Exciting one-on-one matches punctuated opening day action at Les Voiles de St. Barth, where nine classes competed in testing seas and 12-15 knot breezes on courses, ranging from 24-31 nautical miles, that flanked the southern, western and northern sides of Saint-Barthélemy.
In the six-boat CSA 0 class, where four TP 52s are sailing, Spookie – with the U.S.A.'s current Yachtsman of the Year Steve Benjamin driving – was the undisputable winner of the start, shooting up to the pin end of the line at the last second with a burst of speed and a clear lane, which allowed the team to lead throughout the first beat and leeward leg that passed the beaches of Shell, Gouverneur, Saline and Columbier. On the far side of the island, however, Jim Swartz's U.S. entrant Vesper, which had started just behind Spookie, was able to pass them and, after sailing 31 miles all told, cross the finish line 6-7 boat lengths ahead.
“The big picture is that it was a four-hour race that was decided by a few boat lengths,” said Swartz. “On the beats, it shifted back and forth several times. It was a very exciting race, a very close race. Vesper and Spookie are very closely matched boat-on-boat, and Sorcha, also a TP52, has an excellent rating here in the Caribbean, so they were able to come between us and Spookie (on handicap scoring) to take second place.” With that, Spookie settled for third overall, and the TP 52 Conviction took fourth, followed by the Ker 51 Tonnerre4 and the Ker 56 Varuna VI.)
In the Maxi 1 class, the Maxi 72 Momo also managed a remarkable start, setting up similarly to how Spookie had in Class 0 and leaving its closest competitor, the Maxi 72 Proteus, close behind in disturbed air. In this case, however, Proteus could not catch up with the leader and finished almost four minutes behind, taking second place.
“Today was Momo's day,” said Proteus's tactician Mark Mendelblatt, who has represented the U.S. twice in the Olympics. “It was a pin-end favored line and they did an absolute perfect job of being right there, but not too early. That was pretty much the race. We kept it close for a while but they managed to get out in front and stretch out on us.”
Mendelblatt explained that two more Maxi 72s had been signed up to compete in the event but were unable to attend after breakdowns in recent races. “It seems like we have an advantage in the ratings over the other boats in our class (the RP 82 Highland Fling XI, the 100-foot Wally/Cento Galateia, the 100-foot Verdier/VPLP Comanche, and the RP 90 La Bête), so if the two of us don't get too tangled up with each other, we're likely to be first and second in these races.”
Yesterday, three-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran (and winning skipper) Ian Walker had explained that the mostly amateur crew on the Southwind 94 Windfall that is his ride here could win if the wind conditions were not too heavy or not too light. Today, he proved it when Windfall won the race, with Prospector, a Farr 60, following in second. The close match-up in this class was between the Volvo Open 70 SFS (which finished third) and the Volvo Ocean 65 Team Brunel (which finished fourth).
Said SFS's skipper, the Whitbread winner Lionel Péan: “It was a magnificent match all day long with Team Brunel (with seven-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran Bouwe Bekking at the helm). In the end, we finished very close to one another. It is a little surprising since Team Brunel is a little retro compared to the more modern Volvos here. It has a little trouble accelerating, but still it was tight from start to finish. We changed positions a lot, but we ironed it out at the end and finished before them. It is absolutely awesome to have a competitor like that.”
Additional classes sailing today were for CSA 1, 2, 3 and 4, Melges 24 and Multihull. Racing continues tomorrow and resumes Friday and Saturday after a lay day Thursday.
Heard on the Quay:
Ken Read, Les Voiles “Godfather” and skipper of Comanche: “It's an honor (to be asked by the organizers to oversee the spirit of the event.) People who have gotten so much from sailing like I have, have to give back. As we become veterans in this sport, we have to start telling the world how great it is, and this is a wonderful opportunity for me to do that. With regard to this event, every crew here would agree this is a top-three sailboat racing destination on the planet. It's idyllic, really; you're ripping around on fast boats, on warm waters with a t-shirt on. What's there not to love about this event?
Cyril “Kongo” Phan, celebrity street artist: “My inspiration for my work here (creating a live work of art on a sail canvas) is, of course, linked to the sails of St. Barth. I'll try to translate the event in graphics, with a multitude of colors, in this case those of the Caribbean. Of course, I'll bring my 'little' touch of urban painting in this very natural context. What motivates me the most is to crystallize a friendly moment.”