View Full Version : Bessinger Reports on St. Barth’s Bucket Regatta

PD Staff
03-26-2010, 01:22 PM

Today over 5,000 linear feet of megayachts will take to the waters off St. Barth’s on Day One of the St. Barth’s Bucket Regatta. For over 20 years this event has attracted some of the most comfortable, well-appointed, and expensive sailing yachts ever built, and for good reason. It’s a chance for owners to see how their boats, which for the most part were never intended to be raced, and crews perform in a racing environment.

Weighing up to and over 400 tons, these boats sail under a racing rule that bears little resemblance to the one that we’re so used to. Instead of ISAF rules, the Bucket relies on Colregs and something called the Superyacht Protocol, which has been refined over the years to allow for safe, fun racing. There’ll be no lee bows in this event, nor tacking duels, or anything that could possibly result in a collision between these immense yachts, something that would spell the end of this type of racing, as the damage would be calculated in the millions of dollars. The race committee, which openly acknowledges its willingness to be bribed with bottles of champagne, also strongly emphasizes that this event is supposed to be fun, and that any boat which sacrifices fun and safety for a win will be heartily penalized and perhaps even suffer the indignity of permanent banishment from this invitation-only event.

To keep the boats and crews safe, each vessel sails with a Safety Officer, whose primary job is just that, safety. That person is responsible for maintaining the race-committee mandated 40-meter separation between each vessel, and, using VHF, AIS, and mobile phones, keep in touch with the safety officers on other vessels to ensure that nothing untoward happens.

We’re firmly entrenched down here in St. Barth’s, sailing aboard Georgia, a 159-foot sloop built around ten years ago in New Zealand. England’s own Andy Beadsworth is our driver, and I’m the navigator and safety officer. A crew comprised of about ten different nationalities will be pulling things up and down. Under new ownership, this is Georgia’s first bucket, and we’re all hoping for the best. I’ll take and post some images later today, and fill you in on our first day of racing.

PD Staff
03-28-2010, 09:54 AM

Day 2 of the 2010 St. Barth’s Bucket was another perfect day for yacht racing. The breeze was higher than forecast, which allowed for a slightly longer course then we had on Friday. Although many of the entries would have preferred a bit more pressure, there was still enough (10-14 knots) to get us all rolling along quite nicely.

One of the neat things about Bucket racing is the communication between the vessels. Using VHF channel 17, safety tacticians talk to each other about crossing situations and maintaining the 40-meter separation zone, thus ensuring that these huge boats never come in contact with one another. For the most part the conversations between the boats are polite and professional, but there are the occasional testy exchanges, which, if you’re not involved in, can be quite entertaining. “You don’t really believe you can tack across our bow, do you?” Of course, for this all to work, boats have to listen and respond to radio hails, which has been a problem for at least one of the yachts racing. We won’t mention the offending boat’s name today, but should the problem happen for a third straight day, all bets are off.

We had a bit of a shocker on Georgia, which are reflected in the results. The first issue happened straight off the bat, when we were unable to set our spinnaker during the first leg (downwind start). After a heroic effort by our bow team, we finally gave up and did as best we could with our headsail, but lost more than a few places as we lumbered along. Good gains were made as we wove our way around the “Not So Wiggly” course until our next spinnaker set, which was technically perfect except for the fact that the brain trust on the flybridge (myself included) called for a reaching spinnaker. As it turned out, the running kite would have been the better call.

The final leg was a wonderful beat which saw us in lockstep just behind Baracuda, a 164-foot-long Perini Navi. Although it looked for a while as if we might be able to pass to weather, we ran out of race course before that could happen.

The forecast for the final day of racing is much lighter, which we’ve all been dreading. Sailing most of these boats in under 10 knots of breeze is an exercise in patience, but, hey. We’re in St. Barth’s, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and there’s plenty of refreshing beverages to be enjoyed after the day is over.