The first edition of Les Voiles de St Barths continues to impress on days 2&3 - YW onboard Sojana with Peter Holmberg and Loick Peyron
Sailing with yachting ‘rockstars’ around an island frequented by rockstars, aboard the largest boat in the regatta in pulsating tradewind conditions… yesterday was a good day! Both the second and third days of this, the first ever Les Voiles de St Barths provided more breeze, swell and thrills even than the opening day (and that was near-perfect), leaving the competitors and yours truly grinning from ear to ear last night. Granted, being invited aboard Peter Harrison’s 115ft Farr-designed ketch Sojana for the day, which happened to be in the hands of the Caribbean’s most decorated sailor, Peter Holmberg, had the makings for a tidy day afloat. But this combined sumptuously with a steady force six, a challenging 37nm course that sent us all around the windward side of the island (with its accompanying 3m swell), and back again, ensuring tactical navigation and long reaching and downwind sailing, and of course, the Caribbean sunshine. And if one America’s Cup sailor isn’t enough aboard, there is also a certain Loick Peyron crewing on this luxury super-cruiser for the week too – not a bad bloke to have as your mizzen trimmer!
The location, timing and spirit of this event go someway to explaining the draw for the many professional sailors that are here this week. US Virgin Islands native Holmberg for example likes to take part in all the ‘local’ regattas he can, while with Peyron, this is a case of having a bit of downtime – he normally only gets to see the Caribbean when shattered after a Transatlantic race. And a mix of the convivial atmosphere and keen coastal racing provided aboard Harrison’s ketch provides the ideal platform for them, and the many other pros onboard the 20+ crew (including Green Dragon’s bowman Justin Slattery, Hydroptere’s Jacques Vincent, and French offshore veteran Lionel Pean).
With up to 27knots whistling across the startline in the lee of the main port of Gustavia, it was an electric start, as we matched our main rival, George David’s 90ft Rambler (navigated by Ken Read), for upwind speeds topping 12knots, but couldn’t pip the Maxi to the first mark. And with Rambler giving us around five minutes an hour in corrected time, the view of her transom soon became a distant one. The long reaching and downwind legs suited her perfectly, romping home victoriously again in the Superyacht class.
Waterline length and apparent windspeeds (around 35knots upwind) really come into play on these long, varying sailplan courses, but it’s only when you pass a Swan 45 like it’s standing still that you begin to appreciate it’s not merely numbers on the log. Watching Holmberg surf a superyacht at up to 19knots was enough to impress everyone aboard.
The finish was befitting of the exhilarating four-hour race: with a formidable mass of heavy A2 flying, we tried to pinch for the leeward end of the line without wanting to drop the spinnaker and lose valuable seconds. A powerful gust rifled off the steep terrain of Gustavia, billowing our mass of canvas just two boatlengths before the line. With all sheets quickly dumped and flying, a broach on the 100T ketch was only narrowly avoided as we crossed inside the line – and promptly took great pleasure in watching the accompanying competitors behind do exactly the same!
The talk of the dock today was the all-female crew of White Wings who extracted their revenge on sister-ship White Horses. The close racing these neo-classic one-design’s have had all week is a testament to this Joel White one design, and the 16 girls were popular victors today. But with similar conditions to day one, the overall leaderboard in all four classes remained unchanged. Today was the third out of four days racing… and with a similar forecast for tomorrow you couldn’t ask for better for any event, let alone a new regatta!