Les Voiles de St Barth – a Caribbean regatta with style

By | Category: Travel destinations
Here, lloking quite serene, you wouldn't believe the sporting aggression that is about to take place

Here, looking quite serene, you wouldn’t believe the sporting aggression that is about to take place

In April 2010, Les Voiles de St Barth was created with a unique combination of sportsmanship and conviviality. In the first regatta, 28 boats with around 300 crewmembers registered. Famous sailors as Loïck Peyron, Lionel Péan, Ken Read and Peter Holmberg took up the gauntlet and this weeklong competition was both hard work and fun.

Almost immediately, Les Voiles de St Barth became a successful world-class nautical event and, in the following year, over 40 boats enrolled for the race. Managed by François Tolede and Luc Poupon, another famous French sailor, this event is different from any other sailing race. During the competition week Tuesday and Wednesday are race days, Thursday is race-free with Friday and Saturday being the two last race days. Every day, after the race, special events are scheduled for the crews and the local population, concerts, live music, entertainment and parties. On Wednesday night for example, it’s the crew party with a créole dinner on offer to all the crews at Shelly Beach, a charming beach close to the harbour. And on Thursday all crewmembers head to Nikky Beach for a beach-party day! Saturday night is the award ceremony followed by beautiful fire works over Gustavia harbour. And then on Sunday, everyone, sailors and local people alike, are all invited for a great picnic at Colombier beach.

This year the “Godfather” of the race was Ken Read, the multi awarded skipper who was also a challenger with the ultra sophisticated “Comanche“. About the spirit of Les Voiles de St Barth he declared: It’s not the daily grind of other regattas where you get up at six in the morning and you are working until eight at night. It’s super competitive, don’t get me wrong, but here, you can go diving at six in the morning, and by eight you can be enjoying the entertainment, the French restaurants, and the unique social side of things.That is maybe the reason why so many competitors come back year after year for this regatta which is now considered one of the top three Caribbean regattas.

fighting for the wind

fighting for the wind


For the race, the competitors are separated into nine classes, Maxi, Multihull, CSA 0 to 4 and Melges 24 – the smaller ones but which can sail at an average of 20 knots in good racing condition. Using the numerous small islands and rocks around St Bart’s the official race committee designed in advance 21 different racecourses of which one is chosen every morning depending on the wind direction and the weather forecast. The departure and arrival line are just outside Gustavia harbour.

To increase the difficulty of the race, the smaller boats start first, while the bigger classes turn around trying to be at the best place for their own start. An incredible traffic jam of beautiful sails ensues! When, finally, the Maxi class boats cross the departure line they soon have to make their way through dozens of slow-moving boats and these moving obstacles force the skippers to think their best tactics. The turns at the buoys are the places to see the reality of fights between boats and to observe the quality of each crew.

getting around the bouy first

getting around the bouy first

This year was the seventh, and for the first time the winds were a bit light. During the first two days the competition began with soft breezes and strong scraps in each class as each boat sought the best winds. Take for example the CSA 0 class; after sailing 31 miles Vesper was able to cross the finish line just six boat lengths ahead of Spookie. In April, winds normally blow between 15 to 20 knots, but this year the Friday race had to be cancelled due to its lack.

On Saturday, for the last race,  the wind was around 6-8 knots and that allowed each crew to take up the challenge and to show their best light-wind sailing techniques. That day the race was on a 20 miles counter-clockwise course around the island offering splendid vistas of the coasts of St Bart’s. But luck is part of any nautical race. Sadly one of the competitors, the Maxi 72 Momo which led the entire way around the island, got a huge windless hole near the finish and the maxi Proteus with which they were tied for first place, was able to sail around them and put a gap of 20 boat lengths between them at the finish. A beautiful duel! And Stu Bannatyne the skipper of Proteus said, “it’s a cliché, but it’s never over until it’s over“.

while the followers crowd on the sail

while the followers crowd on the sail

St Barthélémy, known by locals and anyone who has ever been there as St Barth or St Bart’s, has green hills and a rocky coast with beautiful white sandy beaches, idyllic coves and turquoise waters.  It is what you would expect a Caribbean island to be like. The climate in the French West Indies, as at many other Caribbean islands, has a year-round average temperature of 83°F. From end of August to mid October, it’s the season of heavy winds and strong rains, so during that period the island returns to its ancient tranquillity and, if you can bear the rain, this a quiet time to get good accommodation rates and peace and quiet. And it doesn’t rain every day either!

