Ze­phyrs of Change

Yachts International - - Contents -

‘Limo rac­ing’ gets a low-key tune-up at the 2015 St. Barth’s Bucket.

Story and Photography

By Kenny Wooton

The 2015 St. Barth’s Bucket re­gatta ap­peared as it has for the 19 that pre­ceded it: a feet of some of the world’s most beau­ti­ful sail­ing su­pery­achts mak­ing tracks in the trade winds around one of the pret­ti­est is­lands in the Caribbean. In the back­ground, though, the winds of change were trans­form­ing this grand dame of re­gat­tas into a safer, bet­ter-or­ga­nized event. The changes were sub­tle, but by many ac­counts, they had the de­sired ef­fect with­out wa­ter­ing down the joie de vivre that has defned the event since its in­cep­tion.

Late last year, long­time Bucket or­ga­niz­ers an­nounced they had sold the re­gatta and its smaller sis­ter in New­port, Rhode Is­land, to a group of yacht­ing in­dus­try stal­warts: Perini Navi, Royal Huis­man, Vit­ters Ship­yard and Ry­bovich. They also adopted a new hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem meant to level the play­ing feld among the widely dis­parate feet. What had been es­sen­tially a home­spun event was to get a low-key “make-un­der.”

“Our big­gest mo­ti­va­tion for get­ting in­volved,” says Michael Kopp­stein of Royal Huis­man, “was to make sure the spirit of the thing re­mained what it’s al­ways been, which is the in­dus­try giv­ing back to the own­ers and where the boats and the own­ers are the he­roes.”

The an­nounce­ment raised some eye­brows be­cause of the shift in con­trol to com­mer­cial en­ti­ties, but at the con­clu­sion of this year’s re­gatta, it ap­peared the moves were well re­ceived.

“With no den­i­gra­tion to the pre­vi­ous team, I think it’s a ter­rifc out­come,” says Dan Mey­ers, owner of 169-foot (51.6-me­ter) Huis­man­built schooner Me­teor. “It’ll be ter­rifc for longevity and sta­bil­ity.”

The pre­vi­ous team, led by Tim Laugh­ridge, Ian Craddock and Hank Hal­sted, man­aged the fes­tiv­i­ties for more than a decade. Craddock and Laugh­ridge were part of the event’s ori­gins in Nan­tucket in 1986, when, as the story goes, four own­ers hav­ing some sailorly fun in a bar de­cided to race their yachts the next day for brag­ging rights. De­cid­ing they needed a tro­phy, they grabbed a chardon­nay bucket from the bar, and the rest is rac­ing his­tory. The Nan­tucket Bucket shifted its sum­mer venue to New­port in 2001. The frst St. Barth’s Bucket was sailed in 1995 with four boats. Thirty-fve com­peted this year.

The Bucket has spawned and nur­tured a grow­ing num­ber of su­pery­acht re­gat­tas in the At­lantic and the Med. Many own­ers of large cruis­ing yachts, it seems, are hun­gry to do some­thing be­sides an­chor off and sip cock­tails. The suc­cess of th­ese re­gat­tas also has in­fuenced yacht de­sign as more own­ers make rac­ing a part of their itin­er­ar­ies. The chal­lenge all along has been how to make the rac­ing fair and safe.

Through­out the his­tory of yacht rac­ing, hand­i­cap­ping boats of dif­fer­ent de­signs has been a bu­ga­boo re­sult­ing in co­pi­ous howl­ing be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter races. A typ­i­cal Bucket feet is about as di­verse as it gets. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is that the boats are big: The small­est in the 2015 St. Barth’s re­gatta was 79 feet (24 me­ters) and the largest 192 feet (58.5 me­ters). A smat­ter­ing of larger, more nim­ble cruiser/rac­ers par­tic­i­pate, but the ma­jor­ity are lux­u­ri­ous cus­tom or semicus­tom cruis­ing boats of var­i­ous vin­tages. Find­ing ways to even out the com­pe­ti­tion and, most im­por­tant, keep the boats from run­ning into one an­other are the pri­mary ob­jec­tives of race man­agers.

