Preview of 2018 Les Voiles de Saint Barth

Published on March 28th, 2018

Les Voiles de Saint-Barth is a mainstay of the Caribbean racing circuit. Indeed, the event has been selected by the IMA (International Maxi Association) to form part of its program, which comprises 10 of the world’s top races including Porto Cervo, the RORC Caribbean 600, the Copa del Rey as well as the Fastnet Race.

The ninth edition this year on April 8-14 features a highly international line-up – over 15 nationalities – the event boasts a wealth of Maxis and ultra high-tech boats, including the VOR 70 and the TP52. Saint Barth’s stunning beauty and exceptional sailing conditions make it the perfect spot for organizing races.

Equally, its natural islets and the shore-based entertainment ensure this is an absolute must for sailors around the world. Following Hurricane Irma’s passage through the islands back in September, Saint Barth is hoisting its sails once more, Maxi-style.

Maxi: Competing for the Richard Mille-Maxi Cup
2018 delivers a great turnout for the prestigious Maxi class in this 9th edition of Les Voiles de Saint Barth. 100 percent carbon racing steeds designed to break records or devour round-the-world courses, they are also luxury yachts geared for both cruising and racing. It goes without saying that the speeds of these monsters, helmed by professional crews with several dozen sailors on board, are always impressive, but thanks to the ratings and sailing conditions, the racing still delivers surprises.

There are many stars in this class who relish the return to Saint Barth each year. Among them is Rambler 88 whose American owner, George David, makes his seventh appearance with four victories to his credit. Joining him are Windfall, the reigning champion in the Maxi 2 category (and the biggest boat announced for this 2018 edition at 94 feet); La Bête, the former Rambler 90, which underwent extensive optimization over the winter of 2016-2017 with the notable installation of hydraulic winches; as well as the Marten 72 Aragon skippered by Arco Van Nieuwland, who has already tried out every step of the Les Voiles podium for size with the exception of the highest.

They’re all going to have their work cut out against the Maxi 72s Proteus and Sorcha and the VOR 70s, Ocean Breeze and Green Dragon. Don’t discount the newcomers to the scene, like the Brazilian 65 feet Camiranga, which recently performed well at the Heineken Regatta; the CNB 66 Althane, the latest release from CNB yacht builders launched in June 2017; or Simple Harmony, Cliff Asbel’s Swan 68, which remains competitive after a substantial refit.

The 2018 Maxi Class winner has an extra incentive. Besides the watch traditionally up for grabs in the class, this year’s winning crew will have the honor of being the first to brandish the Richard Mille-Maxi Cup.

Multihulls: a Record Year for the Fleet
From catamarans to trimarans, 30- or 66-footers, vintage boats or latest generation, there will be something for everyone among the multihulls signed up for Les Voiles de Saint Barth. One thing for sure is that multihull owners are making no secret of their enthusiasm for the event.

“We’ve never received so many registration requests in this class. The 2018 edition is clearly shaping up to be a record year in terms of entry numbers for boats with two or three hulls,” revels Luc Poupon, race director. He’s opted to split the fleet in two, with one part competing in the OMA and the other the International Multihull Rating Rule.

The Gunboats will also be out in force, so expect some fierce competition between the likes of Thirst, Flow and Phaedo, the 66-footer owned by American Lloyd Thornburg, who won the event in 2015 on an earlier boat.

Spinnaker: Titles and Challenges
There promises to be some stiff competition in this very popular category at the 9th edition of Les Voiles. There are those who have already won Les Voiles and are hungry for more such as Lazy Dog, the Melges 32 owned by the Puerto Rican Sergio Sagramoso; Crédit Mutuel and the Sun Fast 3200 helmed by Marc Emig and skippered by Hervé Hejoaka. Hejoaka has already won the podium three times across different classes.

However, the die is far from cast as a series of newcomers join the Spinnaker class this year, starting with Albator, the newest boat of the fleet at Les Voiles de Saint Barth. Launched back in September in Saint Tropez, this Bernard Nivelt and Alexis Muratet design is a MkII of the NMD 43 Teasing Machine, which cheekily revealed some of her remarkable potential at the RORC Caribbean 600 in February, earning the win in IRC1.

Another ‘rookie’ of Les Voiles worth keeping a close eye on is Gordon’s, the Swiss-flagged Baltic 50 skippered by Koening Juerg, which has held great sway in the Mediterranean events like the Giraglia and the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The same is true for Jeremi Jablonski’s Avanti, a frequent podium finisher in the British Virgin Islands.

In the Melges 24s, another fine battle is in prospect. Team Island Water World, the reigning champion, is back this year to defend her title. This crew is at the top of their game and knows the waters of Les Voiles de Saint Barth like the back of their hand. And for good reason. Not only is the boat a neighbor, she has already competed in the event five times.

Bruno Magras: “The island is back on track”
Six months after Hurricane Irma, reconstruction is continuing at full pace, and the island of Saint Barth has rebounded well. We get the low-down from Bruno Magras, President of the Regional Council.

How’s Saint Barth’s doing today?
“The island of Saint Barth’s is back on track, but we still have a few challenges to overcome. The first is a lack of hotel space. Some establishments have already opened their doors again and a vast number of villas are available, but there is still work to be done as numerous hotels are still being rebuilt. The second relates to Princess Juliana International airport on Saint Martin. The airport is up and running, but at a limited capacity. Fortunately, various options are possible via Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico.”

Can the return of the tourist business be felt on the island?
“Things are going well, much better than we’d initially forecasted. The infrastructure is operational. We notably hosted a lot of people on the island, as well as numerous boats in the port of Gustavia on New Year’s Day and, more recently, during the St Barth’s Bucket Regatta. The situation is far from hopeless.”

Is an event like Les Voiles de Saint Barth important within this context?
“There is no question that Les Voiles is contributing to the revitalization and boosting of the economy. It will help us get through a tough period. The event motivates us and I’d like to thank the organizers for choosing to stick with it. Having an activity of this type will certainly come as real comfort to the local population.”

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