The French West Indies island of St. Barth is a little slice of paradise, attracting jetsetters and cultured travelers from around the globe with its exclusive accommodations, local gastronomy, breathtaking beaches and swinging nightlife, and every spring this charming Caribbean hideaway becomes even more special when the world's top sailors and best race boats gather for Les Voiles de St. Barth.
A success since its inception, the regatta is lauded for pulling out all the stops for competitors, complementing a week of serious on-the-water racing with a flurry of shore-side entertainment. Its eighth edition kicks off this week, April 10-15.
“We've raced all over the world and nothing compares to Les Voiles de St. Barth,” said Paul MacDowell who is returning to the event with the Mills 68 Prospector he recently acquired with co-owner Larry Landry and David Siwicki. Based in the U.S., the trio has competed together in many world-class racing events, including the 2015 Transatlantic Race where they took third place. Last year they led their team to success at Les Voiles de St. Barth winning their class with the Farr 60, also named Prospector. “This is an incredibly unique event. The island itself is just a magical and fun place to go. It's like you're in France, but you're in the Caribbean. It's not only the events the regatta hosts that are unbelievable, but also the vibe of the island as a whole. It's that vibe that attracts all the top sailors. You have an incredibly competitive sailing event mixed with an incredible competitive partying event.”
The nearly 10 square-mile island is of European descent and its French roots are what inspire much of its culture and style today. The quaint haven is home to around 8,000 permanent residents, with picturesque gardens, stone docks and little red roofs garnishing its hilly tropical landscape. The waterfront port of Gustavia, where the regatta is headquartered, is always bustling with activity and yachts coming and going to the docks and the moorings in its harbor.
For Les Voiles de St. Barth every year, the Quai General de Gaulle is transformed into a 15,000 square-foot race village where competitors enjoy nightly concerts and shows. It is also home to a live art exhibition that features local talent throughout the week.
Every year, the regatta draws quite a crowd of esteemed owners and sailors with grand prix yachts, and like MacDowell and his team, Austin Van't Wout is returning to Les Voiles de St. Barth racing a different yacht, his 72-foot luxury cruiser PH3. Last year Van't Wout competed in the event with the TP52 Conviction.
“The event, both on sea and on land, was very well organized and lots of fun, so this is the reason we decided to bring PH3 down to the Caribbean this year,” said Van't Wout who is traveling from The Netherlands to compete. In the boardroom, Van't Wout enjoys pushing the envelope of innovation in his work offering raw material solutions for the steel industry, and he applies that same mentality to his sailing program. One of his main objectives is to always have his crew learn and improve their regatta skills and push PH3 to its limits. “Other than the Mediterranean conditions, Les Voiles de St. Barth is famous for its steady winds, which play well into the cards of PH3.”
All the praise from competitors who have raced in Les Voiles de St. Barth has brought about a new crop of boats and teams to the event this year, including Vincent Garcia who is traveling the distance from Spain to race his Swan 80 Plis Play.
Plis Play's Captain Jan Santana explained that the yacht has been campaigned around Europe and this year Garcia wanted to cross the Atlantic to test out the competition in the Caribbean. “A few of our crew have previously raced in Les Voiles and they explained to Vincent that it is a great regatta that is as well organized on the water as on shore, on a pretty island,” said Santana. “We have 20 people on the boat: ten professionals and ten guests of the owner. The entire crew is Spanish, and among the professionals, all are highly experienced and most have participated in international circuits aboard TP52s, Maxis and superyachts. Our goal this week is to sail well without making many mistakes and enjoy everything the race and the island have to offer. If we win, it would be fantastic.”
The event kicks off Monday, April 10 and wraps up Saturday, April 15, with racing scheduled for Tuesday,Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. A spirited crew party takes place on Wednesday at the popular Shell Beach, with entertainment and local Caribbean fare, giant screens featuring video from racing and fireworks. The official “Day Off” on Thursday is at St. Jean Beach and the lively Nikki Beach restaurant where dancing barefoot in the sand or on the tables is not uncommon and event officials coordinate a full day of activities for sailors, including an underwater treasure hunt and paddleboard races. After the final day of racing on Saturday, the regatta wraps up with a boisterous party and prize giving at the Race Village, complete with entertainment on a massive stage and an impressive fireworks show. The overall race winner steps away from the regatta with the most coveted prize of all: the Richard Mille 60-01 Regatta Flyback Chronograph timepiece.