Strong maxi turn-out for Les Voiles de St Barth

The International Maxi Association’s Caribbean Maxi Challenge resumes tomorrow with its third event, Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille.

Based out of Gustavia in the paradise French Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy, the event has bounced back, after a two year absence due to the pandemic, with a near record attendance of 68 yachts. The line-up includes nine maxis, racing under IRC across two classes, and a further six competing in CSA 3.

Blue yacht sailing upwind.
Wendy Schmidt’s Deep Blue is making its Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille debut. Pic IMA / Studio Borlenghi

A favourite among maxi owners and crews, Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille has attracted several of the most competitive of the US fleet with George David’s Rambler 88 highest rated ahead of Wendy Schmidt’s Botin Partners 85 Deep Blue and the two former Maxi 72s, Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente and Jim Swartz’s Vesper, in the Maxi 1 class. All are ‘repeat customers’, although for Wendy Schmidt, who competed previously on her Swan 80 Selene, this will be the first time with Deep Blue.

Crew grinding on winches in cockpit.
On board Jim Swartz’s Vesper during training today. Pic – Christophe Jouany

Tactician and project manager Rob Macmillan commented: “We are very excited to be back in St Barts. It is our second event in the IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge and we continue to be excited competing in this series. It is windy down here, which is great for our team and we are looking forward to some really good completion.

“We have got four race boats in our class – all of them are incredibly well sailed. We have made great improvements in terms of boat set-up and our crew is world class, so we are confident.”

The most regular competitor is George David’s Rambler 88, having won here in 2015. His crew is the usual all-star cast of America’s Cup and round the world race legends, led by tactician and four time America’s Cup winner, Brad Butterworth, who said: “We love to come here – it is one of the nicest spots in the Caribbean to sail. Usually there is plenty of breeze and lots of reaching, which suits us. The conditions are as good as you can get – it is like Sardinia [Porto Cervo] when it is windy there. It is a beautiful place to sail.”

The Maxi 2 class is more international, including the Mills 68 Prospector, campaigned by a syndicate from Shelter Island in Long Island Sound, plus a strong European turn-out including Italian Luigi Sala on the Vismara 62 Yoru, Fabio Scalzi’s Swan 68 Defiance, Sergio Llorca Swan 651 Papirusa and the CNB 66 Umaren of Ad Illel.

Competing in CSA 3 are several more: three CNB yachts – the 66 Espace of Karl Volker Frank and two Bordeaux 60s, Mikan Markovic’s Nina and Dumia of Germany’s Hans-Peter Howaldt. But perhaps the best competition will be between the three Swans – Shahid Hamid’s 58 OM II, Adrian Lee’s 60, Lee Overlay Partners II and the 601 Stark Raving Mad VII of American Jim Madden.

Madden is another past competitor here and loves St Barts, where he regularly vacations and once celebrated his engagement. “This is a very civilised island. It’s in the Caribbean but doesn’t really feel like it and the level of competition with the other boats here, like Bella Mente and Vesper, is fantastic.”

For Madden this is his 11th season campaigning his Swan 601 which was delivered recently from its regular base in San Diego. Conditions in St Barts always deliver, he says: “This week it looks like ‘breeze on’ until Wednesday. After layday [on Thursday] it looks it might be a bit lighter. So I am happy to be on the Swan! In our J/145 [Stark Raving Mad II] when we won our class, it was a riot – but we needed seat belts!”

Aerial shot of island, sporadic cloud formation.
The paradise Caribbean island of St Barts. Pic – Christophe Jouany

Five days of racing at Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille will take place from Monday to Saturday with a layday on Thursday. With the wind forecast to be easterly and into the 20s for the first three days, the organisers are planning on setting courses in the lee of St Barts.

Benoît de Froidmont, President of the International Maxi Association, who this year is ‘Ambassador’ of the event, said: “This is always an amazing race and the strong turn-out for this first year of the IMA’s Caribbean Maxi Challenge is an extremely positive sign. We have full-on racers like Rambler 88 and the Maxi 72s to several strong 60 footers and it is nice to meet some IMA members from the US like Jim Madden who we don’t often see in the Mediterranean.

“As an island St Barts is extremely pleasant and its organisers are passionate people who have been working on it for 11 years now. It is a great success and the maxi participation can only grow in future years.”

François Tolède, who co-founded the event with Luc Poupon, welcomed the maxi fleet. “After the pandemic, we saw a real commitment from the maxis. Now with the IMA and the Caribbean Maxi Challenge and the RORC Transatlantic Race acting as feeder race, it is getting stronger and stronger, building momentum here in the Caribbean. We’re now 11 years old – after 10 years you are ‘established’. People seem to appreciate the ‘French’ touch the food, the hotels, the culture, etc.

“I would like to thank Richard Mille and all of the partners, who have stayed with us over the last years and 95% of whom have re-signed for the next four or five years. That is the best news for this event to expand and develop.”

By James Boyd / International Maxi Association

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