Les Voiles de St. Barth: A Sailing Regatta for Everyone
If you were in a psychiatric session and the doctor asked you to free associate about the Caribbean Island of St. Barths and you answered: sun, sand, warm winds, beautiful people, French food and wine, plus luxury at great expense, the physiatrist would have to nod in agreement. St. Barths is the Monaco of the Caribbean, a sybaritic place to spend lots of money while experiencing the very definition of holidaying. Plus, there is one of the world’s great sailing regattas, Les Voiles de St. Barth. Fittingly, the key sponsor is ultra-luxury watch maker Richard Mille.
Now in its 11th edition after a two-year COVID hiatus, race director Luc Pou Pont told Worth, “We’re back in business.”
April’s race has something for everyone…even if you are not a multi-millionaire with a world-class yacht and 20 pros on the crew.
Windy days, the bluest of waters, majestic rocky outcroppings serving as race marks and very energetic sailing characterize Les Voiles. Yes, the food and drink afterwards and the legendary Nikki Beach party with camaraderie second to none is a hallmark of the race. Yet, it is the purity of the sailing that brings the fleet here every year.
Eduardo Lentz, for example, with his Jeanneau 44 Voilactus makes it easy to participate in the regatta. If you want to learn to sail, sharpen your skills or immerse yourself in the St. Barths experience, he and his core crew will make it happen. As he told Worth, “We welcome all sailors who want to share the magic of this regatta. We will find a position for your skill level and immerse you in the race.” This year, Eduardo had aboard members of the Colorado Community Sailing Association. They were clearly in awe of the St. Barths experience and not only sailed like they had never done before but were enveloped in the island’s charms—from swimming in the warm waters to venturing into the deep with a scuba dive. All of them sharpened their sailing skills and vowed to mark next year’s regatta in their calendars.
Eduardo does several Caribbean events, so his program is an easy way to be part of the regatta lifestyle. Eduardo, a charming father of two, goes out of his way to make his crew relaxed and comfortable even on a demanding race course. He and his captain’s understanding of the winds, tide and all the island’s other subtleties is a result of decades of sailing Caribbean waters.
He can also facilitate a leisurely cruise around the islands with a skipper if relaxation is your goal.
Another entry point is Olympia’s Tigress. Captain Susan Glenny’s expansive program allows sailors to compete in numerous regattas on her First 40. She’s based in the Caribbean in the winter and Europe in the summer, where Olympia’s Tigress does all the major regattas like the Mediterranean Middle Sea Race and even England’s Fastnet. According to Susan, “As a woman, I love to empower other women to sail competitively and develop their skills. However, I think mixed crews are the way to go, as everyone can find the level they are most comfortable with.” Spending a day aboard Olympia’s Tigress is an experience in competitive racing that any sailor will savor.
Another woman making regatta waves is Pamala Baldwin, owner/skipper of the J122 Liquid. Pam is a longtime denizen of the Caribbean, having moved to Antigua decades ago. Her program is one of total determination. “I want to win. I simply do not understand anyone coming here to do anything less.” And win she does. Her trophy cabinet is filled with firsts and best boat awards. Pam is all about inclusion. She always includes island sailors from diverse backgrounds in her crew who might not have had a chance to participate in a regatta. She also makes sure these younger members get the opportunity to advance.
If you can put together a group of interested friends, there are several other ways to experience Les Voiles. Boats like Wings, a brand new J121, are available for charter. This year, sailors from Santa Barbara took her over and were very competitive over the course. El Ocaso, a J122, can also be chartered by a group. The website for Les Voiles can direct you to other paid crew or charter options.
Once aboard, you will experience sailing at its best. From your floating platform, you will witness the greatest race boats in the world, competing on the same course you are. Of course, you will not be in the same class they are…that would be silly, but you will see them on the water, witness them as they fly by, and experience the absolute awe at, for example, Maxi Yacht racing. (Les Voiles is actively promoting a partnership with the Caribbean Maxi Challenge, organizer of the world’s big boat regattas.)
This year’s Maxis were Rambler 88, Vesper, Bella Mente and Deep Blue. These race machines are a sight every sailor should want to behold. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of the 25-plus crew sitting on the high side as they fly by you at the top turning mark. The fact that they are going to hover around the start line with small production boats belies sailing’s image of exclusiveness. Imagine a mini golfer on the same course as a Masters player.
Yes, there is a huge middle-class between the charter boat experience and the multimillion-dollar campaigns of the Maxis. This category includes magnificent boats like the 66-foot HH catamaran Flash. With a crew of pros headed by skipper Chris Bailet, owner David Welch invited his friends aboard for five days of racing. His observation, “My crack crew had these races choreographed to perfection. We could not have had better winds or conditions.” However, as much as Dave loves Flash, he is thinking even bigger for his expanding family.
Another entrant was the sleek and graceful Swan 48 Sarah Mercedes. After taking her across the Atlantic and on an extensive cruise of 10 Caribbean islands, Sarah and Graham Clapp decided to try racing. Les Voiles was their first choice. As Graham put it, “I thoroughly enjoyed this regatta. The crew was great company. I learned a lot; I sailed better on the last day than on the first. The winds were both forceful and steady. Just what the boat wanted.”
And what would any Caribbean regatta be without a blowout party? Once again, St. Barths, home of the original Nikki Beach, did not disappoint. From table dancing to endless pours of champagne, the festivities went on all afternoon.
A few days later, the awards ceremony party, complete with fireworks, went on into the wee hours.
Hope to see you for the 12th Edition of Les Voiles de St. Barth. I know I wouldn’t miss it.