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Virago Wins 16th Annual St Barth Bucket

With the largest fleet in its 16-year history, the St Barth Bucket, sailed March 24-26th, made an indelible mark on the island of Saint Barth, for more reasons than one. Not only did the 40 magnificent sailboats, ranging in size from the 76ft W-class White Wings to the 289ft Perini Navi beauty, Maltese Falcon, by way of a pair of J-boat replicas, Hanuman and Ranger, create a stir, but the Bucket also presented an air show that brought excitement to the skies overhead.

With such a large fleet, the organizers of the Bucket decided to divide the boats into three categories for the first time, rather than just two. So in addition to Les Grandes Dames des Mers (cruising class) and Les Gazelles des Mers (racing class), the new class called Les Elegantes des Mers was added for classic sailboats, which included such beauties as the 55-meter Hereshoff schooner, Elena of London, the 55-meter ketch Marie, and the handsome new Bequia, a 90-footer built in traditional style.

The weather could not have been better for the three days of racing with winds 13 to 17 knots, calm seas and sunny skies. Conditions meant a weekend of straightforward sailing over the three courses: around the island – in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions; the 'wiggly course'; or triangle course around the small islands lying to the north of Saint Barth.

The overall winner of this year's Bucket was the 30-meter sloop Virago, designed by Frers and built by Nautor Swan. "This is an amazing adventure we started last year," says Barbara Hemmerle Gollust, who accepted the winner's trophies along with Robert Rosenkranz and Alexandra Monroe. "Last year was our first Bucket and we won race three. This year we won both the second and third day in our class. It was very exciting."

Sunday's winner was Helios, a 45-meter Perini Navi sloop. "Helios came alive on day three!" says Captain Duncan Robinson. "The extra couple of knots of wind make all the difference for us and we could really feel the boat powering up. We had a great team and everything went right. The decisive moment was calling the layline to Les Grenadiers. At six minutes per tack we do not want to be short-tacking to make the mark. I enjoy racing at any level but to push boats of this size around the course is a real buzz. The Bucket lets owners race their yachts and makes for some great networking."

In addition to Virago claiming top honors in the Gazelles racing class, other winners include the 37-meter S&S ketch Axia, in the Grandes Dames cruising class, and the 42-meter Frers ketch Rebecca in the new classic Les Elegantes class.

Jim Teeters' Bucket Rating system worked well this year. Boats were well matched and racing was exhilarating: "On Sunday, we had 34 boats finish within 20 minutes of each other," said Bucket committee chair, Hank Halstead of Northrop and Johnson. The 2011 St. Barth's Bucket was the first to be sailed under modified Racing Rules of Sailing for 2009-2012 (RRS).

The 2011 Bucket will be remembered as a highly professional and well-organized event, with Peter Craig in his second year as race director. (And yes, there were crews competing for the Skullduggery Award dressed as Vikings and chickens, and there are rumors that a live goat was involved.) An extra element was added with an air show featuring four World War II aircraft, courtesy of the Texas Flying Legends Museum in Houston and the Bosarge Family Foundation.

The air show was part of the yearlong 25th anniversary celebrations of the first Bucket regatta sailed in Nantucket in 1986. To get to Saint Barth, the planes flew the farthest they have flown since WWII. From a fly-past at the airport to aerial stunts at the end of the race in the afternoon, the vintage planes: a P15 Mustang, P-40-K, Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, and B-25J – were impressive to watch.

After 16 years, the Bucket has evolved to a major regatta for sailboats 30-meters and above, and boats compete for the 40 coveted slots on the roster. The 2012 edition, to be held March 29 to April 1st, again promises great sailing and a second edition of the air show in what Halsted calls: "the first marriage of these two great sports."

For full details on all entries, award winners and sponsors: www.bucketregattas.com/stbarths/awards.html

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux lives in Saint Barthélemy where she is editor-in-chief of Harbour Magazine, and has been a regular contributor to All At Sea since 2000. She also writes regularly about entertainment design and technology for Live Design magazine, and about Caribbean architecture for MACO, a Trinidad-based lifestyle magazine.

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