Two days before Les Voiles de t Barth was to start we received a message from our good friend Chip Spence who lives in Texas. He caught in article in Latitude 38 magazine written by Richard Spindler (who was the founder and creator of the publication and is still in author of many articles), which stated he was in search of crew on a Santa Cruz 70, Hotel California too, for the Les Voiles regatta. What! I jumped up and down and asked Matt, can we, can we please reply and ask to join this crew? We had participated in many races with our dear friends from Texas (mostly on Donald’s beautiful yacht Ruthless), but had never participated in a professional regatta in the Caribbean. As you know, we have been huge spectators and cheerleaders during the Heineken Regatta, Antigua Race Week Regatta, and St. Barth’s Bucket for the last few years, but have never actually raced. He acquiesced, and I fired off an email before he could change his mind. I included our race history, our sailing yacht, the fact that Matt had his Captain’s license, and that we were already on island. I also included a super cute photo of us. Richard responded immediately saying “we were in.” I’m thinking, wow, just like that we are crew on a 70′ boat – cool! He informed us that another couple on a Catana 47 will be joining us and low and behold it’s a couple we met last year, Eric and Annie from El Gato. Richard and I bounced a few emails around and decided to meet the next day. The entire crew was to meet at the opening party to sign the crew list and get acquainted. We met Steve, the owner of Hotel California, Richard & Dona, Anna Sepko, Annie & Eric, Steve & De, Barbara, Jen, Marie-Claude, JJ, and the rest of the crew. There were 17 people signed up for the first day – that’s a big group!
Race Day 1
After gathering on Hotel California, Matt quickly became acclimated. He was put in charge of organizing the huge pile of dinghy’s that brought everyone out to the boat, securing them on anchor so that we could retrieve them when we returned. We had our 101 on the boat, which is about 27 years old and has a few quirks. Steve, is at the helm, Annie is the tactician, Matt and Eric worked the main, Anna and JJ were on jib, Bill is at the bow, I am on the preventer (and rail meat), and everyone else is ballast (aka rail meat). With jobs assigned, dinghy’s secured, main raised we headed to the start. We Were in a class of 7 boats (CSA 1). The starting line and finish line are always the most tense, so all was quiet as we listened to Annie give Steve instructions and off we went. The first race had a lot of tacks! Which for our non-sailing friends, means turning the boat into the wind and grinding in the sails on the other side of the boat. Which means Matt had to grind, grind, and grind a lot this day and I had to scooch back and forth across tracks, blocks, cleats and various other boat pieces each time we tacked in between the other 12 people on the rail. The sun was shining, the water was blue, the mood on the boat was a bit tense as we were not allowed to chat and there were a lot of people on the rail trying to get over at the same time. But, we finished 3rd (corrected time) and we were pleased! Even though everyone was tired, we shared a few cold ones and talked about the race before heading back for showers and the party.
Race Day 2
Have to admit, Matt and are used to “cruising life” and racing was a totally different story. Everything hurt. But, we managed to make it back to Hotel California for race day 2. We had lost a few crew members, which was good only in that we had too many people on the boat on day 1. As we headed for the starting line, everyone begins to jockey for the best position to cross – always a little tense, but we had a good start (thanx to Annie). However, not long after we crossed, we were coming down on a smaller boat in a different class, Kickem Jenny (a melgas 32′) from St. Maarten who we know from the Heineken Regattas. We are a much bigger boat and harder to maneuver, but they were on a starboard tack and had right of way. They did not hear us, their team was distracted, and did not see us until it was too late and the shouting began. We did not come into contact, but we did force them off course which forced us to do a 360 (race rules because we were at fault). We later found them to apologize, but frankly it could have been handled much better. We corrected our mistake and continued the race which was a much easier course as it had a lot of downwind runs – not good for our type of boat with no spinnaker, but a lot easier on the crew. We ended up finishing 4th on day 2 and off to the party to celebrate.
