St Barths Bucket - A Bucket of Fun and a Playground
Posted Jan. 30, 2015, 11:05 a.m.
A Bucket Of Fun- And A Playground
By Hank Halsted
Photography by Tim Wright
(Yachting Matters Edition 27 Autumn/Winter)
On Thursday, 27 March the waterfront in Gustavia was a hive of activity as 38 of the world’s most exceptional superyachts settled in from all parts of the Caribbean, making final preparations for the 19th sailing of the St. Barths Bucket. With over 800 top sailors from all parts of the Globe and big wind on tap, all pieces were in place for another spectacular Supersail event.
This year’s fleet included eight new builds with two modern classics from Royal Huisman, the 49m ketch, Kamaxitha, and 39m cutter, Pamula, both by Dykstra design. Two new Perini Navi Yachts from Ron Holland design had their debut, the 58m Seahawk and the new 40m State Of Grace. The brilliant green Piillippe Briande 33m carbon Sloop, Inoui and 46m Dubois Sloop Ganesha, both by Vitters Shipyard also joined the fleet, along with the new 50m Fitzroy sloop, Ohana and 27m Oyster, Lush. The fleet was rounded out with 30 returning yachts encompassing the full spectrum of design, from last year’s Bucket winner Adela, the Pendennis rebuilt 1903 classic schooner, to the most modern 67m cutting edge carbon ketch by Baltic Yachts, Hetairos. If lined up end to end, you would be able to feast your eyes on over a mile of the finest superyachts on the planet!
Several practice days had been undertaken with intense seriousness, particularly in view of the windy forecast. The first official event was the SYRA superyacht rules seminar, a review of the latest essential rules for collision avoidance among these behemoths. The Skippers Meeting and welcome party followed, along with an Owners reception at the Eden Roc Resort.
Friday dawned with an air of anticipation for a serious day of superyacht competition and a bit of relief, when the morning’s forecast called for slightly moderated 20 - 22 knot breezes, down from the previously forecast 25 plus. The fleet alongside were dancing in their slips, straining at their anchor and docklines with the onset of the northwesterly swell, as though the yachts themselves, couldn’t wait to get the best of the perfect Caribbean conditions.
Immediately following the morning safety briefing, yachts and crews began the choreography of getting twenty superyachts off the dock in just over an hour, hauling two anchors each, with divers untangling chains and the polished dock staff under direction of Port Director Ernest Brin, turning potential pandemonium into a well organized parade of spectacular proportions.
For the Round the Island Race, the cruising division “Grandes Dames de la Mer” and “Les Elegantes”, the Spirit of Tradition class, sailed a 21 mile course counter clockwise around St. Barths. The performance oriented “Mademoiselles” and the racing class “Gazelles des Mers” sailed an additional 3.5 miles around the Groupers. As anticipated, the conditions were heavy, with much of the fleet starting the upwind leg under shortened sail and all the yachts throwing water as they pounded their way into the seas. The reach, then run down the north side of St. Barths saw all the yachts set spinnakers for a hull speed drag race to Isle Fourche, then an upwind close fetch in smooth water to the finish. In these conditions it was a perfect course for all yachts to strut their stuff to their best potential.
The results were some of the closest of the regatta. Among Les Grandes Dames, it was a Perini Navi day in the sun with their two new launches; 58m Seahawk then 40m State Of Grace, crossing the line just 40 seconds apart, with Altair another 40 seconds later in third. The finishes were even closer among Les Mademoiselles, with Bequia finishing 20 seconds ahead of 37m Moonbird and Oyster 100’ Sarafin, 30 seconds later. Les Elegantes was handily won by the 55m Classic Vitters Ketch Marie, and among Les Gazelles de Mers, the 45m Baltic Sloop, Visione was the clear winner.
The Open House festivities got underway, literally on the way back to the quay. Axia, sporting her 007 theme, had converted her tender with a perfectly painted plywood skin, into James Bond’s Aston Martin which sped into the anchorage under attack by two Jet Skis with drivers in Black Tie! The uproar lasted only until the local constabulary intervened to have a chat with the operators about the five knot speed limit. In the meantime, Axia’s entire crew had re-dressed in full evening clothes, the men in black tie and the women in long evening dresses, with an elegantly clad singer belting out the Bond theme songs, well amplified. These guys can really make an entrance!
Friday’s St. Barths Bucket Open House was simply the best ever. Picking up on Axia’s video invitation to the fleet, previously delivered by email with Axia filmed under sail, framed through the barrel of Bond’s gun, and the graphic invitation to “Axia, Shaken Not Stirred”, the rest of the fleet went over the top on hospitality. Axia opened their casino in the main salon with a Martini Bar, roulette and other games of chance. Silencio wrapped their entire flybridge with huge ribbons, entertained with live reggae and served an alleged two dozen varieties of great Caribbean rum. Seahawk displayed an epicurean knowledge of Disco at full volume while their scantily clad sailor suited go-go dancers, had their way with the support poles for the flybridge and bimini top in a way that had this writer considering a next life. . . re-cast as a piece of Perini Navi ornamental 3” Stainless tubing! Those dancers were good! The party ran through most of the 20 yachts alongside, and it went late. The rhythm and revelry created a pulse that pervaded Gustavia and set the whole town rocking. Late night at Jean-Marc’s Baz Bar, Jimmy Buffet showed up for an impromptu set that filled all the tables with dancers. It was indeed, one of those nights that’s difficult to remember and hard to forget.
