The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Watching Giants at Play

Glenda McDonald and Mike Delage

Gozzard 36
April 16th, 2024

Innisfree arrived in St. Barths on March 18 after a day’s passage from Nevis. While the luxe of St. Barths is over the top, it is home to a couple of our favourite anchorages. We had been looking forward to the beach and the turtles in Anse Columbier, and to hiking around on Ile Fourchue.

Our first stop was checking-in at Gustavia. As we waded through the crowd of boats looking for a safe place to drop the hook, we noticed the large number (well, larger than usual number) of sailing superyachts. For sailing fans, one can’t help but admire the graceful lines of a J-class like Velsheda or be astonished at the scale of the 77 metre long M5.

We quickly realized that we had arrived just ahead of the annual St. Barths Bucket regatta. Exclusively for yachts over 90 feet long, and by invitation only, the 30 entrants in the regatta make it one of the largest superyacht sailing events of the year. I guess Innisfree, our Gozzard 36, didn’t quite qualify.

Over the next couple of days, we watched from our mooring in Anse Columbier as the crews went out and practiced windward-leeward runs and maneuvers in and around the islands and rocks. While one can’t help but contemplate the surreal wealth embedded in these boats – particularly given the average incomes for locals in the islands – it was nice to see the superyachts out with full crews and sails up, rather than motoring around or just tied to a pier in Antigua or St. Martin.

On Friday, March 22, we decided to go out and watch the start for the first day of the regatta. The start line was out front of Gustavia, and sent the boats upwind for a counterclockwise loop of the island. The start times are staggered based on handicap, so we watched for about an hour and a half as the superyachts took turns making their runs to the line in the 15 knot breeze. A few of the start times were set close enough to make for some exciting action. I imagine that scrambling to tack and avoid a starboard tack competitor is a bit stressful on a 120 foot superyacht!

After the last boat had left the line, we made our way downwind to Ile Fourchue – a small, protected park island located midway between St. Barths and St. Martin. Ile Fourchue is one of our absolute favourite anchorages in the Caribbean. By the time we arrived, the lead boats had already made an extended loop around St. Barths and were rounding Ile Fourchue on their way to back to the finish outside Gustavia.

Race courses for St. Barths' Bucket Regatta

Ile Fourchue turned out to be the perfect spot to watch the racing on Day 2. Image from St. Barths Bucket Regatta website.

Ile Fourchue turned out to be the ideal spot to be for watching Day 2 of the regatta. The day’s courses had the yachts weaving back and forth, in and around Ile Fourchue and it’s surrounding rocks. We packed a lunch, binoculars, and our camera, then hiked up the hills to watch the action.

The NE wind on Day 2 was again in the 15-20 knot range, perfect conditions to watch these giants powered up and romping around the course. The depth drops off quickly near Ile Fourchue and its surrounding rocks and the superyacht skippers took full advantage, rounding close by as we sat on the cliffs above. The windy course also brought the boats close together at times, and we watched in amazement as five overlapped superyachts arrived together at Roche le Boeuf and managed a clean rounding. The behemoth M5 powered around the outside, dwarfing the 55 metre schooner Adela and 42 metre J-class Hanuman. The group then close-reached in front of us up the shoreline of Ile Fourchue, launching spinnakers one after the other as they rounded the north-east point of the island.

several superyachts rounding Roche le Boeuf

The superyachts fight for room as they round Roche le Boeuf. From the leader back, the boats are Freya (28 metres), Velsheda (40 metres), Red Dragon (52 metres), Adela (55 metres), L’Hippocampe (30 metres), Hanuman (42 metres), and M5 (77 metres).

The giant 50+ metre ketches Maximus, Hetairos, and Aquarius, along with 47 metre sloop Nilaya were locked in some close racing in the Open class, and we cheered Canadian-owned (and relatively small at 33 metres) Inukshuk as they took the win on Day 2 in the L’Esprit class.

two superyacht sister ships race side by side

Sister ships Rosehearty (white sails) and Melek match-raced throughout the course.

As someone who has done a fair bit of racing over the years, it was nice to see that no matter how big the boat, or how professional the crews, racing is racing. Fifty-six metre sister-ships Melek and Rosehearty, and graceful J-class yachts Hanuman and Velsheda closely match-raced each other around the course. Maneuvers and mark roundings featured some pretty slick crew work in tight quarters, but also showed the drama of boat handling mistakes that any amateur racer would recognize – hour-glassed spinnakers, blown halyards, and sails that were stuck or slow to furl or unfurl.

superyacht with hour-glassed spinnaker during regatta

L’Hippocampe (30 metres) scrambles to fix an hour-glassed spinnaker as Hanuman and Adela sail on ahead.

I can’t imagine a more amazing way to watch a race among these truly impressive boats than sitting in the sun and wind high up on the rugged and wild slopes of Ile Fourchue. It was one of those serendipitous moments in cruising where our timing and the weather conditions lined up perfectly. It’s an experience we won’t soon forget.

Maximus (59 metres) and Nilaya (47 metres) on the final leg of their course. Maximus has just lost control of a downwind sail (you can just see it peeking out behind the leech of the mizzen sail), which will allow Nilaya to pass them and take a strong lead. Our boat, Innisfree, is the blue hulled mono closest to the passing superyachts.




  1. Nancy Carlman says:

    Great article and great pictures. Thank you.

  2. leslie hansen says:

    Super! Thanks so much for sharing this. What a special experience!

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