For the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule, the Caribbean island of Barbados is making determined efforts to attract cruisers.
Barbados is one of the most popular tropical islands on the planet, especially with Britons, who flock to its pristine sandy beaches to relax and enjoy the hot Caribbean sun. This year is the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule, but the island is sometimes still called Little England.
Prosperous, with low crime, it’s a gentle introduction to the West Indies. For sailors the living is easy. Fresh fruit and veg cost very little in the colourful markets and the street food loved by locals is fresh and filling. There are 1,200 ‘rum shops’ (small bars) and the people are famously friendly.
Lying 98 miles east of the Caribbean chain, this is the nearest landfall for yachts crossing the Atlantic from the Canaries or Cape Verdes. Why, then, do many yachts swerve past beautiful Barbados and head for Saint Lucia, Antigua or Grenada instead?
The simple answer is that the yachting and sailing boats who would previously have been content to lie at anchor started to seek marinas where they could plug in electrical devices, walk ashore to showers and shops, and rest at night untroubled by the Atlantic swell.
Other islands were quick to respond by installing pontoons and moorings, leaving Barbados behind. As far back as 1989 Jimmy Cornell cited lack of yacht facilities when he moved the ARC rally finish away from Barbados, a bitter blow for the island and a boost for the new venue, Saint Lucia.
Something must be done
The government and yachting community, remembering the days when hundreds of visiting yachts dotted Carlisle Bay, the island’s main anchorage, knew that something had to be done. Inspired into action, their aim is nothing less than to reinstate Barbados as the Caribbean’s most popular first port of call.
Eager to get the message out to yachtsmen, the tourism authority invited us to look at the work in progress. They’re not hanging about. Building is in full swing at the Shallow Draught dock on the outskirts of the capital, Bridgetown, where there will soon be 40 fully serviced yacht berths. The dock might be renamed to avoid confusion as it is only shallow for ships – in yacht terms it’s plenty deep enough.
The Shallow Draught will also be home to a brand new Customs and Immigration building especially for yachts, proof that the government has taken heed of a major gripe. The current situation where yachts have to negotiate Bridgetown’s huge cruise-ship port to find Customs and Immigration, then struggle to moor on a ship-size dock and visit multiple offices filling in similar paperwork will soon be a thing of the past.
Feeling a little like a fish out of water, Skip tries out the St Barths Bucket superyacht regatta, meets some old friends
Superyacht regattas are not really my cup of tea. The last time I did one was in 2001 aboard Timoneer during the America’s Cup Jubilee in Cowes, with my former Pelagic partner and Whitbread shipmate Phil Wade. So it was with some reluctance that I was parachuted into St Barths for the Bucket regatta in March.
If truth be known I was there to do two polar inspections on yachts going into high latitudes north and south. In the warm sunshine and a tradewind breeze it was frankly hard to concentrate on the job in hand.
Likewise, the crews on board both boats were understandably preoccupied with preparing their yachts, turning them from cruising mode to racing mode.
So it was very difficult to get our minds around growlers and bergy bits.
There were 39 entries for the Bucket, which apparently is the most popular superyacht regatta on both sides of the Atlantic. This was a record year.
These regattas are always a Who’s Who of professional racing. Flown in from all points on the globe in between their main racing campaigns, the young guys provide the muscle still required on the foredeck wrestling acres of light canvas; the older, wiser hands push the buttons that operate those sophisticated hydraulic control systems, while the sailing celebrities drive, do tactics and navigate.
On Surama, a 131ft Huisman ketch built in 1997 and on her first outing as a racer, we had none other than the Volvo Ocean Race winner Ian Walker on the wheel.
During pre-race coffee (US$6 for a cappuccino) and post-race drinks I ran into old shipmates I hadn’t seen in years, in some cases decades. They were surprised to see me in a pair of shorts and flip flops, so I came in for some lighthearted flak, many kindly commenting on how I hadn’t changed, some coming to the same conclusion: that it must be something to do with life in the cold – sort of like pulling a salmon fresh out of the freezer, unlike the long process of curing a sardine or a kipper with 30 years of tropical sun.
And that’s right, for all those who were there, I don’t dye my hair – yet.
Superyacht racing is not for the inexperienced or, for that matter, the fainthearted, even if an old hand. The loads on the sheets are measured in tens of tonnes and things do break. This has resulted in a few horrendous accidents that are sometimes mentioned, but not belaboured. They are now lessons to keep in the back of one’s mind always.
As sort of a beginner, I was given a starter role as trimmer of the mizzen staysail. This might have been in jest, assuming Jon Morris, the crew boss, had read my column in this magazine, as the mizzen staysail winch was the only one aboard operated by a winch handle, something with which I am at least familiar.
“As sort of a beginner, I was given a starter role as trimmer of the mizzen staysail, the only winch on board operated by a handle”
Other responsibilities were keeping Ian’s hat from blowing off his head – potentially serious under the tropical sun given he sports a cue ball. I couldn’t help sprinting forward uninvited though – a 30m sprint – to gather the MPS on takedowns and also overhaul the MPS sheet on the gybes before sprinting back to set the mizzen staysail. I have to admit that every time I did this it made me feel my age a bit.
The superyacht racing rules are adjuncts that have been invented to make things safer for the crews piloting these vessels, some up to 600 tonnes displacement. There is a 40m distance rule that is monitored by range finders for crossing and mark roundings. What we guessed was 40m (our boat length) turned out to be 80m, so my conclusion was that 40m is really, really close.
The thought of a hydraulic failure on the mainsheet winch for a bear away duck in a port/starboard situation was a frightening thought. Quite rightly, a mature approach is certainly needed – no cowboys need apply.
