Quokka’s skipper Philippe Falle reports for YW on his first impressions at the Voiles de St Barth regatta where he resists a ride in a Porsche taxi.
After years of sailing and racing in many of the most exotic locations in the world the magic of arriving somewhere new has still not been lost. As I approached St Bartholomew's, a French Island in the Caribbean, I held a certain amount of apprehension due to the rumours of extortionate prices and the need for a mortgage to be able to afford just a cup of coffee and a croissant!
Outside the Port of Gustavia is a large anchorage which is subjected to a continual swell, so finding a spot to drop our hook that was not too deep was the first challenge to overcome. Quokka is a race boat so does not have the luxury of a windless, or even a bow roller!
After three attempts in the soaring Caribbean sun we had successfully found our place and were able to relax as the boat gently rolled and a few turtles swam by inquisitively popping their curious heads out of the water to check out their new neighbours.
First on the agenda was to go ashore to clear customs, a job that is part of Caribbean life but can take up a large part of the day on arrival and departure. As we headed ashore in the tender I was surprised by how clean and modern everything looked. Stepping ashore the first car I saw was a Porche, it was a taxi and possibly slightly unnecessary on an island with rustic concrete roads only just wide enough for two cars to pass. It was the first sign of the opulence that the Island is famous for.
The first shop was Rolex, the next Cartier, the Louis Vuitton shop proudly sat next Prada and the list goes on as every luxury brand imaginable were located in an oasis of chic boutiques. It certainly did not feel like I was in the Caribbean any more, St Barths shouted out sophistication, quality and extravagance, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum to anything else I have seen here.
The true essence of St Barths very quickly became obvious as the normal chore of clearing customs was a simple and quick procedure that was accompanied by friendly and helpful port officials. The service in the first bar was warm and welcoming and equally matched with every other bar or restaurant visited. The quality of the food proved to be exceptional and more akin to London prices and certainly no more than the BVI's. My first bottle of Carib, a local Caribbean beer, was 3.5Euros which is cheaper than in the Alps.
Having been pleasantly surprised by every aspect of the island in a short period of time I became slightly overwhelmed by the genuine friendliness that contrasts much of the Caribbean where locals can be slightly ambivalent to visitors. Annelisa Gee, the competition manager of Les Voile de ST Barth, noticed my team shirt whilst stood outside a shop and introduced herself. She could not do enough to help and her constant smile backed up by an efficient service and charming personality made me instantly think that this regatta was going to be a quality one.
As the race yachts started to arrive it became apparent that the calibre of competition was going to be exceptional. This the fifth edition of the regatta and it is already attracting some serious talent and quality hardware. In the Maxi class Rambler 90 will be going head to head with the magnificent JV72 Belle Mente and pushed hard by Caol Ila R, a Mills 69. The prize for the winner of this class is a $100,000 Richard Mille watch!
With 68 entries ranging from Melges 24's upto a 112 foot Swan and a Dufour 34 in the non-spinnaker class to the brand new Ker 43 Otra Vez in class 0 the racing is promising to be diverse, exciting and certainly quite a spectacle on the water. For me I am racing again on Ramanessin / Quokka, a Grand Soleil 43.
Having just won the BVI regatta we are entering Les Voiles de St Barths with a ray of optimism. We have a new team on board which is predominantly made up with some of Irelands finest who scored a second place here last year and are keen to improve on that!
Before racing starts today it is time to head off to a little French café to enjoy a coffee and croissant. It is just like someone took a chunk of the French Riviera and placed it in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, what a wonderful location to be racing in!