3rd Course de L’Alliance

This was more like it: glorious conditions, camaraderie, and 23 competing boats, with over 100 sailors, from the host island plus St Barths, Guadeloupe and Martinique. For its third edition, held November 24-26, 2006, St Martin’s Course de l’Alliance has found a formula and a character that sailors like, and will now come back for.

The format is excellently simple: St Maarten to Gustavia, St Barths on day one, St Barths to Anguilla on day two, and back to Marigot, St Martin on the final day. Three races, four territories, five classes… no hitches.

Only a lack of wind on the beat to Gustavia provided a disappointing note, consigning the entire Non-Spinnaker Class to a DNF, with the quickest crossing over all classes coming in at a rather crustacean 5 ½ hours. But otherwise, this regatta provides a whistlestop tour of three very different islands, with each day’s racing themed according to the wind: beating, running downwind with the spinnaker swollen, or reaching, with enough distance on each leg for skippers to open up and stretch the boat’s legs.

Jean Allaire was the sole competitor in the Multihull Class, on Magnum21, but the Sandy Ground sail-maker threw himself into this (and every) local regatta with undiminished enthusiasm. In the Open Class, St Barths’ Stroumpf won two out of three races ahead of Boliciu and Mermaid of Antigua, who were roped into the regatta at the last minute to spice up their crossing to Gustavia. Paulista from Guadeloupe took Spinnaker 2, ahead of local favorite L’Esperance, which normally races without a chute, while Frits Bus’s Carib Hiho took full advantage of flat seas and light winds to win all three races in Spinnaker 1, ahead of Sam Jang and Vanille. In Non-Spinnaker, Robbie Ferron’s Nautique won the only two qualifying legs, ahead of Tamaya and Colin Percy’s Nonesuch Antares.

A quick straw-poll at the awards ceremony found competitors overwhelmingly supportive of the event. Philippe Herve of Vanille is something of a local regatta connoisseur whose opinion is not to be sniffed at. The French liveaboard praised the idea of uniting the two sides of St Maarten, and noted “perfect organization”. However, a below average welcome by the Port of Gustavia left a rather bitter taste. Jean Luc Vince, from Guadeloupe, crew on Paulista, said: “It was perfect; friendly people, organized very well. I really have no bad comment to make.” Heather Judd and Alain Barras aboard their Presidente Pretty Woman particularly enjoyed the trip to St Barths and the chance to catch up in Le Select in Gustavia, but found the experience of driving a big boat with an asymmetric spinnaker around three islands with just two of them hard work. “It’s OK when you’ve got Kevlar sails, but with a laminated Dacron sail, it takes work,” said Judd.

Organizer Herve Dorvil, who deserves enormous credit for turning this regatta around after last year’s six-boat debacle, paid special tribute to St Maarten’s ‘Iron Lady’, Mirian Leffers-Ebbers, who ran the races. “People who come to race want clarity and adherence to the rules,” said the latter. “If a race is supposed to start at 9, then it has to. Sailors want a clear and well-organized race, whether there are five or 250 boats. It needs to be 110% perfect.”

St Maarten/St Martin currently has four offshore yacht regattas in the calendar (three of them under the fist of the ‘Iron Lady’), ranging from the 27-year-old Heineken to the younger Classic and Captain Oliver’s. In the Course de l’Alliance, the French side, too, has found its niche.