HISTORIC: J class yachts highlight the show

Published on March 27th, 2013

Thursday will be a historic day at the St. Barths Bucket Regatta (Mar 28-31), which has been called, by some, “the most important super yacht regatta in the world.” The event , in its 18th edition here and its 27th as its own unique brand of racing (the original Bucket Regatta debuted on the island of Nantucket in 1986 and today has editions in both St. Barths and Newport, R.I.), is starting a day early to give the J Class an extra race.

And what a race it will be, as five of the behemoth 130’+ (40 meter) sloops – Hanuman, Lionheart, Rainbow, Ranger and Velsheda – will be sailing together for the first time ever in the Caribbean. As well, it will be the first time since the 1930s, considered the J Boats’ Golden Era, that so many have converged for a single racing event.

“We are feeling good about this regatta,” said Rogier van Overveld, crew boss aboard Rainbow. “We sailed against four of the boats in the Solent (all but Hanuman) and we’ve been doing a lot of sailing since, with almost the same crew, which are all from the Netherlands.” Rainbow’s co-helmsman Mark Neeleman is his country’s five-time Olympian in Finn and Star class, and most of the crew sailed aboard Windrose of Amsterdam (Rainbow owner Chris Gongriep’s previous yacht) here last year.

Hanuman is sure to give them a run for their money, however, as two-thirds of its crew are big names from America’s Cup and/or Volvo Ocean Race arenas. And among those is what Captain Greg Sloat calls the “Newport mafia” headed by helmsman Ken Read. Read is best known for his Volvo Ocean Race accomplishments as skipper of the Puma Ocean Racing Team but also has 40 World, North American, and National Championship titles to his name.

Sloat revealed that the collective know-how onboard is being harnessed for a small-boat approach to sailing for the one very big Hanuman. He called Hanuman one of the “Super Js,” which were built for the America’s Cup. “The ratings among us are very even, so determining a winner might come down to a single mistake,” said Sloat, adding that adept boat handling is the foundation of the approach.

Results for the J Class, which plans to sail one windward-leeward race on Thursday, will be calculated using the J Class Association handicap (the J Class Rule), and the racing format will be traditional fleet, where all yachts start together on one line. The remainder of the Bucket classes – ranging in size from 24m to 62m – will sail under the International Super Yacht Rule (a formal packaging of what was originated by Bucket founders as the Bucket Rule) and enjoy a “pursuit”-style racing format, which gives them staggered starts in each of three classes.

Including the J Boats, a total of 36 boats are entered in the St. Barths Bucket. The raciest of the yachts, in the nine-boat Les Gazelles des Mers class, include such recognizable grand prix names as Leopard3 and P2, with Rebecca showing as one of the long-time favorites here.

The 10-boat Les Mademoiselles des Mers class sports no less than six Dubois designs, testament to the importance of this regatta as a showcase for designers, naval architects and yacht builders. One of these, Salperton IV, stands out as the recent winner of the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in the BVIs. Striking a distinguished note of beauty in this class will be two schooners, Athos and Adela, the latter of which will be helmed by Dennis Conner.

In the 12-boat Les Grandes Dames des Mers class, the ever awe-inspiring Maltese Falcon will wow spectators. It is one of eight Perini Navis, all massively impressive in their own ways, sailing in this class.

The four class winners of the 2013 St. Barths Bucket will each receive a Ship’s Bell Clock from Chelsea Clock. The J Class will award two additional trophies, the Hundred Guinea Cup, given to the winner of the one race tomorrow, and the King’s Corinthian Cup, given to the first owner-driven J Boat.

Live tracking for the J Boat racing can be found at http://www.tractrac.com/index.php?page=eventpage&id=279

Event website: http://www.bucketregattas.com/stbarths/index.html

Photos by Shirley O’Hara Falcone

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