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2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth - In the starting blocks
2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth - © GRAAM Michael

Les Voiles de St. Barth 2016 – In the starting blocks

Les Voiles de St. Barth 2016 – The energy has been palpable on and around the docks of the Capitainerie in Gustavia as hundreds of sailors from dozens of countries prepare for Tuesday’s kick-off races for the seventh edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth.

Monday evening’s big-stage Opening Ceremonies were a precursor to what lies ahead socially for competitors, and the gathering gave sailors one last time to compare notes and think strategy against fellow mates revealed in the final class splits for Maxi One and Maxi Two, CSA Zero, One, Two, Three and four, Melges 24 and Multihull.

We have defined classes with a true concern for equity,” said Les Voiles de St. Barth Race Director Luc Poupon. “The idea was to ensure that fleets are as homogeneous as possible, so that the fight on the water is tight and interesting, both for sailors and spectators.

Jim Swartz, the American owner/driver of the TP 52 Vesper, which recently won its class and overall at Les Voiles de St. Tropez, called his CSA Zero class “by far the best turnout of the performance boats (in the 50-foot range) for this regatta.” He should know, as he has competed at this regatta five times before, turning in three firsts and a second with Vesper and a third with Vesper’s predecessor Moneypenny in the inaugural 2010 event. “They are all high-performance, planing boats,” he said about the three other TP52s (Spookie, Sorcha and Conviction), the Ker 51 (Tonnere 4) and the Ker 56 (Varuna VI) in his class.
The UK’s Ian Walker, likewise, was happy with the composition of his Maxi Two class where his team’s Southern Wind 94 Windfall will be up against three Volvo Ocean Race boats (SFS, Team Brunel and Ambersail) as well as the Custom Farr 60 Prospector.

2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth - In the starting blocks

François Tolede – Ken Read – Kongo – Jean Coadou – Xavier Marchal – 2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth – © GRAAM Michael

“I’ve sailed around the world on SFS (formerly Green Dragon),” said the three-time Volvo Ocean Race contender, “and Brunel was runner-up to us on Abu Dhabi in the last Volvo Ocean Race, which we won, so I know those two boats inside out.” Walker, who is also a two-time Olympic Silver Medalist (1996, 2000) for his country, described Windfall as a cruiser/racer, meaning it’s “actively used for cruising but can be stripped out for racing.” Its nearly all-Irish team, including Irish owner Mick Cotter, is “predominantly amateur but solid club racers” and not at all discouraged by winds that are forecast to be lighter than usual when compared to previous Les Voiles editions.

“We will start with the big (Maxi One) boats, so it will be quite tricky for us, but as far as the predicted conditions, the others in our class are predominantly swing-keel boats and water-ballasted for sailing offshore, so they will be strong when it’s windy. We haven’t got a lot of sail area in the light air and haven’t got a lot of stability when it’s windy, so something in the middle would be nice for us; eight – fifteen knots would be perfect.”

Tomorrow looks to be the windiest day at 14-15 knots. Tuesday is expected to be the lightest with seven – eight knots.

Race Committee President Jean Coadou explained that 21 different race courses are in his committee’s arsenal of routes that “are extremely varied and adapted to each of the classes.” Between 15 and 35 nautical miles, they will be selected every morning before racing, depending on weather conditions.

“One of our priorities will be to ensure that there is no possible crossing of fleets at marks,’ said Coadou, explaining that there will be five separate starts, some with more than one class, and that the slower boats begin first while the speedy multihulls begin last.

Heard on the Quay:

Bruno Magras, President of the collectivité of Saint-Barthélemy: “Les Voiles de St. Barth is today part of the heritage of the island. We are here to accompany this event which pleases not only participants and visitors but also the population of Saint-Barthélemy. Since its inception, the event has taken on a beautiful dimension, thanks to the talents of François Tolède, Luc Poupon and their teams.

2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth - In the starting blocks

2016 Les Voiles de St. Barth Barby MacGowan

This reputation is the result of flawless organization, which retains sportsmen, allowing them to practice their sport in optimal conditions. In addition, the test is an opportunity to gather around the sailing, a discipline rooted in the life of our island. I would like to say to the sailors who are among us, ‘Let the best person win!’ and already I congratulate them for having chosen Saint-Barthélemy for this friendly meeting.”

François Tolède, Organizational Director of Les Voiles de St. Barth: ‘Today, we officially launch the seventh edition of the event. It is encouraging to receive in St. Barth’s the boats of such size and skippers of such reputations, coming from some 30 nations. This evolution is positive, and it is proof that the people who participate in the regatta have both a technological approach and a lifestyle approach, so that clearly, they are here to take as much pleasure at sea as ashore.

by Kirsten Ferguson

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