Superyachts? No, they are ships with sails.
Skip Novak is a columnist and regular contributor to Yachting World, and author of our acclaimed Storm Sailing Series, which you can also find on our website. He was born in Chicago in 1952 and started sailing at an early age. He has raced in four Whitbread Round the World races and in 2001 co-skippered the 108ft catamaran Innovation in The Race round the world in 65 days, an event in which his future wife, Elena, also raced.
It was always going to be a big day on the water, but the last day of the 2016 Olympic Games really did deliver something special.
The women’s 470 final started proceedings in a brisk 17 knots – Britons Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark had only to finish to secure Gold, which they did with ease in eighth. The 2012 champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) finished third, confirming them in silver position, while the French team of Camille Lecointre and Hélène Defrence claimed Bronze by a single point.
Despite their 20-point advantage, it was still possible for the British pair to lose their Gold: a DSQ score could have put paid to their win.
Mills commented: “That last race was really hard. We had to finish the Medal Race, but at the same time there was a massive battle behind us for silver and bronze and we didn’t want to be the boat that tacked on someone, causing them to lose a medal. We honestly just tried to stay out of it, it was the right thing to do.”
Clark added: “It wasn’t a forgone conclusion today; we knew we could have lost the medal. We knew we had to be sensible and just do the same boring routine things that we’ve been doing for the last ten days. The big fear was suffering a breakage, such as the mast breaking, so we couldn’t finish the race.”
But shortly after Tina Mrak and Veronik Macarol (SLO) won the race, Mills and Clark crossed the finish line to secure Gold and finally allow their celebrations to begin.
Mills said: “We ran down the beach. I just wanted to see my mum, she’s been here the whole time supporting me, along with my family back at home. It is just such an amazing moment to be able to share with everyone. When you’re out on the water you’re doing it on your own and it was nice to be able to come in and see everyone.
Saskia said: “I can’t stop smiling. It’s been amazing winning a medal with one of my best mates and Joe (Glanfield), our coach is an absolute legend.”
The men’s 470 race still had potential for a dramatic conclusion, but the Croatian team of Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO) kept control of the final race, making sure they stayed ahead of their rivals Australia and Greece. However Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) were much concerned about protecting the silver medal and engaged Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) in a match race before the start.
The Swiss team streaked off into the lead, but the three medal contenders were much more interested in covering each other’s moves at the back of the fleet.
Belcher mostly had the best of Mantis until the top of the final windward leg when Ryan lost his footing and briefly fell overboard. The Greeks seized the moment and moved into the lead, but the Australians attacked again on the final run to the finish. They pressured the Greek boat into making a small mistake on a gybe, and the 2012 Olympic Champion Belcher crossed the line just six seconds before their rivals to secure silver for Australia.
Fantela and Marenic’s 470 Men’s gold follows Croatian Tonci Stipanovic’s Laser Men’s silver just two days ago. Croatia had never won an Olympic medal in sailing, now it has two.
Finishing in third place in the medal race were Luke Patience and Chris Grube, taking them to fifth overall. They may have been out of contention for the medals, but the British pair were justly proud of what they have achieved, campaigning together for only eight months after Elliot Willis, Patience’s previous crew, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2015.
Patience said: “We dug so deep and stayed interested in moving up and solving a problem. We approached it with intensity.
“I know it wasn’t for medals but we treated it like it was and showed our true qualities because we had a bad start and we fought and fought. I’m happy, it’s been such a pleasure to sail with Chris over the last eight months, I feel happy, I really do.”
The 49er class belonged to Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand. Long before the Games they had stamped their utter domination on the fleet, unbeaten for over 20 events and two years in everything they sailed their 49er, and alternating four world championship wins with a Moth world title for helmsman Burling. They proudly carried their country’s silver fern flag at the Olympic opening ceremony and few sailors set out onto Guanabara Bay with greater expectations on their shoulders.
Even the many variables of Rio failed to break their stride – they started with two wins, and scored no worse than 7th all regatta, sealing their Gold medal with a race to spare. To drive home the point, they then won the Medal Race too.
The laidback Kiwis don’t give much away, although they did allow themselves a spectacular spinnaker capsize on the line as they crossed the finish as victors. It will be back to the day job for both of them soon – the two are lynchpin members of the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup challenge.
Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel (GER) began the day in silver medal position, but started very badly after a near capsize just 20 seconds before the start. This put the Germans on the back foot and opened the door for Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) to seize the advantage. The 2012 Olympic Champions did enough to stay ahead of their rivals and won silver for Australia, Germany taking bronze.
The women’s skiff class rounded off the sailing at the greatest show on earth, and what a show it was with four crews in a straightforward fight to the finish for gold: Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos (ESP), Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA), Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL).
Maloney and Meech had built a good lead on the first lap but led Brazil by just 13 seconds at the halfway stage of the three-lap race. At the bottom gate, the Kiwis chose the right-hand side and Brazil broke off to the left in search of something different. When they came back together again at the top of the course, Brazil’s tactics had given them a ten-second lead.
On the final run to the finish the Kiwis attacked hard and made up ground on the Brazilians but somehow Grael and Kunze held on to squeeze across the very outer limit of the finish line just two seconds ahead. The crowd on Flamengo Beach exploded.
While New Zealand took silver, bronze went to Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN). The team to miss out on a medal from the four-way battle was the Spanish crew of Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos (ESP).
Grael’s victory continues a great family tradition, her father Torben having won five Olympic medals for Brazil to become a true national hero. Brazilian spectators carried out the sailing equivalent of a pitch invasion, swimming to the course area to escort the winners in before Grael and Kunze were carried ashore aloft in their 49erFX. The host nation has just got two new superstars, and they just happen to be sailors.