Monster wind hole over St Barths puts serious spanner in the works at super yacht event 3/4/06

A monster wind hole over St Barths put a serious spanner in the works for what was being billed as one of the best super sailing yacht gatherings ever seen.

They brought their multi-million dollar yachts, their hired hands, families and friends, but when the 750 competitors turned up for the 11th Annual St Barth’s Bucket Regatta in the Caribbean last weekend, one crucial member of the party refused to show – the wind. As one wag commented, “if it blows any less it’s gonna suck” and by the end of the event it wasn’t a bad summing up, at least as far as the sailing went.

In a scenario unprecedented in the history of this friendly regatta, all three races were abandoned as the turgid weather refused to co-operate. The cream of the world’s 100ft plus sailing yachts – a record-breaking entry was capped at 30 – were moored stern-to in Gustavia on the chic French island of St Barthelemy, all ready to do ‘battle’ in the increasingly popular sport of super-sail racing.

Owners had spent tens of thousands of dollars getting their yachts in trim, flying in their crews and guests, hiring grand prix style after-guards, just about every hotel room on the island and generally getting into super-party mode.

Ironically, today’s superyacht really only needs 8-10 of true wind to get it into its stride but no sooner had each day’s racing kicked off, what little wind there was vanished, sucked into the building cloud. It began raining and the brilliant hues of the Caribbean were reduced to shades of grey, the place looking more like a wet week-end in the Solent. It was a race committee’s worst nightmare. Desperation was evident as the committee ‘explained’ in jest prior to one non-event, that “today’s race would be a short, short improvised course which is shortened?”

But the emphasis at the Bucket is on fun and convivial get-togethers and the style of the racing (if and when it happens) is generally relaxed. One of the most extraordinary evenings was witnessed on day two when the 30 yacht owners and crews were asked to set up ‘open house’ and entertain fellow competitors with their cocktail partying skills. Everyone was free to come and go as they wished and given a rare opportunity to take a close look at some of the finest sailing yachts in the world. It was a roaring success, Hap Fauth’s outrageously lit Whisper taking the prize for the glitziest disco.

In this day and age of strictly imposed security and an almost paranoid sense of ‘what might happen’ it was a particularly refreshing display of openness. Local land owner David Ray also spiced up proceedings the following evening with a fine Ralph Lauren-sponsored owners’ cocktail party in his perfectly positioned hillside villa overlooking the fleet moored in Gustavia.

The absence of good conditions was doubly frustrating considering the calibre of the yachts competing. The two Js Endeavour and Ranger were facing up against each other, both looking absolutely magnificent on the dockside. Endeavour, as previously reported, is being gently re-introduced to racing following her absence from the circuit and Ranger was fresh of out of Pendennis Shipyard after some re-configuration work.

Ranger was fully primed for action, Endeavour less so as she emerged from ‘exile’, but we’ll have to wait for another meeting, which might not be until next year, before the gloves come off.

There were some other magnificent sights including the schooner Altair who, with the help of all nine sails, was one of the few yachts to find some breeze on Saturday to make something of the dodgy conditions. Hasso Plattner’s Visione – arguably the fastest yacht of her type in the world – looked uncharacteristically as dead in the water as the rest of us as we all wallowed to a standstill. And the hopes of speedier machines like Ghost, Unfurled, Sojana and Helios were left totally unfulfilled.

A veritable convoy of Perinis did what they could to inch along and on day two, when we almost managed to finish a race, the 15-year-old Antara (ex-Liberty) almost pulled off a famous victory, but was thwarted 300 metres from the line. It really was that kind of regatta. Read a fuller report (now there’s a challenge – Ed) in a future issue of Yachting World.