Perseverance was the key to victory today in four classes (Gazelles, Elegantes, Mademoiselles, Grande Dames) sailing their last and final race at the 2015 St Barths Bucket Regatta. Sailing the "wrong way around" course meant the 35 competing superyachts launched their massive spinnakers at the start and took a clockwise tour of the island, testing sailing skills with a particularly lengthy beat up the backside. And though the superyachts, for safety's sake, sail by rules that keep them at least 40 metres apart at all times, the competition was as close as anyone could wish for.
Winning the day in Gazelles was the 44.9-metre sloop Visione, which also took overall regatta honors to win the coveted "Bucket," which was held high with victor's pride by owner Hasso Plattner at the final awards ceremony.
"When P2 was winning, we knew we had to be second," said Visione's tactician Jens Christiansen, explaining that in the pursuit-style format used here, Visione had started 18 minutes after the 38.1-metre Perini Navi sloop P2 and 15 minutes after the 33.4-metre Vitters Shipyard sloop Inoui, which had been second and third, respectively, behind Visione going into today. "Things got tense when we broke a code sail sheet on the way to the first mark. We got another sheet on and thought we had it under control when bang, it broke again. We really had it highly loaded; we didn't lose boats but we lost 400-500 metres." Thankfully, things went uphill after that. "We caught them (P2) quite quickly and passed them on the other side of the island, beating them by quite a lot in the end. The 10-11 knot winds suited us well. We were sailing very fast on the long beat, going farther out because we are that much faster than anybody else and staying clear of other boats in other classes so as not to get entangled in them tacking on each other."
Visione's first Bucket was in 2004, and the yacht has competed in half a dozen or so Buckets since. Built in 2003, well before many others here, she is still the boat to beat on principle. "We are the fastest, and we always start last. With the old rating, however, we always had to sail more than a perfect race to be able to win. We've been close by finishing second overall once or twice, but never winning. Now with the new rating system (captured within the new ORCsy rule), we can win."
P2 took a sixth in the race to fall behind Visione and runner-up Inoui (which finished second today), in the overall standings.
The 30.2-metre sloop Cape Arrow, chartered by Pier Luigi Loro Piana, turned in all second-place finishes to top the Mademoiselles.
"We did two very good races on the first two days and managed to stay in front of boats that were faster upwind than we were," said Cape Arrow's tactician Thomaso Chieffi, veteran of four America's Cup campaigns and a Volvo Ocean Race winner (as tactician aboard ABN Amro). "Today, we weren't hoping to win the series; we were looking to maintain our second, but with the little change of rating that occurred overnight to the leading boat (Bequia, which won both race one and race two and took on five more minutes of handicap for race three, in which she finished sixth) and the fact that today was more our race, it made us eventually score a second and win the series overall. We are very pleased with the result. It came a little bit out of the blue, but we feel somehow that we deserve it. For peace of mind we checked the results, and we would have won the series regardless of the rating change."
The 46.4-metre Royal Huisman ketch Elfje started 21 minutes behind the 44.6-metre schooner Adela and edged her out at the finish by eight seconds to win in Elegantes today. The two boats ended up sharing overall class victory in the interest of an amicable resolution to a safety rule debate, while close contender Marie, the 54.6-metre Vitters Shipyard ketch that had been tied with Adela and Elfje going into today, finished sixth for a third overall.
"This was one of the more interesting dilemmas I have come across in my 22 years of race management," said Race Chairman Peter Craig. "In short, the new ORCsy rule rounds to 30 seconds for starts in the interest of safe racing — a requirement for superyacht racing. When the first 2 races were rescored because of an inadvertent measurement issue with one certificate, the rounding factor was the difference in determining the class winner. With the two yachts overlapped at the finish of the final deciding race, the suggestion for dual class winners by Elfje and Adela is an example of good sportsmanship that is in line with the spirit of the Bucket. The two owners and crews are to be commended."
As for the ORCsy rule that is in its infancy and was being closely analyzed here, Elfje's tactician Mike Sanderson said, "It's going to be brilliant. It's going to take superyacht racing from being pure entertainment to something where we can compete properly and know how to change things each year to perform better."
Taking overall victory in Grand Dames, the 37.6 metre ketch Axia was spot-on with its timing at today's start and went on to turn in an equally brilliant performance over the course of the day to beat out yesterday's leader, the 55.9-metre Perini Navi ketch Rosehearty.
"Today was by definition, truly a medium-wind day," said tactician Robbie Doyle. "If it had been a light-wind course, we would have owed Rosehearty more time, and it would have been really tough for us. They would have had another five or six minutes, which is what we beat them by." Doyle was explaining the race committee's choice each day, under the new rule, to officially designate the wind conditions as light, medium or high, which in turn effects starting times and sometimes order of starts within classes. "When the medium-wind flag went up, we knew it was going to be a good race for us, especially because it was on the bottom edge of medium, which favors us. Still, it was a tough day, Rosehearty sailed a good race. We caught her at the top mark by setting ourselves up on a lay line that was right on, knowing that if they tacked right in front of us they may not make it. They decided to continue on to do a conservative approach to the lay line, and we just got our bow through them and were able to squeeze them up and hurt them, forcing them to sail right."
