Everyone can see the islands. It’s what the wind is doing behind them — within the shadow or “lee” of the land — and the way every staff reacts that may decide the winners at Les Voiles de St. Barth.
Most regatta racecourses are set on open water using movable buoys — set consistent with the wind — as their turning marks. These windward-leeward programs create tactically partaking racing that exams every staff’s means to sail quick at two wind angles: upwind‚ or into the wind, and downwind, or with the wind.
Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille, which begins on Sunday off Saint Barthélemy, whose nicknames embody St. Barth and St. Barts, within the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, as a substitute leverages the island’s shoreline, its quite a few satellite tv for pc islands and rock outcroppings, and a few buoys to create typically serpentine programs for the competing 74 groups.
These programs typically embody reaching legs, the place yachts sail roughly perpendicular to the wind.
“It’s unusual,” mentioned Susan Glenny, skipper of Olympia’s Tigress, a Bénéteau First 40, concerning the regatta’s use of close by islands and rocks, however not distinctive. Other races use geographical turning marks, she mentioned, however Les Voiles typically requires deeper expertise.
“You need to have some navigational seamanship skills,” she mentioned, pointing to the regatta’s often-challenging winds and seas. She described this race because the world’s finest regatta, however mentioned you couldn’t simply put sailors accustomed to inshore windward-leeward racing on its programs.
St. Barts is about 9 sq. miles, making it one of many Caribbean’s smaller islands. But, mentioned Luc Poupon, the regatta’s co-founder and race director, St. Barts is lucky to have 12 close by islands that can be utilized to create 28 programs that fluctuate in distance and surroundings.
The commerce winds, which usually blow 12 to 22 knots in April, attain the island’s jap — or windward — shores first, with some north-south variance.
“One thing that makes the regatta great is how predictable the trade winds are,” mentioned Jonathan McKee, a two-time Olympic medalist and the tactician aboard Fujin, a Bieker 53. But this isn’t to say that the wind blows evenly throughout a given course. “It’s not so much that the trade wind is changing direction, but it’s going around lots of rocks and islands,” he mentioned.
The present, which usually pushes saltwater towards St. Barts from the east, is one other issue. When the wind runs with the present, the seas normally flatten, making for quick and enjoyable crusing. When the commerce winds oscillate, the seas can construct.
Geography, commerce winds, and present can create tactically difficult lees. “The game is to avoid the light-air zones,” McKee mentioned, including that boats typically have to sail longer distances to take care of airflow over their sails.
“The islands have a unique role in the racecourse,” mentioned Dave Welch, proprietor of Flash, an HH 66. “There are wind holes, shadows, and gusts off the hillsides. The anticipation of these elements makes for a more strategic racing strategy. It’s much more challenging than open-air racecourses,” wherein air strikes freely over the water, with out affect from close by land plenty or rocks.
Stu Bannatyne, a four-time Volvo Ocean Race winner and former class winner, described Les Voiles de St. Barth’s challenges as managing site visitors, which means taking care of one’s racecourse place relative to the opposite yachts, navigating and anticipating the wind.
Racing yachts usually carry a list of sails. Each is designed and constructed for a particular vary of wind angles and velocities. This permits crews to match the prevailing situations. Hit this vary squarely, and boats will carry out properly; sail outdoors this window, and efficiency will endure.
Given that the majority of Les Voiles de St. Barth’s programs bend via each compass level as groups race across the islands, crews will see wind coming from all quarters throughout a typical race.
“You have to be good at transitions,” McKee mentioned, referring to sail modifications.
But altering sails can price time and introduce unforced errors, particularly if yachts are crusing into stiff headwinds and tough seas, so it’s essential for skippers and tacticians to nail their cost-benefit analyses.
Patrick LaRoche, the navigator aboard Triple Lindy, a Cookson 50, mentioned that it’s enjoyable to weigh the professionals and cons of adjusting sails for various legs. “We have the sails for all angles, but sometimes it doesn’t pay to do all the work on each scenario, especially when things may go wrong,” he mentioned.
This is especially true if a leg solely represents 5 or 10 minutes of crusing out of a three- to four-hour race.
“You need to make a call if it’s worth a few sail changes,” Bannatyne mentioned. “There’s never one right way to do this.”
This is the place expertise, and the flexibility to foresee what’s taking place within the lees and round bends, issues.
“You need to have a higher degree of meteorological-navigational awareness,” Glenny mentioned. Racing at Les Voiles de St. Barth, she mentioned, has “less to do with shifts and more to do with topography.”
Given St. Barts’s trade-wind situations and that the race organizers put up the following day’s course (or programs) every night, preparation typically begins early.
“The cool thing about geography-based racecourses is that you can plan things out in advance,” McKee mentioned, with regard to place and sail selection. “You can predict wind at the corners and make a game plan.”
There are additionally reefs and rocks.
“A couple of the islands and rocks are not quite accurately charted — or at all — so the challenge is to do your homework,” Bannatyne mentioned.
While the regatta’s guidelines require yachts to spherical all course marks in sure instructions (e.g., clockwise or counterclockwise), crews can typically reduce corners to save lots of distance. This usually works finest the place the land is decrease and the lee is smaller. McKee mentioned there was an artwork concerned in figuring out how a lot to chop a nook, and “a little luck.”
For instance, LaRoche mentioned that close to Pointe Toiny, on the east-southeastern shoreline of St. Barts, boats can reduce inside a rock that’s seen just under the floor. While he mentioned this was widespread technique, “it keeps me up at night.”
GPS-based chart-plotting applied sciences may also help. “I also overlay our tracks from previous races to see where we have successfully not hit things,” LaRoche mentioned.
While Les Voiles de St. Barth can check a staff’s mettle, it might additionally check every sailor’s health, particularly with quite a few sail modifications. “It can beat-up the crew quite quickly over the week,” LaRoche mentioned. “You have to manage everyone’s energy and focus each day.”
The result’s a day-sailing regatta that some veterans mentioned was extra harking back to the challenges of distance racing moderately than these of a customary windward-leeward race.
But, provided that Les Voiles de St. Barth unfurls off one of many Caribbean’s most unique and French-flavored islands, sailors can count on some upscale twists.
“For us, this is more of a compressed offshore race where you get to sleep in a nice villa every night instead of a hot bunk,” LaRoche mentioned, referring to the apply of sailors rotating bunks with their off-watch shipmates throughout offshore races.
McKee mentioned sailors have been drained on the finish of a day that usually includes six to seven hours of intense crusing.
But then, he mentioned, “you’re in the pool at a spectacular villa, overlooking the sea, with a drink in hand.”