St Bart’s is the best Caribbean place to go if you really don’t like the word “budget”. It’s a tiny island but it’s known as the Garden of Eden for its ultra upscale guests. The island is very secure and safe. People don’t lock their cars, they are not afraid to walk in the streets even late at night or early in the morning People mainly speak English yet you have an ambience of France with all the services you are used to finding there. The money is the euro but US dollars are accepted everywhere. If you spend a few hours in Gustavia strolling along the streets or sitting on a terrace of a café don’t be surprised if you bump into a famous Russian billionaire, well known sportsmen, famous actresses, or owners and managers of great industrial groups. They enjoy St Bart’s because there they can have a sort of a “normal” life whatever that means for the super-rich and super-famous.

Gustavia from the sea

Gustavia from the sea

The shopping in Gustavia which is, at the same time, the capital, the harbour and the only town of the island, is a must. Gustavia has a colonial-Caribbean atmosphere and throughout the year there are various festivals and cultural events.

In Gustavia you will find international leading brands, but visit “Ascony & Bart’s” an elegant concept store mixing its own fashion collection for men and accessories with aviation antiques, backgammon sets the like of which I have never seen elsewhere and Cuban cigars and humidors.

St Barth’s is also famous for its numerous restaurants offering French and Caribbean cuisine. My preferred restaurant is Tamarin on the Route des Salines. Hidden in a beautiful exotic garden, Tamarin – managed by Paco and Julie – offers a delicate gastronomic and inventive cuisine served with exceptional customer service. Although away from Gustavia, advance booking is needed. It’s also a perfect place for a romantic dinner.

My personal list also includes 3 restaurants in Gustavia:

Gustavia is a harbour, a town, the capital and the place to dinem

Gustavia is a harbour, a town, the capital and the place to dine

– Bagatelle for its incredible “Wine Paring Dinner” with 5 courses and 5 wines, that shows the talent of the chef Sofiane. This special menu is served only on Tuesday night, and the terrace on the quay is an attractive place for tasty lunch and dinner any day of the week.

  – Bonito for its beautiful view over the harbour and for its menu inspired by Peruvian cuisine. The round bar is famous for its cocktails. Open only for dinner, booking is not an option. Don’t forget to ask a table on the huge round balcony.

  – Black Ginger for its menu offering a large choice of Thai cuisine, prepared by a real team of six Thai cooks. The cuisine is less hot and spicy than the one in Thailand… A nice place for those who love Asian cuisine!

As I hinted before, no lost cost hotels exist on St Bart’s just a few ultra-luxury 5 star hotels, mainly boutique ones near sea plus a number of villas nestling amid the green vegetation with private swimming pools and great sea views.

Gouverneur Beach

Gouverneur Beach

If you want to try the best of the best in St Barth, two hotels share top position in term of comfort, service and price. “Cheval Blanc St Barth Isle de France” is located on the beautiful Flamand beach this white, iconic hotel with a white Caribbean style offers unique rooms, suites and villas with a service bordering on excellence.  The lunch on the white sandy beach is a must and attracts visitors from the whole island. “Eden Rock – is built on a huge rock partially surrounded by the sea, and now extended along the beach the hotel also offers a great variety of rooms, suites and villas, and has a tempting beach restaurant. But due to its location close to the end of the airport runway, one could be disturbed by the noise of the small planes landing and taking off. In fact after a little while you don’t even notice it.

and the beach at Cheval Blanc

and Cheval Blanc

How to get to St Bart’s:

Visitors to St Bart’s have to fly from St Marteen Island (a fifteen minute flight) or from Anguilla (1hour) on board small planes that carry a maximum of 20 passengers. The small airport of St Bart’s is between the sea and a hill. Whatever the wind direction, you will have a nice view of the island before landing. Landing from the hill side of the runway is the more impressive.

For more about St Bart’s, click here.

Text and photos ©Frédéric de Poligny

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