They call it a rest day, but it is actually a huge arse party over at Nikki Beach. Several of us joined El Gato and we motored over to the other side of the island for the day. I have to say, Les Voiles knows how to throw a party! Not only are you at Nikki Beach having a $10 bottle of water and $50 lunch (which was actually pretty good), but you are on one of the prettiest beaches in the world. The regatta hosted a few games including a treasure hunt where 10 bottles of Veuve Cliequot champaign were buried under water (and 16 people searching for them). Annie was the proud recipient of one of the bottles – YEAH Hotel California. Next up was the giant stand up boards where a team of 5 try to knock off the opponents using a boxing glove on an extended pole. Unfortunately, our eager beaver commits 100% and fell in on a jab, but we had a great time playing and got to keep the memento t-shirt!
Race Day 3
It seems each day of the race we return to Hotel California with even fewer people. Today we had about 11-12 people. Now, we have the dinghy process down, raising the main, heading to the start and preparing for a new race. One of the many great things about Annie our tactician is that she is very positive and keeps everyone well informed about the race course, our goals, our tacks/jibes, and our strategy. This course would be slow as the wind had died down considerably, but we were ready. With fewer crew, it meant we have more room to actually work and stay safe. Anna, a petite young crew member who traveled with Steve from the BVI’s was an extremely hard worker. She tailed in the jib which is a heck of a job! But, unfortunately, not 45 minutes into the race, she pulled a muscle in her back and she was in extreme pain. So, we laid her down, iced her up, gave her some Advil and I was trained on the jib. I have to say it was much more exciting working the jib than being on the preventer and on the rail. But it was hard work! The good thing was that it was low wind, not as dangerous had it been race day 1 or 2 and the boat was moving slow. It took us over 7 hours to complete the course. We were afraid we were going to be disqualified because we would not cross by the 6p deadline. Many boats turned their engines on and dropped out. But, we persevered, crossed before 6p and came in 3rd in our class. Sweet!
Working the lines in the cockpit–so serious.
Race Day 4 and Results
Today was predicted to have little to no wind, so we were checking the website and had a few people on shore with the race committee to see if the race was to go on. It was postponed a few times, before finally being cancelled. I have to say, I was a bit relieved. Anna was on our boat recovering (as we have a cat and it is easier to rest on a bed on Sugar Shack then a monohull rocking and rolling). After watching Regatta Guru, and adding up the points, we realized we were in 2nd place in our class. Spirit was disqualified on day 2 because they made contact with another boat and did not do a 360 (plus they had a protest for un-sportsmanship conduct) and another boat was penalized because they crossed over the start line too early and did not do a 360. You are probably wondering how the results are calculated, right? The lowest score wins, so if you are 1st place you get 1 point, 2nd place, 2 points, 3rd place three points and so on. If you are DSQ (disqualified), you get a point for every boat in your class plus 1 (so an additional 8 points in our class). Ambersail who came in 2nd each day, had 1 DSQ because they started too early and did not do a 360. Spirit had a DSQ on day 2 because they made contact with another boat and did not do a 360, so even though we technically crossed the line 4th each day, we ended up the the 2nd lowest number of points. Consistency and sportsman like conduct pays off I guess.
Annie talking me thru a tack while trimming the jib.
We were thrilled, shocked, excited and amped up to be up on the podium! First they gave each boat a bottle of Veuve Cliequot champaign (we got a giant bottle because we had a lot of crew) and Anna got to go up and receive it – CHEERS by all! Then we had the pleasure of going up on stage for our 2nd place trophy, a grand St. Barth’s Book, another bottle of champagne (they were a sponsor), a bottle of rum, and a few other things. We brought up fireworks and lit them as we got on stage and posed pretty for all the cameras! Sweet success. I’d like to tell you about the rest of the night, but there was a lot of celebrating, tons of hugs and two cheek kisses, and then pizza to sober us up.