Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Image copyright Marie.
by Sabina Mollart-Rogerson
When the stage lights are switched on for the second annual Les Voiles de St. Barth, it is a sure bet that the production, set for April 4-9, will deliver an unforgettable experience for its participating sailors, their friends and families. After all, what other regatta claims Jimmy Buffett as its “godfather” or the world-famous French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier as one of its devotees? And what other regatta reaps the benefits of being held on an unspoiled yet sophisticated island, during its off-peak tourist season, no less, when fine French food and wine are in abundance without the wait at popular harbor-side restaurants and where accommodations at boutique hotels and private villas—the most stylish of which are coveted by celebrities in the high season--are easier to come by and, better yet, less pricey?
“The Les Voiles de St. Barth is about the whole island of Saint Barthelemy in the shoulder season and how it represents a West Indian paradise like no other,” said Donald Tofias, a Newport, R.I. (USA) resident who ships his two W-76 yachts White Wings and Wild Horses to St. Barth every year in late October and, like Buffett and Demarchelier, has established himself as more than just an accidental tourist here. “It is about the island’s personalities, the local bands playing every night on the docks, the top chefs and wine cellars being involved, and the entire community being involved in the experience of a friendly, easy-going regatta.”
Last year, Tofias, whose W yachts have claimed a bundle of trophies from victories in New England, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, won his class skippering Wild Horses, and will steer White Wings this year with a “United Nations of crew” comprised of 15 or more from the United States, St. Barth, St. Martin and Antigua.
As for Demarchelier, he also will steer his own yacht, the Swan 45 Puffy, in the regatta.
Cruising fleet. Image copyright Christophe Jouany.
Since the late 1970s, Demarchelier has photographed covers for nearly every major fashion magazine in the world, including Vogue and Elle, and has—better than anyone perhaps--brought global attention to the island’s idyllic settings by his own through-the-lense infatuation with them.
“I have not too much time to do other regattas, so this is special to me,” he said about his upcoming get-away from his busy schedule and studio in New York. “The conditions are always fantastic, with 15-20 knots, blue sky and beautiful waters.”
With a mix of professionals and island locals included on Puffy’s initial crew roster, it will not surprise anyone if the President of St. Barth, Bruno Magras, showed up to sail, since he did so last year with Demarchelier and has gone on record as being fully committed to raising the status of Les Voiles de St. Barth as a premier sailing event in the Caribbean.
James Dobbs of Antigua, who races and lives aboard his J/122 Lost Horizon in the Caribbean in the winter, will be one of Demarchelier’s main competitors, as he won his class here last year (the same one in which Puffy sailed), and he has every intention of doing so again this year. Even with only just one year under its belt, the Les Voiles de St. Barth is already a fixture on Dobbs’ competitive racing schedule. “For me, it is on the way back to Antigua,” said Dobbs. “I enjoy it because it has a different French flair to it.”
Moneypenny. Image copyright Christophe Jouany.
That is not to mention the intimate harbor of Gustavia serving as regatta central or the magnificent Caribbean Sea, which serves up dependable trade winds and stunning vistas with every new tack—those are at the very core of every racing sailor’s best dreams.
“The regatta got a great start last year, and you will see a whole range of sailors and boats that typically race in Europe, New England and the Caribbean showing up here,” said Donald Tofias. “Word has gotten around, people love coming here, and all the right things are in place. Soon it will be the size of some of the other Caribbean events; that is my prediction.”
And where will Jimmy Buffett be in all this? Suffice it to say, he owns a home in St. Barth, is an avid sailor, and often jams with local musicians. His blessing of the regatta is inherent in his “godfather” title, so other than that, the organizers are being hush-hush. Like fine wine, some things uncorked are better if they sit for a bit before being savored with the main meal.
The regatta has thus far signed up 50 yachts in five classes: Super Maxi, Racing, Racing/Cruising, Classic, and Racing Multihull. Among other notables registered are Mike Slade's (UK) 100-foot Farr design Leopard 3, George David’s (Hartford, Conn.), Rambler 100, Richard Balding’s (UK) Swan 60 Fenix, Jim Swartz’s (Park City, Utah) Vesper/Team Moneypenny and Lloyd Thornburg’s (Santa Fe, N.M.) multihull Phaedo.
Les Voiles de St Barth