In addition to the ORCsy rule being used here for the first time, the 2015 Bucket Regatta this year featured new stewards in ownership: Perini Navi, Royal Huisman, Vitters Shipyard and Rybovich.
On crucial day two of racing, challenges posed by lightening winds and the Bucket's famous "Not So Wiggly" course were a blessing to some, a curse to others. Gazelles and Elegantes sailed the long version of the course, which at just over 25 nautical miles, had been shortened by two nm to accommodate a finish well clear of a "no sail" zone needed for the start of the afternoon's Bucket Air Show, while likewise, the Mademoiselles and Grande Dames sailed a shortened version (20 nm) of the short course, which started near the entrance to the Port of Gustavia and meandered around several islands lying to the northwest of St. Barths.
The 54.6-metre Vitters Shipyard ketch Marie, yesterday's leader in Elegantes, battled long and hard with the 44.6-metre schooner Adela again today. "Yesterday we sailed through them just on the last beat and won by a few boat lengths; today we weren't quite so lucky," said Marie's Captain Wes Cooper. "We had a bigger battle with Elfje right behind us, to actually hold her off, and Adela got away from us." The three teams are now in a three-way tie for first with four points each.
Seemingly with ease, Jes Staley steered his 27.7-metre yawl Bequia, the only wooden boat here, to victory today, maintaining the lead he established yesterday in Mademoiselles. "We didn't do anything wrong today," said Staley, whose crew consists of several young sailors from the UK, including Mark Campbell James who co-helms. "We minimized our tacking, hit all the sets right, and all of our jibes went really well. We had a nice dual with Drumfire for a while… she passed us about halfway through the race, so we had to work to get back in front again. Then we had Cape Arrow (which finished second) bearing down on top of us; she has now been second twice in our class, so I'm sure tomorrow we'll see her bearing down on us again at some point, and that will be the race."
This is Bequia's fourth Bucket; she won her class last year by a hair, and Staley said it's the only regatta the yacht participates in. As such, he knows what to expect. "Yesterday's race around the island (counter-clockwise), that's the best course for us. Always toughest for us is day three (around the island clockwise); it's a long beat up the back end of the island. We have a beautiful but flared bow, so if we have a really hard beat into a good ocean swell we slow down a lot more than the modern boats do."
In Grand Dames, the 55.9-meter Perini Navi ketch Rosehearty also kept her overall lead from yesterday, but the 37.6-meter ketch Axia won the day with a handsome lead over Rosehearty, which slipped by the 56-metre Perini Navi ketch Zenji well into the race to take second place.
The 33-metre sloop Win Win, after winning yesterday in Gazelles, crossed the finish line in first again today, but was disqualified after a protest by the 33.4-metre Vitters Shipyard sloop Inoui. The jury concluded that Win Win did not give Inoui sufficient room as they were approaching Roche le Beouf, an island serving as a leeward mark. As a result, the 44.9-metre sloop Visione became today's winner and moves to the top of the scoreboard with the 38-metre Perini Navi P2 following in second and Inoui in third.
Fort Oscar, directly across the harbor from the Capitainerie headquarters for the Bucket, provided the perfect perch for watching the start of the first of three races planned over the next three days here in St. Barths. And by the crowd that turned out there, it was clear that the word had spread about the spectacle 35 superyachts would create on the water as they started their opening-day counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island. In medium winds and flat seas, Gazelles and Elegants (Class A and Class B, respectively) took to the long course of 25.2 nautical miles, while the Mademoiselles and Grandes Dames made the medium course of 20.9 nautical miles their pleasure.
With four classes there could be only four winners, and today those were the 33-metre sloop Win Win, the 54.6 Vitters ketch Marie, the 27.7-metre Bequia and the 55.9 metre Perini Navi Rosehearty.
Marie, which won her class and the coveted overall "Bucket" title last year, edged out long-time rival, the 44.6-metre Adela, in Gazelles by a minute and a half, even though Adela started 11 minutes ahead in the pursuit-style start.
"We were closing on her quite quickly on the penultimate leg when we were both running with our chutes toward the last bottom mark," said Peter Wilson, one of Marie's sail trimmers, "but it wasn't until the last beat and 10 minutes before the finish that we actually got by her. We were both trying to lay the finish, and we had to get past them, so we put our bow down and tried to sail through them. We were abeam of them for quite a while." Wilson explained that a left-hand shift helped Marie finally take the day. "We were clear ahead at that point, but it all depended on whether we had to tack to the finish or not. Had things gone a slightly different way, Adela could have beaten us, so the boats are well-matched and well-rated. "
Rosehearty, winner in the nine-boat Grand Dames class, beat out Zenji by about 13 minutes. Her tactician Paul Cayard said key to the crew's success was practice, making no mistakes, and pushing the boat to its full potential.
"One of the biggest tricks with this boat is maneuverability," said Cayard, who made his name in the Star class and as a skipper of America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race boats. "Maneuvering takes 10 times longer, so the key is to plan 12 minutes ahead. Having everyone know their roles and executing well is important."
