The energy has been palpable on and around the docks of the Capitainerie in Gustavia as hundreds of sailors from dozens of countries prepare for Tuesday’s kick-off races for the seventh edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth. Monday evening’s big-stage Opening Ceremonies were a precursor to what lies ahead socially for competitors, and the gathering gave sailors one last time to compare notes and think strategy against fellow mates revealed in the final class splits for Maxi 1 and Maxi 2, CSA 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4, Melges 24 and Multihull.
“We have defined classes with a true concern for equity,” said Les Voiles de St. Barth Race Director Luc Poupon. “The idea was to ensure that fleets are as homogeneous as possible, so that the fight on the water is tight and interesting, both for sailors and spectators.”
Jim Swartz, the American owner/driver of the TP 52 Vesper, which recently won its class and overall at Les Voiles de St. Tropez, called his CSA 0 class “by far the best turnout of the performance boats (in the 50-foot range) for this regatta.” He should know, as he has competed at this regatta five times before, turning in three firsts and a second with Vesper and a third with Vesper’s predecessor Moneypenny in the inaugural 2010 event. “They are all high-performance, planing boats,” he said about the three other TP52s (Spookie, Sorcha and Conviction), the Ker 51 (Tonnere 4) and the Ker 56 (Varuna VI) in his class.
The UK’s Ian Walker, likewise, was happy with the composition of his Maxi 2 class where his team’s Southern Wind 94 Windfall will be up against three Volvo Ocean Race boats (SFS, Team Brunel and Ambersail) as well as the Custom Farr 60 Prospector.
“I’ve sailed around the world on SFS (formerly Green Dragon),” said the three-time Volvo Ocean Race contender, “and Brunel was runner-up to us on Abu Dhabi in the last Volvo Ocean Race, which we won, so I know those two boats inside out.” Walker, who is also a two-time Olympic Silver Medalist (1996, 2000) for his country, described Windfall as a cruiser/racer, meaning it’s “actively used for cruising but can be stripped out for racing.”
Its nearly all-Irish team, including Irish owner Mick Cotter, is “predominantly amateur but solid club racers” and not at all discouraged by winds that are forecast to be lighter than usual when compared to previous Les Voiles editions. “We will start with the big (Maxi 1) boats, so it will be quite tricky for us, but as far as the predicted conditions, the others in our class are predominantly swing-keel boats and water-ballasted for sailing offshore, so they will be strong when it’s windy. We haven’t got a lot of sail area in the light air and haven’t got a lot of stability when it’s windy, so something in the middle would be nice for us; 8-15 knots would be perfect.”