Over 65 teams and more than 1,000 sailors are heading to St. Barth for the eighth edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth, which offers four days of exceptional racing mixed with a healthy dose of shore-side fun over April 10-15. While some competitors are new to the event, others call this their go-to event on the Caribbean racing calendar every year, and several high-profile teams will return to Les Voiles de St. Barth with new rides in 2017.
On this latter front, sure to enthrall is the promise of Peter Cunningham chartering the newly conceived (and famously “Juan K”-designed) ClubSwan 50 Powerplay and Lloyd Thornburg trading in his three hulls for one when he puts aside his famous record-breaking trimaran, the MOD70 Phaedo3, to enjoy a monohull experience aboard the Carkeek 40 FOMO (ex-Decision).
“We wanted to fill in the gaps between MOD70 events,” said Thornburg, who since 2015 has smashed nine world speed sailing records and won many international events, including the RORC Caribbean 600 three years in a row and Les Voiles de St. Barth itself, with his high-tech multihull. When he chartered FOMO for the recent St. Petersburg-Habana Race, his team stayed true to form and won that as well. “We’re having a lot of fun doing a different kind of sailing on a sport boat. Les Voiles is my favorite regatta in the Caribbean, and Phaedo3 is currently in California, so we would have been bummed to not have a boat here to sail. I guess it’s appropriate that FOMO is an acronym for ‘Fear of Missing Out,’ because we didn’t want to miss this.”
Thornburg is from St. Petersburg, Fla., but has had a home on Saint-Barthélemy for ten years. His crack crew includes three British Olympic medalists: Nick Rogers (two-time silver in 470 class), Stuart Bithell and Luke Patience (silver, together, in 470 class). Rogers will serve as tactician while Miles Seddon will navigate.
“We’ve done minimal optimizing and minimal practicing, so it’s not the same sort of operation that we have when we come at it with our MOD70 program,” said Thornburg, “but we have a great team of guys who’ve done a lot of sailing together. The other boats in our 45-boat Spinnaker Division will all be well sailed, so we’re coming to Les Voiles to do our best and see where the chips fall. In some ways, it will be a lot harder than with the MOD70; we’ll be in closer to shore and mixed with the fleet more…sailing around rocks and islands, with rebounding seas…it’s just so interesting and beautiful.”
Meanwhile, Powerplay’s skipper Peter Cunningham is raring to go on the ClubSwan 50 (better known as Courdileon) he has chartered from fashion shoe magnate Leonardo Ferragamo, who is also chairman of the boat’s manufacturing company Nautor’s Swan. Only launched in 2016, the ClubSwan50 was a 50th anniversary statement of Nautor’s Swan and is – in a word – edgy, with a notably wide beam, chines, twin rudders, reverse sheer line and dreadnought bow. Its Argentinean designer, Juan Kouyoumdjian, has penned many winning offshore boats, including the breakthrough Rambler 88, which is sailing here in the 16-boat Maxi Division.
“Team Powerplay has competed in this regatta before with a TP52,” said Powerplay Project Manager Tony Rey. “Peter has put a great team together. There are some from the regular Powerplay team and some that are friends of Peter’s…so a bit of youth, and a bit of old age and treachery. A pretty cool mix, and we’re going to learn the new boat. We’re excited; it’s going to be awesome.”
Rey pointed out that another ClubSwan50, Early Bird, is signed up with Jochen Schümann skippering. That should make things exciting on the water, since Schümann is one of Germany’s most decorated Olympic sailors (gold in Finn class, two golds and one silver in Soling class).
Not to be easily outsmarted, however, Rey says the Powerplay team will have as a secret weapon “one of the greatest ocean navigators sailing today”: Nacho Postigo. “He’s a genius, a magician, and he knows the area well. He sails barefoot and with a floppy hat, and we can rely on him to cut the corners.”
Cunningham is from the Cayman Islands, representing Cayman Islands Sailing Club. “Peter is as keen a sailor as anybody out there,” said Rey. “And he’s as excited about the Lay Day and Nikki Beach as he is about the racing.”
The Lay Day of which Rey speaks is indeed as famous as the regatta itself. It is a day off on Thursday, after two days of hard racing on Tuesday and Wednesday and before the concluding race days of Friday and Saturday. Crews will enjoy a full day of activities on the beach at Saint-Jean, including an underwater treasure hunt, water polo, and paddleboard races, and lunch at the chic Nikki Beach restaurant.
“We’re going to be in St Barths training two days early,” said Rey, “but our team is all about power and play. It’s about having fun and trying to win!”