In spite of a direct impact from Cat 5 hurricane Irma Catacup 2017 was a huge success. There was evidence of the devastation everywhere you looked. But it was also very evident that St Barth was serious about recovering and was wasting no time. It will take time to rebuild for sure and the motto of “St Barth Strong” was being practiced more than preached.
The extensive damage to the entire area greatly affected travel arrangements and required many teams to reschedule. We connected through St Maarten and saw firsthand how you run an international airport from tents. All things considered they did an outstanding job of getting us cleared through and onto our connection for St Barth.
The forecast for the area was not one of the usual sporty breeze and wave surfing. It would be light and SSE to SE for most of the week. This being our first Catacup we arrived a few days early and left a few days late. The only time I saw white caps off St. Jean was before the regatta and after. Go figure.
The US team logistics changed hands this year and Todd Ricardi took the helm. A change in venue was initiated and we all agreed to load in Sarasota at the Sailing Squadron the same weekend as the Buzzelli multi hull regatta. For a small fee for additional trucking we had a grass field in a sailboat friendly environment to tear down and load up. Not all teams sailed but those of us that did had a good weekend of flat water and solid breeze. With Todd’s help on selection/procurement our current F18 national champs pitched in and sponsored a rack system for the container that proved a huge benefit.
As for sailing the Catacup, you all know it’s awesome. Deep blue water, white sandy beaches, great weather, and an awesome host. I’ll spare you the play by play, without carnage it’s just boring. The details of each race are best watched on stbarthcatacup.com under the “race” tab select “map” using the GEO tracker system.
For the narrated version from a 1st timer… the forecast light breeze was not expected and was somewhat disappointing, but at the same time set a more relaxed tone for the event. The sailing was very pleasant yet very challenging due to the island’s topographical effects on the breeze. The skipper’s meeting in French was an interesting twist. There was an abbreviated English version that made you wonder what else they said in French. We learned the hard way that each race’s course routing must be written down on some sort of map. Even with all those boats to follow there was a lingering doubt about where we were going. There was a boat that chose their own course, and then sheepishly retired, but we won’t go there. Nope, wasn’t me.
With all the surrounding islands and rock atolls there is an abundance of courses to set using these spectacular volcanic formations as marks. Each is unique and has its own challenges for wind shadows and currents. We actually passed a pack of boats becalmed on the lee side an island by hugging the rock wall. Not something I would do without knowing a safety boat was nearby and paying attention. There were times when boats got too close to an ugly situation, like waves crashing on rocks and very little breeze, but a safety boat was always nearby. These guys always seemed to be in the right place and always paying attention. Being our first rodeo, they were a welcome sight.
We were treated to 2 races around the island which were by far my favorite. The spirited spin runs down the south shore in a pack of F18s is why I bought the admission ticket and made my trip worth it. As short lived as they were, those speed runs were good fun. Downwind is about the only time I can pass boats, so we were enjoying our epic battle coming from behind and tearing back into the fleet.
As you would expect, not many boat casualties to report. There were several spinnaker setup issues early in the week that sent boats back to the beach with lots of verbal displeasure being expressed onboard. A new deck sweeper rig folded their mast due to under rotation with the spin up. Our fearless leader hit the reef returning to the beach and broke a board. Our Olympic hopefuls had rudder issues and retired quietly on the second round the island race. Our only issue was one of our hull port caps was broken during unloading. I did not see it, but did hear, that on the last day there was a collision on the start that put 2 bows deep into a hull.
Even though I don’t read, speak or understand French I must admit that the race committee did an awesome job and the regatta was easy to attend. For each general recall a rib would blast down the line in front of the fleet to turn everyone around. On the back of the committee catamaran at the start line where giant speakers pointed aft blasting out high energy Caribbean music to inspire us all as we lined up. The effect was actually pretty cool and if you tried to barge the line you got an earful.
The Race Management set up shop on the beach in a tent. It was one of those commercial grade event tents and housed everything necessary to run the race. There were plenty of shirts and hats and beachwear for the girls to choose from. A large top load freezer was on hand to keep all the water and beer really cold. I’m not normally a big fan of regatta food but these folks put out an awesome spread for lunch. The race schedule suited me just fine; race, have awesome lunch (and a beer), catch a nap on the tramp and go back out for another race. This is, in my book an “acceptable quality of life”.
The nightlife. It’s important to be well rested for each race day and be able to give 100%. But it’s as equally important to remember that life is short, and it’s downright foolish to miss a good party. In addition to great sailing St Barth has a wealth of really good restaurants full of friendly and interesting people. Each night there was a social dinner event for the racers with awards for the day’s heroes. Since Nikki Beach was out of commission we ended up in Gustavia, either at the town dock with an open bar and a band, or a local eatery. This of course included the Parade of Nations with each team carrying their respective flags through town to the warm welcome and cheers of everyone we passed. We strolled through town and into a designated restaurant for a preplanned dinner. Our final awards ceremony was held in a little open air club called L’Esprit close to Salinas Beach. This was an epic party with great rum punch, lots of dancing and dinner served as hors d’oeuvres to the dance floor. It was just not a night to sit down for dinner.
We Americans, so I’m told, like to “out do” everyone. Go “over the top” as they say. Well one of our teams rented a Villa that was very much “over the top”, maybe more. At this Villa there was a party after the party on the last night. Naturally the Villa had a pool that was kind of in the living room, and the kitchen. Hard to explain. There were people swimming, and riding a giant inflatable Pegasus, and loosing things in the pool. Loosing things like their phones, keys, cloths and their drinks. But not their dignity, no dignity was lost that night in or around the pool. What goes at the Villa, stays at the Villa. But it should be mentioned, the Governor of the island and his entourage did visit our party that night. Make no mistake, Team USA went “over the top” in good fashion.
Loading the boats the morning after the big hoorah was obviously painful for those who indulged. Nothing like being really hungover in the hot tropical sun knowing you have a flight to catch. Those of us that were staying on a few more days took care of the final details and wondered off to Gustavia for a late lunch and cocktails.
The wife and I spent the next 2 days sleeping late and hanging out on secluded beaches taking cool pictures. We actually walked to the airport down the beach from Le Village for our departure. I highly recommend spending a few extra days to enjoy the island before and after the racing. If you’re lucky enough to have a girl that supports your sailing, like I do, she deserves some “ground crew appreciation days” on the island.
The container was unloaded at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, where it all started. As you all know this is where the 2018 F18 Worlds will be held. My boat plans to live at the SSS for most of 2018 and do some local sailing. There have been conversations about having some pre-worlds F18 events in Sarasota, keep an eye out for additional events added to the schedule for 2018. Go fast, take chances.
-Written by Dick MacDonald, Team Turtle Mojo
-Photos courtesy of St Barth’s Catacup (stbarthcatacup.com)