If you enjoy the spectacle of mega-mega sailing yachts racing in the open ocean, there was no place to be last weekend like the St. Barth Bucket. Thirty-eight gleaming yachts between 88 and 218 feet went at it in consistent winds that were in the upper teens to low 20s, with moderate tradewind seas. The size and complexity of these yachts and the astonishing loads, as well as the derring-do and fearlessness of the crews in key positions, can only be appreciated up close.
To give one example, shortly after the upwind start of the windy first race on Friday, the massive headsail on the 218-ft Hetairos, on which Marin’s Paul Cayard was calling tactics, yanked the tack fitting apart with an explosive bang. With the absolutely gigantic headsail — think a luff length of maybe 175 feet — flapping like crazy, it took the army of top-flight crew the better part of half an hour to get the sail down on deck.
Indeed, it was a botched spinnaker takedown in the second race that messed up the regatta for the ‘little’ Swan 100 Varsovie, which has long been skippered by Patrick Adams of Mill Valley. Not only were Adams and his crew leading the race at the time, but they easily won their division in the other two races. "If it weren’t for their spinnaker problem, they probably would have won the whole regatta," said Marin County’s Kenny Keefe, who was sailing aboard the Adele. That 185-ft ketch had her own problem, as at one point the spinnaker winch failed. When the spinnaker could probably cover a third of a football field, that’s no small problem.
Other boats shredded $150,000 spinnakers, and the brand new 190-ft Perini Navi Seahawk — which displaces 500 metric tons! — even managed to go aground on Beef Barrel, a small rock outcropping that served as a turning mark. "I saw the boat hit and stop, but the masthead light just kept going," says Keefe.
The Bucket boats are luxury yachts — Marie, the overall winner, has a Steinway piano in the saloon — not built for racing and high-speed bursts. "I doubt that any of them surf," said Cayard, "so our top speed on Hetarios was probably only about 21 knots." While these boats don’t hit extreme high speeds of sleds or racing cats, they can cruise along steadily in the high teens."
But the Bucket isn’t about winning as much as it is about owners getting a chance to have their boats and international crews play with other boats and international crews ‘their own size’. There was a festive atmosphere throughout, highlighted by a short gig by Jimmy Buffett on the main quay and a longer one the night before at tiny Baz Bar.
If you enjoy seeing the world’s most majestic yachts racing in ideal tradewind conditions, you know where to be this time next year.