Life and times on the Maxi boat circuit
Published on April 12th, 2019
It’s been 10 years since the French sailors François Tolède and Luc Poupon started an international sailing competition on the island of St. Barthélemy in the French West Indies.
The idea was to make Les Voiles de St. Barth the grand prix of sailing. It was not to be a casual affair. They modeled the event on the island’s sailing regattas started by Loulou Magras during the 1970s that drew more than 140 boats each year.
“We hoped that the event would become a staple in St. Barthélemy, but admittedly we did not think back then that Les Voiles would take on an international dimension that is recognized today as a major regatta around the world,” Poupon said.
In the early days, the numbers were slim, but promising. From that first event in 2010, the 10th edition on April 15-20 has, more than 70 boats, ranging from 24 feet to 100 feet, including Hap Fauth looking for his first win on his 72-foot Botin Partners designed Bella Mente that was launched in September 2018.
Matt Cassidy, 40, is toward the pointy end on Bella Mente, one of 18 guys on the team. Cassidy, who sailed in the 2017 America’s Cup and could be on the United States team again in 2021 in New Zealand, was interviewed by John Clarke for The New York Times:
You raced in Les Voiles de St. Barth before. What brings you back?
I sailed the race in 2013 on a J class. But St. Barths is St. Barths. It speaks for itself. It’s a great location, awesome weather and awesome racing. It just gives us a chance to get a regatta in on Bella Mente.
Our goal is to get a Maxi win in Sardinia [the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship]. Any chance we get to race against boats similar to us or as a team is a step forward to getting better for that event. St. Barths is one of those.
How’s your crew looking this year?
Owner and skipper Hap Fauth drives, Terry Hutchinson is on tactics and Ian Moore navigating. There are so many talented guys in every position. From bow to stern, these guys are just a bunch of rock stars. It’s a really cool boat. It’s one of those things where you don’t worry about the other guys on your team and just take care of your job, and the other guys are doing theirs. It makes for fun racing.
You and other members of the Bella Mente crew are involved in the American effort to win back the America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2021 on the boat American Magic.
We have quite a few guys who will be on American Magic. It’s another opportunity to sail together. And it’s another opportunity to get Hap out racing, and we’re here for him. This boat is brand-new, and we want to see what she can do. Of course, any chance we get racing with the guys on American Magic is great. The more time together we get, the better off we will be once we start racing.
What have you learned working with Fauth?
He’s a great guy. You get that when he sits down, starts talking to you and lights up a cigar. He’s one of the boys. He loves the racing but also just loves hanging out with the guys.
He’s obviously a very successful businessman and takes that same approach to his racing team. Everything is done first class. We have a job to do and set goals for each day and have a plan. We go out and enact that.
The main thing is to do the simple things right and not make any major mistakes. From there, we slowly fine tune. Each day, the goal is to get better. He reiterates that every day and tells us to go out and do the basics right, and the rest will come. And he’s right — it does.
What’s your job like on Bella Mente?
I’m midbow, the guy second to Doogie [Sean Couvreux]. We work together. It’s a 72-foot boat, so the sails are big and heavy. You’re moving the sails around the boat and race the boat hard. There’s a lot of pressure to get things done quick.
You’re constantly moving and anticipating what the next sail change will be and need to be ready. You talk with the navigator and strategists and discuss what sail to use next. Down below, I just make sure the next sail is ready and not buried beneath the other ones.
Our goal is to be invisible. If the guys in the back call for a sail to go up, it should go up without issues. A good day on the water for us is when the guys on the back never know we’re there. That’s what we want.
Communication plays an integral part.
Yes, you have to be clear. Any minor miscommunication is a major problem on a bigger boat. Things are much more loaded, and mistakes can cause damage. You can make a mistake on a smaller boat and kind of manhandle her a bit. But you can’t just get by on these big boats.
We had a 10-day training session on this boat in Fort Lauderdale, where we talked about that and what it takes to make all the different sail changes and maneuvers on this boat. We’ve refined that, learning things like needing 45 seconds instead of a minute for a setup so the guys in the back can push it closer. The clearer the communication is, the better the boat goes around the tracks.
You’re used to professional, high-stakes sailing. Is it hard to adjust to the fun and social aspect of regattas?
We’re here to win it, but we are also here to have fun and make sure Hap has fun. Hap has fun when he’s winning. You have to go out and hit the beach bars. The Caribbean is a beautiful spot. We’re here for the racing but have to embrace the local culture, too. Hap likes to go down to one of the bars and let loose on the day we have off. But the next day, it’s all about racing again.
BAD NEWS: The Bella Mente team reported on April 12 that while practicing the top two meters of the spar broke, forcing them to withdraw from the 2019 Les Voiles de Saint Barth. This follows their withdrawal in February from the 2019 Caribbean 600, reporting that in the big sea state soon after the start, the pounding proved too much, leading to a ton or more of water down below.