The real stars of this show were the yacht crews. While the party raged, so did the northwesterly surge, which had all the yachts straining their lines to a degree that caused real concern with all the boarding passerelles swinging 50 inch ellipses at a moderate clip. This meant for each person boarding, a total of several thousand times that evening, timing was everything. Step up or down at just the right moment, or crash. Tending lines, passarelles and guests with utmost care, a potentially dangerous situation was mitigated with sublime professionalism – and not a single swimmer.
Saturday’s “Not So Wiggly” course through and around the islands to the north of St.
Barths was sailed in slightly less wind and moderate seas, basically another perfect Caribbean day. The name of the race is misleading, considering the circuitous course with many short legs and heading changes that require up to three spinnaker sets and takedowns, which can be grueling aboard yachts of this size. The complexity of the course has the fleet frequently converging in close quarters, which heightens the stakes, keeping navigators and safety officers fully focused on maintaining the essential 40m margin of safety.
A few situations developed which if not well managed, could have been costly. At one point, while clearing Roche Table, a 23’ high tiny rock island, six yachts rounded abreast, each maintaining the required 40m separation, among a cacophony of well modulated, professional VHF chatter on safety channel #17. Meteor’s spinnaker exploded shortly after her near perfect downwind start, but she quickly got it under control, reset headsails and carried on to win for the Grandes Dammes. Marie also shredded a spinnaker and had to retrieve it from the drink, but carried on to be placed third among Les Elegantes, behind the magnificent Hoek design 55m Ketch, Adele and Unfurled, the 34m Frers Sloop by Royal Huisman in first place.
Another “hard” rounding mark, Roche de la Boef, caused intrigue as well, which in both cases could have been disastrous if not well managed by application of great professional instinctive reactions. The Perini Navi 45m, Clan VIII, briefly lost her steering while approaching the mark and was able to recover without incident while sailing in close quarters with the Perini 26m, Zenji. Earlier, Seahawk briefly went aground on her approach to Roche de la Boef, but was able to sail clear without using her engine to continue and finish the race in 5th place among the Grandes Dames. Marama was the winner among Les Mademoiselles and Cape Arrow won the Gazelle class.
With the yachts back alongside and a gentler surge massaging the fleet, the “Bucket
Bash” began when our friend “Soley”, took the stage. In his linen suit and with blonde dreadlocks held in place by a Panama hat, and his eclectic reggae, salsa, flamenco backup band, they struck a chord that stirred the pot perfectly for a Bucket of fun. Once again, at the center of the sailing universe the dancing carried on and the conversation never slowed down as all evening long, any time you turned around you’d see the next old friend with whom you’d shared great moments in sailing. Around about ten o’clock, at the height of the party, Jimmy Buffet joined Soley on stage for a magnificent set of tunes that have propelled a generation of sailors, and their sons and their sons. . . This was a party favor beyond imagination – and a hell of a good time!
It was “all in” for Sunday’s “Wrong Way Around the Island” race, clockwise around St. Barths, with the top spots up for grabs in all four classes. The tradewinds were still in gear, serving up 15-18 knots on yet another perfect sailing day in paradise. The majority of the tactical action took place while tacking upwind on the north side of the island, where the geographically generated lifts and shifts rewarded those that managed to stay on the favored board. The incentive for short tacking must be mitigated by the fact that on yachts of this size, it can take five full minutes to get back to speed from tack to tack and therefore, they must be minimized and well timed. Those who thread this needle to best advantage come out on top of the fleet. This also creates exciting sailing and a lot of crossing situations in close quarters, which kept the safety officers fully engaged.
The closest racing was among Les Gazelles, with the cutting edge Hetairos winning the day, followed a minute and nine seconds later by Visione,. It’s interesting to note that Visione’s start time was one minute later than Hetairos, so what was lost in 24.5 miles of serious professional racing, was nine seconds! Saudade finished a minute later in third, a great performance after having spent the first two days sidelined by a breakdown and a heroic 48 hour full focus repair.
With only four points separating the top four places among the Grandes Dames for the regatta, the top spots were a toss up. Silencio’s clear win put her in third place for the series. When Clan VIII crossed the line a thin five seconds ahead of Seahawk, it knocked the latter out of the winner’s spot into second, with nine points overall. Altair sailed a great race around the island and massaged the shifts well to claim second place on Sunday and first in Class overall.
Among Les Mademoiselles, it was the 110’ Alloy Yachts Ketch, Blue Too that won the day, finishing three and a half minutes ahead of Bequia, with Moonbird a minute later in third. Varsovie was first across of Les Elegantes, followed by Marie then Unfurled, in third.
The Awards Celebration for the Bucket was hosted by the government of St.Barths, in the shoreside courtyard of the Hotel de Ville government offices. Over a thousand locals and sailors were in attendance to share in the festivities, with libations flowing and a party spirit that still wouldn’t quit. As the awards were announced, the local sound technician Chou Chou could not restrain himself from blasting a hard rock accompaniment which set the winners dancing on and off the stage in a remarkable atmosphere of celebration.
The first order of business at the awards was a hearty thank-you to the entire community of St. Barths for their warm reception and hospitality. The fleet’s gratitude was made tangible with the donation of a check in the amount of €20,000, for improvements to the St. Josephs School playground. There could be no better fitting contribution from the Bucket fleet than a playground!!
The Class Winners Altair, Bequia, Nilaya and Marie were each presented with a limited edition, custom Chelsea Clock and a magnum of Taittinger Champagne. As a consequence of the party atmosphere, not a lot of the champagne made it off the stage and plenty was sprayed about. The overall winner of the 2014 St. Barths Bucket was the magnificent Marie, who’s entire crew stormed the stage, with the female contingent in wild headdresses and dancing the chica-chica jig in exuberant celebration of a great regatta, well sailed.