THE ST. BARTHS BUCKET 17-20TH March 2016
By Barby MacGowan
(This complete editorial can be found at: www.yachtingmatters.com Edition 31)
For 22 years, the St. Barths Bucket Regatta has been making a statement in the French West Indies with its extraordinary collection of the extreme sailing yachts that migrate annually to the tiny island of Saint-Barthélemy in order to participate in pursuit racing like no other. This year, 38 teams (topping last year’s 35) competed while the event’s four stewards – Perini Navi, Royal Huisman, Rybovich, and Vitters Shipyard – ensured the shore side festivities were well up to the standards of previous years.
For the first time ever, there were five (instead of four) Bucket pursuit classes, which appropriately have been ascribed elegant French names: Les Gazelles des Mers (Class A), Les Elegantes des Mers (Class B), Les Femmes des Mers (Class C), Les Mademoiselles des Mers (Class D) and Les Grandes Dames des Mers (Class E). Regatta Director Peter Craig said the reason for adding Les Femmes between Les Elegantes and Les Mademoiselles is logical: “Every year we have to take a growing number of sloops, schooners and ketches with lengths that can range from 28 to 60m and group them so that they can sail fairly against each other. We have divided heavy slower boats, fast performance boats and everything in between into four classes in the past, but it just wasn’t quite right in Class B where we had too broad of a range of different types of boats competing. The right answer to the problem was to go to five classes.”
“More trophies, more winners…it’s all good,” said Craig. “New course options were another change this year that brought the beauty and excitement of superyachts-under-sail closer to shore-side venues without compromising safe racing, which with these large yachts, is paramount.”
Sailing in a special sixth class at this year’s Bucket were the J-Class Yachts, which will sailed under the J-Class Rule rather than the Superyacht Rule and fleet racing rather than pursuit racing. Ranger (J5), Velsheda (J7) and the newly built Topaz (J8) kicked off the action on Thursday with a single windward-leeward race before joining three days of coastal racing that began for the other teams on Friday.
Thursday - The Perfect Gift: Ranger Wins the Kings Hundred Guinea Trophy
While most of the 38-strong Bucket Regatta fleet was out practicing or enjoying a day off on the Wednesday the three J-Class yachts checked off the first of their four fleet races, starting their series a day earlier than the others. On a windward-leeward course (three times around), which proved to be particularly tricky and difficult to read, the crew of Ranger delivered the best possible present to their passionate owner on his birthday by winning the J-Class’s most prestigious annual award, the Kings Hundred Guinea Trophy, which had been designated as the trophy for today’s victor.
Friday - A Most Refreshing Start
The most fabulous sailboat race in the Caribbean lived up to its billing on the Friday, the official Start of the event when 38 yachts sailed counter clockwise around St. Barths, its outer islands and rock cropping’s, marking the first of three scheduled pursuit races for five classes. A sixth class of three J-Class yachts also circumnavigated the island; however, theirs was a fleet rather than a staggered start.
The J-Class and Femmes des Mers (Class C), Mademoiselles des Mers (Class D), and Elegantes des Mers(Class B) sailed the longest courses (between 24.7 and 26 miles), each of which included a newly introduced rounding mark situated well inside St. Jean Bay where spectators at Nikki Beach, Eden Rock and La Plage could marvel at those massively impressive racing machines that sailed just beyond the surf break.
Ranger had already won the first race of its four-day series but today conceded to Velsheda, which made a bold tactical “inside” move at Roches Rouges, which was in effect the first windward mark of the course, four miles out from the start. She defended her lead all the way around to win by over a minute over Ranger.
While the Sloop Ganesha and Freya won in Elegantes and Mademoiselles, respectively, Axia, which won its class here last year, was busy staking its first-day claim in Femmes.
Axia started third in its class, taking a starboard approach at the buoy end of the line when others were choosing a port approach. The gamble paid off for a lift near shore and by the time the team reached Roches Rouges, she had picked off Blue Too and the Huisman ketch Surama. Then in another move that most others must have considered disadvantageous or downright impossible, Axia carried her spinnaker from St. Jean Bay to the next mark outside and then for six miles downwind to Ile Fourchue for an even larger gain before dousing to take another six mile leg – this time upwind – back to the finish.
Gazelles des Mers (Class A) sailed 24.7 miles on a course that took them around the outer rock formations of Roches Table and the Groupers, while the Grandes Dames (Class E) sailed a slightly shorter course (21 miles) that went as far as Ile Fourchue at its farthest point north. The Vitters sloop Unfurled and the Perini Navi ketch Rosehearty were the respective winners in those classes, with Rosehearty’s finish proving one of the most exciting of the day: Ohana was behind them by only two boat lengths at the finish line.
