Plenty of recognizable names -both in terms of boats and people – will attend, starting with the returning 100-foot speed machine Comanche and its celebrity owners Jim and Kristy Hinze-Clark and skipper Ken Read, who is at once one of the most celebrated sailors in the world and the 2016 event’s “Godfather”, chosen by the organizers to oversee the spirit of the event. Then there’s the mighty multihull Phaedo3 and its skipper Lloyd Thornburg, who has made it his mission to break any and all speed records he can…and he has.
Add to that the new 100-foot technological wonder Galateia; an excellent gathering of three Volvo boats (Brunel, SFS and Ambersail, with Bouwe Bekking, Lionel Pean and Linas Ivanauskas in charge, respectively); two Maxi 72s (Dieter Schoen’s Momo and George Sakellaris’s Proteus); the 94′ Windfall(Tim Goodbody); 92-foot La Bête (Yves Montanari); and 82′ Highland Fling XI(Irvine Laidlaw) and you’ve got quite a spectacle percolating on the big-boat end of things.
But while Les Voiles de St. Barth is dedicated to this top spectrum of players in the world of grand-prix Maxi and Multihull sailing, it also prides itself in having a strong following of typically smaller boats to fill the ranks in Spinnaker division, currently 44 strong. (There is also a Melges 24 class, with four entries as of now.)
No one is more famous in a celebrity sort of way than Patrick Demarchalier, the French fashion photographer who has been at the core of the fashion industry for three decades and returns every year with this Swan 53 Puffy, but also there is Catherine Pourre, who will sail her relatively new Class 40 Eärendil (launched in September 2015) with her Transat Jacques Vabre co-skipper Antoine Carpentier, her 24-year-old son and two friends as crew. The Class 40s were conceived in 2004 as an intermediate ocean racing category between the Mini-Transat racers and the 60-foot IMOCAs, and Les Voiles will also see the Class 40s Creno Moustache Solidaire (with Morgan Launay skippering) and Voiles 44 (Rodolphe Sepho) on the line.
“Creno is a very good boat,” said Pourre. “The design is a bit older, but she is a very quick boat in reaching allures. They had to stop for repair on the Transat Jacques Vabre, explaining their final ranking (11th, while Eärendil did not finish due to keel and engine problems). Voiles 44 is a much older boat, but Rodolphe is living in Guadeloupe and is an habitué of Les Voiles. He will know the place much better, so I think there will be good competition in the Class 40 category!”
Pourre has never been in St. Barth before but said “being able to race in St. Barth is a bit like discovering a little paradise after a long transat, and the fact that the island has a French history is real nice.” She added that five other Class 40s participating earlier this year in the RORC Caribbean 600 had to sail back to their respective homes; however, “with the Les Voiles organizers accepting to form a Class 40 category for the first time this year, we may see more coming in the next editions of Les Voiles.”
On the same starting line with the Class 40s, most likely, will be Jean-Michel Figueres’ Fiser, a Farr 40 from Martinique that has been a contender since the beginning of Les Voiles, and Sergio Sagramoso’s Melges 32 Lazy Dog returns as Puerto Rico’s most promising player, since he consistently finishes well in class… when not flat-out winning it. Frank Gerber’s Ker 51 Tonnerre4, new to Les Voiles, will be an interesting match-up for Varuna VI, a Ker 56 of Jens Kellinghusen’s, and an all-woman crew on Sirens Tigress, a Reflex 38 spearheaded by Susan Glenny of Great Britain, will be raring to show what they’re made of.
Interestingly enough, Bernie Evan-Wong’s crew aboard the chartered J/120 Team Taz is 80% women. Wong, who has missed only one Les Voiles since its inception, made the valiant effort to secure the charter after his own Reichel Pugh 37 Taz was damaged in a collision at the recent St. Thomas International Regatta. “We were just starting to get a grip this season when we had this knockout with the boat (which was new for him last season).” As for the J/120, it is much different than what Wong’s crew, which includes his daughters Meiling and Sarah, is used to. “The thing about Taz (compared to the J/120) is it’s quite powerful but also very light. When you get a big gust the whole boat goes with it and things don’t really load up, so women are quite capable of doing anything on the boat.”
Wong’s could be the poster team for Caribbean circuit sailing, what with it having started in Grenada for this season’s first regatta, then moved on to the RORC Caribbean 600, the Heineken Regatta in St. Martin, St. Thomas, the BVI Regatta and now Les Voiles before heading to Antigua Sailing Week. “We love this event,” he said. “The organizers outdo everybody else, and it’s innovative in many ways, like the cold bucket of champagne that a rib brings you when you finish on the last day. And of course it’s a lovely location and the course racing is very different, around the rocks where sometimes, I must say, the seas get a bit challenging. They do a brilliant job of making it fun, and obviously this is building every year, which is great.”