To that end, man­age­ment tra­di­tion­ally used a home­grown

hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem called the Bucket Rule, which as­signed each yacht a start­ing time based on her pre­dicted speed over the course (also known as a “pur­suit start”), with the slower yachts start­ing frst. The hope was that the feet would con­verge near the fnish and give the slower boats a shot at a tro­phy. In the name of fun, rules would some­times pe­nal­ize regular win­ners or make it off-lim­its to win two days in a row, just to spread the ex­cite­ment.

Al­ways in play un­der the sur­face, though, was the prime di­rec­tive: avoid­ing col­li­sions among boats that han­dle more like su­per­tankers than nim­ble race boats. “There’s a rea­son they don’t have dogfghts with 747s,” Hal­sted quips.

This year marked the frst that a new rule was em­ployed at the Bucket and sev­eral other su­pery­acht re­gat­tas. A col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Su­perY­acht Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and the Off­shore Rac­ing Congress (ORC) led to a new hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem called ORC Su­perY­acht, or ORCsy. Bucket or­ga­niz­ers be­lieve it of­fers a more ac­cu­rate ve­loc­ity pre­dic­tion pro­gram. There surely were some who were un­happy with their hand­i­caps, but by and large, own­ers in­ter­viewed were happy with the re­sults. The feet came to­gether at the end of the races, and no one crashed. Mission ac­com­plished.

“The new rat­ing rule is more eq­ui­table, more quan­ti­ta­tively based than what it’s re­plac­ing, and that’s a good thing,” Mey­ers says. “Sub­jec­tiv­ity in th­ese things never works. Will there be com­plain­ing? Sure, but in the end, it’s been proved that quan­ti­ta­tively de­rived rules al­ways win out.”

The Bucket’s defn­ing mantra al­ways has been “Win the Party,” and there were plenty—yacht hops, dock par­ties with live mu­sic and an el­e­gant own­ers’ soiree on the beach at the Eden Roc. Perini Navi hosted el­e­gant par­ties at its villa over­look­ing Gus­tavia each night. The event also saw fy­overs and an air show by vin­tage air­craft from the Texas Fly­ing Leg­ends Mu­seum.

But the fo­cus of the event still was the rac­ing, and pack­ing 35 A-plus-type own­ers on the same patch of ocean, aimed for the same place, could never be a laid-back af­fair. It’s more like win the race, then tackle the party. Add to the mix a healthy dose of uber-com­petitve Amer­ica’s Cup and grand prix skip­pers, tac­ti­cians and crew scat­tered about the feet, and there’s al­ways the po­ten­tial for trou­ble in tight right-of-way sit­u­a­tions. The Bucket re­quires a min­i­mum 40-me­ter (131-foot) sep­a­ra­tion be­tween boats at all times, and spon­sor Pan­tae­nius in­sur­ance sup­plies each com­peti­tor with a range fn­der to help en­force the rule. Close crosses are to be ex­pected, but when things get dicey, hail­ing an­other boat on VHF to de­clare in­ten­tions or ask a fa­vor is not un­com­mon—some­thing you’re not likely to see on any con­ven­tional race­course.

Mey­ers cam­paigns an all-out maxi racer called Num­bers, which he says he prefers to rac­ing Me­teor, but he has fun in the su­pery­acht re­gat­tas, and there are benefts. “I don’t get to take a nap on Num­bers as I did on Me­teor to­day,” he says.

The new ste­wards in­tended to meet af­ter the re­gatta to dis­cuss refne­ments mov­ing for­ward. Asked what the Bucket might look like in fve years, Kopp­stein said, “I hope the same.”

many for the Bucket, although Gus­tavia is home base and above:

Rocks add scenic ap­peal off this year.

be­low: com­peti­tors an­chored ob­vi­ous haz­ards.

the rac­ing, but pro­vide tac­ti­cal chal­lenges to

Me­teor trims for speed.

above: The brain trust top: A crew­man on Bob Eichler

and tac­tics. Owner Al­tair is in­tent on str at­egy on 96-foot

han­dles the wheel. (fore­ground) of Seat­tle

For more in­for­ma­tion and re­sults: buck­e­tre­gat­tas.com

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