Saturday - No Better Day to Win
The two variations of the “Not So Wiggley Course” proved to be as much fun as the name sounds, but actually quite the opposite of what the name implies, as the fleets zig-zagged through small islands and groups of rocks to the northwest of St. Barths. With the breeze a bit stronger than Thursdays and the sky just as blue, the conditions made for some very satisfying and physical sailing for the 38 yachts.
The J-Class, Gazelles des Mers (Class A) and Elegantes des Mers (Class B) sailed the longer 28 mile version of the course and in all three classes a different team from yesterday took over the leader board. As such, Sundays final day of racing was to be a close battle for a place on stage to receive a Chelsea Clock Award for class victory, and if lucky, the famous Bucket Trophy for overall honours.
In Elegantes, yesterday the Vitters sloop Ganesha won and the Perini Navi sloop P2 was second, but today the order inverted. The Royal Huisman sloop Wisp led for nearly the entire race, but P2 finally passed her at Roche Table. Ganesha passed her shortly afterward and it quickly became a battle between P2 and Ganesha fought until the last boat length.
In Gazelles, Nilaya, which had finished third yesterday, won today, leaving fourth for yesterday’s winner, the Vitters sloop Unfurled. The two stood only one point apart now, with Nilaya leading going into tomorrow’s final day and Visione, currently in third overall, sharing the same point score as Unfurled.
Ranger was back on top in the J-Class after rounding the Groupers within two boat lengths of Velsheda and then engaging in a tacking duel to pass her on the long backside windward leg.
Femmes des Mers (Class C), Mademoiselles des Mers (Class D) and Grandes Dames(Class E) sailed the shorter 24.4 miles version of the Not So Wiggley Course, with Axia, Freya and Rosehearty all winning for a second time to remain at the top of the scoreboard.
Sunday - A Terrific Privilege Comes to a Close
Sunday’s final round of Bucket racing had several teams on edge, knowing that they had just one race left to either make it or break it. The wind blew several knots stronger than it had on Saturday to reach a solid 18-20 knots by mid-morning when the participant’s started various versions of the Around the Island (clockwise) Race.
After all was said and done, the crew of the Vitters sloop Unfurled took the stage Sunday night to collect the Chelsea Clock class trophy for winning in Gazelles des Mers (Class A) as well as the most prestigious prize that could be won by any of the pursuit-class yachts that measured in at 30m or longer: the actual bucket that is the famous Bucket Trophy for best overall performance. This year the winner was determined by race organizers using newly published criteria, and suffice it to say, it did not go unnoticed that the action in Unfurled’s class was as competitive as it gets.
For Sunday’s finale, Unfurled absolutely had to finish first, and did, to win its class overall, because its closest rivals Nilaya, which had been leading on Saturday, and Visione, could also take home the Chelsea Clock if they won that race. Unfurled played catch-up all day, chasing down Nilaya and the Vitters sloop Inoui. The new Unfurled has the same owner, team and “heart” as the old Unfurled, which had won its class here before but never the actual Bucket. At the awards presentation Unfurled’s owner/helmsman summed up superyacht sailors as a tight knit community both on and off the race course and called it a “terrific privilege to be involved.”
The Gazelles and Elegantes des Mers (Class B) both sailed 24.3 miles, and in Elegantes it was the Perini Navi sloop P2, with its new owner, that won to hold on to the lead it had established on Saturday and edge out second-place finisher, the Vitters sloop Ganesha, by one point in overall scoring.
Sunday’s cliff hanger in the Grandes Dames des Mers (Class E) literally had the owner, crew and guests aboard the Perini Navi sloop Rosehearty collectively holding their breath, waiting to see if the Perini Navi sloop Seahawk, which was leading the fleet well in the distance ahead, could successfully fend off next-in-line Ohana at the finish. If it could, Rosehearty, which at the time was in fourth behind Perseus^3, would win the series. If it couldn’t, Ohana would replace the team at the top of the scoreboard. Rosehearty’s tack fitting on their head foil unfortunately broke under heavy load during the windy beat and the team were forced to furl away much of the jib and leave their fate in Seahawk’s hands. When Seahawk edged out Ohana by less than a boat length at the finish line, it made the numbers work and the Rosehearty team exhaled in relief before raising a final victory cheer.
It was more straightforward in Femmes des Mers (Class C) and Mademoiselles des Mers (Class D), which sailed a shorter 22-mile course on Sunday and had not seen a lead change since day one. Axia posted three overall points over the Royal Huisman sloop Hyperion’s six in Femmes and Freya posted three to Windfall’s eight in Mademoiselles.
The J-Class sailed a 23.9 mile course to see Velsheda prevail as both the race and overall J-Class winner. Ranger and Velsheda each counted two wins and two seconds to tie on final point score, but the tie breaker on count back went to Velsheda for winning the last race.
2017 Event - 16 – 19 March
By Barby MacGowan - Media Pro International