Though 15 seconds late on the start, Rosehearty tacked early at the first mark, which was critical to the entire race. "We were spot-on, which set us on a confident course."
Class runner-up Zenji had started four minutes prior, and crew man Mike Toppa said it was when Rosehearty "cut the corner on us on the first beat" that they were first passed. "We caught up with them, got bow-to-bow, but they put their spinnaker up quicker," he said. "They deserve to win."
As for the first try here using the ORCsy rule, Toppa said, "I love it. We saw last week at Loro Piana that it was really accurate, and the test was the bigger boats and ketches – boats with more than one mast…how was it going to go? It was a really good starting point, much better than it has ever been before. Everyone's positive and happy about it."
Tom Whidden, another America's Cup veteran with 12 or more Bucket regattas under his belt, agreed. (He is serving as tactician on the 37.2-metre Vitters sloop Ghost, which finished fifth today among the Gazelles.)
"If you didn't like today, you don't like sailing," he said, describing conditions as "typical of St. Barths, with easterly trade winds ranging from 13-16 knots. "Change is always good, and owners are enthusiastic to see if there is a more equitable system than what we've been using. These boats are very difficult to handicap properly, and there are a lot of good, smart people who are trying to do that. As long as we have people who care about this involved (with the rule), we'll do well. Afterall, you can't find a more fantastic place to sail or more beautiful big boats in the world, so if we can find a way to make the racing better, more people will do it and everybody benefits."
The St Barths Bucket Regatta 2015: Destined for More Greatness
One by one they have filled the Quay in Gustavia Harbor, claiming each Med-style berth fully from stem to stern and beam to beam, with a matter-of-factness that they are as grand as any yachts ever built in this world. And indeed they are, if you include them with a second grouping of superyachts moored in the outer harbor and likewise preparing for a glamourous long weekend of "Bucket" racing off St. Barths.
Even a handful of these superyachts with rigs towering as high as 15 stories and hulls stretching to 58.6 meters (as Seahawk, Perini Navi -built ketch, does so graciously as the largest entrant) would be jaw-dropping as a collection. But gathered here are 35 of the extraordinary behemoths (the smallest, Drumfire, measures in at a not-so-shabby 24 metres), with owners, professional crews, invited sailors (both legendary and not-so) plus guests and industry giants manning stations onboard during racing and mingling for fun and a wee bit of networking "aprés race" on the docks and at social events.
"Our goal was to keep this the way it always has been: an event by the industry for owners," said Bruce Brakenhoff of Perini Navi, which joined Royal Huisman, Vitters Shipyard and Rybovich as joint stewards of the Bucket Regattas (a summer edition is held in Newport, R.I.) when the former owners were ready to pass the torch. "It's an event that's fun, exciting, and dynamic – a spectacle with some racing thrown into the middle of it. It's not about capitalizing on anything other than the fun and glory of these giant, beautiful boats. And everyone makes out. Owners find a whole new way to have a terrific time with their yachts and make new friends; industry supporters have a way to show their wares and make contacts; and then we and the other partners have a chance to do something for our owners, so that they'll have fun and, who knows, maybe they'll buy, build or refit another boat someday."
New-builds (2014) for viewing pleasure here are Royal Huisman's Andre Hoek-designed 46 metre Elfje, with its traditional plumb bow yet ever-modern shallow under-hull and deep lifting keel, and Win Win, the 33-metre Baltic, designed by Javier Jaudenes, that incorporates a minimalist approach to radical detailing such as an automated glass bulkhead that opens between saloon and cockpit.
Indeed all the superyachts here, whether new or broken in, are cool in their own right, with differing technologies, rigs, layouts, interiors, and finishes. A case in point: one of the six first-timers here, the 50 metre Tripp-designed Wally Better Place, presents herself futuristically with a flybridge that looks like a suspended second deck. (Other first timers are the Vitters-built 49-metre Thalia, celebrating her 21st birthday; the 33-metre Sunleigh; 29-metre Windfall; 28-metre Freya, and the aforementioned Drumfire.) Yet, as different as they all are in look and feel, when it gets right down to it, it's about equalizing the vessels for racing within each of four classes: Les GAZELLES des Mers, Les ELEGANTES des Mers, Les MADEMOISELLES des Mers, and Les GRANDES DAMES des Mers.
To that end, newly applied this year will be an Offshore Racing Congress Superyacht rule, or ORCsy, that has effectively replaced the ISYR and Bucket Rules of old. Using boat measurements and declared design data, it looks to better handicap the extreme disparities in these superyachts, making the racing more fair and "transparent" when it comes to understanding the applied science of the rule.
Sponsors of the St Barths Bucket Regatta are Alloy Yachts and Holland Jachtbouw. Supporting sponsors are Affinity Management Services, Burgess, Camper & Nicholsons, Doehle Yachts, Doyle Sailmakers, Dubois NA, Dykstra NA, Future Fibres, MTN, Newport Shipyard, North Sails, Pantaenius, Pendennis, Skuld Yacht, the Superyacht Report, Tradewind Aviation, US Trust, Willis, ZIS Insurance.