Today’s final race at Les Voiles de St Barth 2016 was riveting to watch, especially during the first beat and at the finish. The wind, like yesterday, was light, but unlike yesterday, just strong enough for officials to actually get off a race, and that pleased the hundreds of sailors competing here.
Going into today, which was the fifth day of the regatta and the fourth scheduled for racing, many were in precarious positions on the scoreboard and needed to outwit their closest competitors to pick up a position or two to make top-three. Others had turned in perfect score lines, but knew today’s fickle winds would leave them vulnerable.
The course – at 20 nautical miles for Maxis 1 and 2, CSA 0 and Multihulls, and 17 miles for CSA 1 through 4 plus Melges 24 and Class 40 – ran counter-clockwise around the island and was a good choice for many reasons. It was an opportunity for the sailors to take in the beautiful vistas of St. Barth; it gave officials the option to shorten course if needed; and it incorporated all aspects of a good race course as far as reaching, beating, running, and navigating around the rocks and small islands off the coast.
At the start, the six-knot winds, combined with current and slow-moving sailboats that became obstacles, made positioning a critical factor in establishing early leads. The Maxi 72 Momo and the TP 52 Vesper were perhaps the best examples of this, establishing huge margins in their classes (respectively Maxi 1 and CSA 0) by sticking close to the shoreline on the way to the first mark at Roches Roubes.
Unfortunately for Momo, which led its class the entire way around the island, a huge windless hole awaited them near the finish, and the Maxi 72 Proteus, with which they were tied for first place, was able to sail around them and put 20 boat lengths on them in the end.
“It’s a cliché, but it’s never over until it’s over, “ said Stu Bannatyne, a Volvo Ocean Race six-time veteran and three-time winning skipper, who sails aboard Proteus. “The way the first beat panned out, we got caught in traffic and then snagged a lobster pot at the top of island, so we lost a lot of time there. I give full credit to the team; they never gave up. Near the end of the race, we had an opportunity present itself, and the afterguard made a good decision. The wind went very light and shifty, and it was 200-300 meters from the finish line when the wind shut down. The line had been shortened by a mile and a half by the Race Committee, which was a good decision.”
For his team’s impressive performance over the course of the regatta, Proteus owner George Sakellaris was presented with an RM 60-01 Regatta Voiles de St Barth watch from Principal Partner Richard Mille. “This is a great win for us,” said Sakellaris. “We had some great racing, and maybe we wish we had stronger wind, but at the end of the day it worked out okay, and we are delighted.”
Vesper’s tactician Gavin Brady said his team didn’t get off the start line as well as they would have liked, but finding the wind near shore opened up the big lead for them, one which they managed to keep throughout the race. “It was one of those races where we could have done all that hard work and lost it with 100 meters to go. We had to drift across the finish line, so that was a bit nerve-wracking, but luckily the race committee finished the race one mark before they normally would have.”
This is Vesper’s fourth victory at Les Voiles de St Barth, and Brady said the team feels very at home here. “Some events are not as much fun on land, but this place is special on the water and off the water. It hasn’t been a windy Les Voiles, but it has been a lot of really hard technical light-wind sailing, which is challenging.”
Les Voiles de St Barth 2016: Winners in Other Classes
Maxi 2, Farr CM60 Prospector, co-owner Paul McDowell: We went into the last race of Les Voiles de St Barth 2016 tied for first with the Volvo 65 Team Brunel, sailed by Boewe Bekking (second in the last Volvo Race), so we knew we had a tough challenge to beat them. It was a pretty straightforward thing: either we beat them and we win the regatta or they beat us and they win. It was a match race for us; although, they are quite a bit faster, so we just hoped to stay as close as we could and find a way to get that extra two or three minutes to win the regatta. This is our very first time to Les Voiles. We’ve done a lot of the ‘bucket list” regattas, but this is by far the most fun we’ve had. It has been spectacular, and to come out with a victory is a tremendous success for us as a Corinthian team (representing Shelter Island Yacht Club from the United States).
CSA 1, Melges 32 Lazy Dog, skipper Sergio Sagramoso: “I can’t think of a better place to have no wind; I was kind of hoping there’d be no racing (laughs). But really, we fought the whole way today; Dingo (which finished second) and us, we switched places a lot, and we did not know until the last second. We were first almost to the end, but then we sailed into the hole. They beat us over the line but we had enough corrected time to beat them. Luckily, we were at the beginning of the hole and were able to escape easily, but most of fleet was there for an hour.
CSA 2, Soto 53 Humilidad Zero, owner Daniel Figueirido: “We are super happy! It was very hard today because of the very light wind, which is not simple to manage with our heavy boat. We have had a very nice regatta, but until the last moment, we doubted ourselves to win. In the end, we have three first places in three races. That’s great. This victory is important for us because Les Voiles de St. Barth is the best race of the Caribbean. We had the ambition to win, and we did it. It is a great satisfaction for us.”