Sailors and the sailing community as a whole are on a different mental and physical plane than motorboaters. Whereas those with inboards and outboards may decided to stay in the marina when the weather gets a bit choppy, those who favour wind assistance will be chomping at the tiller to get out on the ocean and race. For casual sailors this could be a lazy Tuesday afternoon match race, or for the extreme sailors, it could mean sacrificing nine months of their lives to 39,000 nautical miles (72,000 kilometres) around the world. Racing is in a sailor’s salty blood, with the Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille attracting 1200 competitors in 63 racing yachts to the Caribbean for six days of unforgettable regattas.
Looking at these idyllic images, it’s difficult to imagine that Hurricane Irma blasted through the Antilles with devastating effect back in September 2017, but as mentioned earlier, the sailing community will always prevail. Organiser François Tolède received tremendous local support in St Barths enabling the organising teams to quickly get back on their feet. Having Richard Mille as a title sponsor was also a great boost to the series allowing Tolède to launch a five-year programme. “We are very proud of the trust placed in us by Richard Mille, who has become much more than a sponsor over the years,” said Tolède. “Indeed, beyond the values that we share, our respective domains have a great deal in common. Competition sailing and haute horlogerie both bring together extreme performance, cutting-edge technology and a significant component of artistry, all of this unfurling with respect for the traditions of the discipline.”
As the environment is a crucial issue for sailors, and a long-standing concern of Les Voiles de St Barth, the 2019 edition was rendered eco-responsible. As it happens, this is also a cardinal value of Richard Mille, whose roots in the Swiss Jura run deep into the heart of an ancestral valley that has been preserved with care.
For the regatta, Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille worked alongside 11th Hour Racing, an organisation that has worked for years with the nautical and maritime industries to develop solutions for protecting and restoring the health of our oceans. Together, they managed to create a zero plastic village, using reusable recyclable choices from ashtrays to cups. Water fountains eliminated the use of plastic bottles (plastic straws were already banned) and non-disposable bags were introduced.
The so much emphasis put on the community side of the Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille, from the race village using seasonal, organic materials that are locally sourced or obtained via fair trade, to encouraging crews to respect the whale populations that are very much in evidence during this period in the Caribbean, it’s easy to forget about the racing, but race they most certainly did.
A great breeze and challenging courses lead to some tight racing throughout the nine classes, with Harrison’s Sorcha (Maxi 1), Andy Berdon’s Summer Story (CSA 2) and Sergio Sagramoso’s Lazy Dog (CSA 3) even managing perfect score lines.
As tactician and coach of the team, it’s nice that throughout the week I could challenge the crew with aggressive sail changes and such. ~Stu Bannatyne
One of three classes to set the standard, Peter Harrison’s Sorcha led the Maxi 1 class the entire way, followed by SHK Scallywag, the Dowell 100 skippered by David Witt; and Ambersail, Saulius Pajarskas’ Volvo 65. Not only did Sorcha win the class, they also bring home the Richard Mille Maxi Cup and win the coveted Richard Mille RM 60-01 watch.
In his third Maxi 2 victory in as many years, Windfall’s Michael “Mick” Cotter humbly attributes much of their success to luck. “We got lucky several times,” said the Irish owner. “We had a great tussle with Sojana all week. Twice coming into the finish, we were touch-and-go with them, but we managed to get around her.”
Switzerland’s Franco Niggeler thoroughly enjoyed his first Les Voiles aboard Kuka3, a Cookson 50. “I am happy because we had a wonderful regatta in a wonderful place and when you come in first, it always feels good,” he said.
He said they had to really earn today’s race. “Racing today was quite complicated because we didn’t have a great start, and then had to fight a lot with Triple Lindy, the other Cookson. In the end we deserved the win because we had good maneuvers, and we have a good team.”
In Andy Berdon’s first Les Voiles, he and his close-knit team will bring home the CSA 2 crown with a perfect record across six races. New teammate Stu Bannatyne is no stranger to the Les Voiles stage; last year he stepped up with overall winner Proteus.
“It’s really nice to have a solid team that has sailed together before,” said Bannatyne, four-time Volvo Ocean Race winner. “As tactician and coach of the team, it’s nice that throughout the week I could challenge the crew with aggressive sail changes and such. They responded brilliantly, and it made a big difference for us.”
In the four-boat CSA 3 class, Sergio Sagramoso’s Lazy Dog carried the fleet through six perfect races to finish 10 points ahead of first-time Les Voiles competitor John Vincent on the chartered GP 42 Phan. Phan managed to snag second place overall thanks to its second-place finish today, just edging out the Melges 32 Kick ‘em Jenny, skippered by Ian Hope-Ross. Taz, the Reichel Pugh skippered by Bernie Evan-Wong, finished in 4thplace.
“This year was our 8th time at Les Voiles de St. Barth this year and probably the best,” said Sagramoso, the Puerto Rican skipper. “The conditions were absolutely perfect all week and it’s incredible to win all six races in our class, but it was also great to watch the close match Phan and Kick ’em Jenny. We will definitely come back next year!”
Pamala Baldwin, owner of the J/122 Liquid, frequently races the Caribbean circuit but until this regatta hadn’t quite cracked the top of the podium. She added Mike Giles as tactician and coach to complement the young talented team, and according to Baldwin, “It was the final piece we needed to complete the winning puzzle. My heart is filled with joy.”
When Berrit Bus and Stephanie Rovive discovered they won today’s race they let out a whoop and high five’ed each other. The teammates from the small but mighty Melges 24 Team Island Water World had been nipping at Credit Mutuel – SGS heels all week with a string of second-places finishes, and today they snatched their only victory by just four seconds (corrected time) from their Martinique competitors.
“We had great starts every day; it’s just that Credit Mutuel – SGS has a better boat for the conditions. It was great racing,” said Bus, who sails on Team Island Water World with her father and skipper Frits Bus.
Despite a not-great start today and then their newly repaired spinnaker exploding immediately after, Multihull IMHRR class winner Guyader Gastronomie battled back to finish today’s race in second place and with a comfortable six-point lead over 2nd place Hallucine, and Arawak-Team Spellbound in 3rd place overall.
However, skipper Christian Guyador noted that may not have been the case if Hallucine, skippered by Regis Guillemot, hadn’t been disqualified on day two. “We obviously took advantage of Hallucine’s disqualification, but we also sailed a very good regatta this week,” Guyador said.
“We are very happy to achieve the repeat victory. That was our goal this year at Les Voiles, and it’s mission accomplished.”
This is Greg Slyngstad sixth time racing in Les Voiles, and he couldn’t have ordered up anything more perfect for his custom-designed Bieker 53 multihull. “Fujin does best in 16 – 20 knots and we were in that range all week,” he said.
He’s pleased with how Fujin overcame a capsize and dismasting in the 2018 Caribbean 600, which resulted in a complete refit. “This is the fourth regatta back, and she is as good or better than before.”
His wife Mimi, and longtime Seattle friends Fritz and Tina Lanzinger raced this week, led by “brain trust” and tactician Jonathan McKee, two-time Olympic medalist. “We have a great crew, and a great time sailing together,” Slyngstad said.
The 11th Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille is scheduled for the 12th to the 18th of April 2020 and with organiser, Tolède and Racing Director Poup