Sail Away to St. Barts

By Mike Espindle | February 3, 2020 | Lifestyle

Many know all about St. Barts’ appeal as a French-inflected, celeb-favored Caribbean hot spot. What you might not know, though, is the island’s growing reputation as a sailing and regatta mecca—thanks in no small part to race sponsor and watchmaker Richard Mille.

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A view of St. Barts' party mecca, Nikki Beach.

The island that was once a boho-chic, off-the-radar getaway has become one of the Caribbean’s biggest scenes, especially during the holiday high season. A-listers and fashion icons mingle with socialite visitors and locals at notorious Champagne-fueled parties along Nikki Beach, private affairs at Anse de Grande Saline, legendary nightclubs like Le Ti or, simply, private villas in the hills. If, that is, they can score an invite. One of the major draws for the cognoscenti is that it’s a notoriously difficult island to get to. The small airstrip can only accommodate smaller planes, so private jets, in particular, or short but thrilling prop hops from St. Martin or San Juan have been the traditional methods of arrival.

Or, private yachts. Most winters, capital city Gustavia’s marina is chockablock with superyachts from the world over. Hence, the island’s maritime affinity. However, for most proper sailing vessels, a crossing to St. Barts can prove challenging due to rough waters. But the brisk, predictable winds adjacent to the island provide top conditions for sailing and racing, especially come spring, when the crowds depart. Hosted by regatta sponsor Richard Mille, we traveled to St. Barts to get to know the island offshore—beyond the glitterati of Nikki Beach.

Although not quite as developed as the regatta season in the British Virgin Islands or elsewhere, St. Barts holds a Bucket Regatta (March 19 to 22) and hosts several other more local races throughout the season. But the main event of St. Barts’ racing is Les Voiles de St. Barth (lesvoilesdestbarthrichardmille.com), with its 11th edition scheduled April 12 to 18.

VDS2019christophejouany09750rev0.jpgRacers line up for the starting horn at last year's Les Voiles de St. Barth regatta.

Last year’s competition saw 63 impeccable vessels—from more traditional racers to high-tech marvels—and some 1,200 sailors ply the waters and winds for five days of racing. Eco-consciousness was a focus and will continue to be this year: The sprawling racing village at Gustavia Harbour aims to be 100% plastic-free.

After four days of competition in ideal conditions, the weather continued to shine on the final day of racing last year. Winds 16 to 18 knots (although we unofficially clocked boats doing closer to 20-plus knots during the races) presided over a course between 24 and 29 nautical miles.

063RenaudCorlouerrev0.jpgAn aerial view of regatta winner Sorcha

Sorcha, a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber 16-ton Maxi 72 monohull, swept all titles. It took home the Maxi 1 crown, the coveted Richard Mille Maxi Cup and the prize that goes with it: an RM 60-01 flyback chronograph Regatta timepiece.

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The grand prize: RM 60-01 flyback chronograph Regatta, $155,500, richardmille.com

Richard Mille’s first purpose-built regatta racing timepiece, the RM 60-01 features a flyback chronograph function that allows resetting with a single push—useful for timing multiple objects, like a bunch of sails coming up quickly on your stern. With a raft of other race-friendly functions and Richard Mille’s signature skeletonized, colorful and technical design, the RM 60-01 is the ultimate sailing companion.

Sorcha was helmed by sailor and Richard Mille partner Pierre Casiraghi, grandson of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, and eighth in the line to the throne of Monaco. “But,” Casiraghi told me, “please call me Pierre.” He continued: “There is a strong connection between fine timepieces and world-class sailing—a connection along the lines of precision and design. And, at the level of Richard Mille and Sorcha, you are talking about the best of the best of both aspects.”

So, just how useful is a sailing timepiece during a race, really? “You know, it’s funny, but I use a watch more when I am sailing than I do in everyday life,” Casiraghi said. “There are the useful functions, of course, but I am constantly checking the time to see where we are in the race. Racing at this level is also very demanding, so I am always interested in how soon we will finish so I can get home to my family.”

And, how did he find the waters around St. Barts? “I’ve sailed competitively all over the world; you name the race, and I’ve been in it,” Casiraghi commented. “But this is my very first time sailing in St. Barts, and I was very impressed: the routes, the conditions and the very nature of the island—all superb. It’s no wonder it is becoming more and more popular on the regatta circuit.”



Photography by: Courtesy of Richard Mille