The annual superyacht pilgrimage to St Barths in the French West Indies for Bucket regatta had an additional shine this year with the arrival of five J-Class yachts. Not since 1937 has this number of J-Class America’s Cup contenders lined up on one race course.
Individual sailing programs make herding this fleet of Js to a single venue difficult. So this superb exhibition off the waters of Gustavia was a one-off. Jim Clarke’s JK6 Hanuman joined the seasoned J Velsheda, the 10-year-old Ranger and two recent launches Lionheart (see Lionheart, the new J-Class Yacht) and Rainbow (see Rainbow, Newest J-Class Sailing Yacht). After pulling out of Antigua Classic regatta a few years back citing the two other Js had gunwale to gunwale professionals, Hanuman this year arrived in St Barths led by pro helmsman Ken Read. In fact there were more professional sailors per square metre on the dock than is seen at most other events. America’s Cup co-skipper Peter Holmberg from the Virgin Islands, Chris Dickson, Dawn Riley, Bouwe Bekking and Dennis Conner, to name just a few.
As one J-Class captain commented his team had a lump in their throats during the J-Class exhibition race. Having five J-Class yachts race one another for the first time since the 1930s was impressive.
Thirty six "gazelles, mademoiselles, grandes dames" and J-Class yachts flocked to the the French West Indian island of St Barths for the famed St Barths Bucket. It was a sight to behold as they lined up in Gustavia harbour.
In contrast to the understated J-Class owners one guest aboard Hanuman was happy to soak up the limelight. British buisnessman Sir Richard Branson might have been a good luck charm for Ken Read and his team as they took a flyer that paid off to round the second windward mark six minutes ahead of their rivals. Hanuman went on to win the exhibition race from Lionheart by three minutes.
After trailing for two races JK5 Ranger pulled out a lead ahead of the fleet at the first turning mark of Les petites Roches on the southern end of St Barths. Second at this stage was the two year-old Lionheart followed by Hanuman, Velsheda and the most recently launched Rainbow.
The Bucket delivered a mixed selection of conditions to test these superyachts. Light winds gave way to more thrilling opportunities and the four-day event unfolded. Lighter conditions earlier in the regatta gave way to more tempestuous weather on day three. Here we can see the only original of the Js, Velsheda, chasing Ranger up the first beat. These two have a history of close on the water rivalry.
Day four's 26 mile 'wrong way around the island' race pushed the J-fleet to the limit. With wind speeds hitting the mid-20s in deep swell staying onboard these boats with no guard rails was testing. Two crew members were washed overboard to be picked up by beady-eyed support vessels. Here Rainbow, with Velsheda in the distance, puts in a tack as they shaved the western corner of the island. The sailmakers were kept busy overnight.
JK5 Ranger (2002) built to the lines of the original 1930's America's Cup yacht owned by Harold Vanderbilt seen here powering off the waves in the around the island race.
JK6 Hanuman, the one J helmed full time by a professional the double Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ken Read leads the fleet off the start and westabout the island in the final day's race. Hanuman dominated the week winning all four races.
Thrilling racing was enjoyed in the three other divisions. Double Olympic medallist Shirley Robertson helmed the Mademoiselles class Salperton IV to a win in the final race. The Dubois yacht finished second overall in the leader board. Behind is the 88-Metre Maltese Falcon - a true Grand Dame barreling along.The Grand Dames class it was a showcase for Perini Navi with nine out of 12 entries from the famed yard. Georgia, a 48-Metre sloop banked three bullets to take the class trophy. In the Gazelle division Unfurled clocked the same to take a narrow lead over the racier Philippe Briand Perini Navi P2 helmed by Peter Holmberg.
In the Mademoiselles class, the duel between the 62-Metre Athos, and the 55-Metre schooner Adela (pictured) was curtailed as a broken leg aboard Athos in the big swell led to her retirement. The 55-Metre schooner Adela is a regular on the international superyacht race circuit. As such she maintained a lead in the Mademoiselles class throughout the regatta to win the overall St Barths Bucket trophy with America’s Cup veteran Dennis Conner in the afterguard. The final race the 'wrong way around the island' showed off this Pendennis masterclass's true capability.
The spectacle of these majestic craft both moored ashore, and out sailing, was a sight to behold. The pleasure was topped off by the invitational “Yacht Hop” where interiors and equipment were scrutinised and admired over a glass of champagne to the rhythmic sounds of live Spanish music. In all, it was a seductive regatta.
Ingrid Abery is a world-renowned yachting photographer from the UK, her work has been published widely in magazines and newspapers across the globe.