race to loose our top spot. As Nigel Young, our tactician pointed out ‘we are here to win the regatta not this race.’ With the forecast of 22 – 28 knots it would be all too easy for catastrophic gear failure to force a retirement and cost the regatta.

One of the biggest challenges for me with running a race boat like Quokka is the continually changing teams that race her. Every group requires adjustments, different styles and varying inputs. Some are relative novice in race experience and some are at the other end of the spectrum. Each team is equally rewarding to sail with but in different ways.

Prior to the arrival of the team for St Barths I experienced a certain amount of trepidation. I had not met any of them before but knew of several by reputation. It was a team made up of predominantly Irish sailors who have been racing together at the highest level for many years with world titles to their credit. Some of them work for North Sails and the younger ones have resumes that include bowman on Ran and leading designer for 3Di sails at Norths.

I certainly did not want to let them down or for Quokka to. I had confidence that Quokka was immaculately prepared to the high level that they are used to but could not help but wonder where I would fit into the jigsaw. By the end of the 2nd training day it became clear that whilst these guys were serious they were also a lot of fun and had a wonderful balance with a great approach.

Everything that I had been coaching lesser-experienced teams to do for years these guys did naturally and their attention to detail was impressive. Their day on the water was not complete until every job on the jobs list had been checked off and their day began from the moment they stepped on board to prepare their area and meticulously check every bit of kit before leaving the dock. This professional and fastidious approach is what separates the top teams and sailors from the rest.

I have always enjoyed sailing with the Irish and this team was no exception. I was very quickly made to feel like an important part of the team and it was almost like I had been part of the group for years. That is typical of the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish for sure and all my reservations were squashed very quickly.

Once again the course setting on the final day from the race committee was excellent. The course would provide minimal manoeuvres with the kite but it would also take balls to put the kite up for many! As we approached the final top mark before the only kite run there was much discussion about which kite to use. The wind was on the crossover of what the S4 was rated for and the next choice was a smaller asymmetric. There was a reminder from Nigel that winning the regatta was number one priority but that was being overshadowed by the desire for speed and an exhilarating sleigh ride.

After getting agreement that the charterer was responsible for any damage the decision was made. The S4 was set and Quokka was flying, it was everything that is promised of St Barths Regatta, with a three-metre swell and 28 knots of wind Quokka was surging through the warm azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. It was without a doubt racing at its best and a pleasure to be onboard with the boat under such good control. The only sad part was that the 4.5 mile downwind leg was completed in just 20 minutes and the ride was over. All that was left was the 2 mile reach to the finish, another race win and the regatta secured!

The prizegivings at St Barths are a fun and lively affair where the normal mundane formalities are replaced with humorous commentary, fire cannons thrusting flames out from the roof of the stage, flashing lights and loud music as the winners would dance onto stage to collect their prizes, which included magnums of Veuve Cliquot, holidays in luxury apartments worth tens of thousands and a Robert Mille watch for the overall winner.

There are many small touches that make Voiles de St Barths quite special but most notably it is the friendliness of the race committee, the vibrant but sophisticated atmosphere, the great food, the bold and punchy sailing conditions, the stunning location and top notch race management that make it what it is. Voiles de St Barths is certainly up there as one of my favourite regattas in the world and St Barths is my equal favourite Island in the Caribbean.

Philippe’s next assignment is Antigua Sailing Week, watch out for his online reports and his major feature in the July issue of YW