It has been a nail biting three days in St Barths. After two days of racing in winds that averaged the upper end of 15 to 20 knots, day three presented the final challenge and offered up a few surprises, with Marie sweeping in to claim the overall Bucket, and Bequia, Nilaya, Marie and Altair all winning in their classes.
There were highs and lows for many throughout the three days, spinnakers breaking, narrow misses, broken winches, hitting the rocks, victories snatched away at the last minute and surprise triumphs. "There were some really tense moments," the owner of Seahawk, tells me. "We hit the rocks on day two with our centreboard and today we broke our spinnaker, but each time we managed to regain our time and become a threat again." The big names and show stopper yachts like Seahawk, Hetairos and Lady B or newer fast yachts like Ohana, who can tack and regain the same speed in 40 seconds, meant that yachts like the 29m Altair may have passed under the radar, but by the end of day three, it was clear that the underdogs have just as much of a chance to shine. Altair scooped the victory for the Grand Dames class, her owner over the moon with his win and with his crew's performance. In fact, for me, Altair embodied what the famous "spirit of the Bucket" is all about. A first time entry, this yacht, although not the newest, flashiest or fastest boat on the water, had a skilled crew, gracious owner and a positive attitude that meant first or last, they were happy to be there.
I watched owners head in their hands after a yacht they had been ahead of passed them and I watched them dance on the flybridge as they were gaining on another rival. Tacticians plotting, safety officers negotiating, race crew swearing, captains rallying. The air was vibrating with competitive energy. "This has been an unbelievable week," Hank Halstead, co-director and veteran of the St Barths Bucket. "The conditions have made sure that each day is exciting and I don't think we have seen racing like this for a long time."
What makes the Bucket special for a lot of people is the social side. The Bucket is famous for bringing people together for a good party, and this year was no different. Owners, major industry names, race crew, permanent crew and locals were all mixing on the docks in Gustavia each evening after the racing. "Do you know, I love St Barths because it is so social," the owner of Inouï says to me while we are sitting on his striking 33m pistachio green Vitters in the bay on the last evening. "I enjoy walking along the dock, meeting old friends and making new ones. This is one of the most social regattas and we always enjoy the atmosphere. They do a great job organising everything." Indeed, the sight of the owners of one of the yachts dancing to Jimmy Buffet alongside a big name designer and the crew members of another yacht at the Bucket Bash on Saturday is a pretty good embodiment of what the makes the Bucket unique.
"This is one of those industry's where exclusivity and privacy is typically the name of the game," the captain of one of the larger yachts says to me. "St Barths brings out the best in everyone though. Yes it can be competitive, yes there are rivalries, yes there will always be issues with ratings or results or controversial decisions and there is often some history between some yachts. But at the end of the day, you will rarely see many owners as happy as they are here. Owners love St Barths because they can relax and they can really enjoy their yachts, which they have invested so much time and money into. Their yachts come to life and so do they."