The (really) big boats have arrived

It’s taken a few years, delayed by the pandemic, but formal Maxi yacht racing is coming to the Caribbean, dramatically increasing competitive opportunities for sailors to race their sleek monohull behemoths that can reach 100 feet in length.

Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille, which begins on Sunday, will join the inaugural IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge, a four-stage event created to increase the participation of Maxis in these regattas and attract more Maxis to the Caribbean sailing circuit.

“Maxi sailors are really excited because it increases the standards and the quality, and the number of regattas they can do,” said Benoît de Froidmont, president of the International Maxi Association. “Now we will have proper starts and courses.”

And more opportunities to sail their boats, which are expensive to maintain and cost up to $10 million – owners want to get the most out of their boats. “The biggest sin is letting these boats rest,” said Ken Keefe, a former America’s Cup sailor who manages and sails Vesper, a Maxi 72.

After a two-year break from many regattas around the world due to the pandemic, sailors are excited about the new series, Keefe said. But many are also practicing some restraint because of Covid and the war in Ukraine.

“Everyone is still a bit in shock coming out of Covid,” he said. “We’re all counting our blessings, but we’re more reserved this year – we won’t be dancing on the tables. But the general feeling is: let’s get back to sailing, get the group back together.

Inspired by the races of the Mediterranean Maxi Circuits, the Caribbean Challenge invites Maxis over 60 feet in length to compete from February to May at the Caribbean 600 in Antigua, St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, Voiles de St. Barth and Antigua Sailing Week.

To qualify for the series, sailors must compete in at least two of the events, although this could eventually be increased to three once the circuit is more established, said James Boyd, an IMA spokesman. Teams that participate in more than two events may discard their worst result.

Technically, the addition of the Caribbean Maxi Challenge is in addition to the IMA-sanctioned Maxi events, but not all Maxi sailors planned to compete in all four Caribbean events. Many will sail in just two or three and win on cumulative performance points, de Froidmont said.

Keefe, who handles Vesper’s logistics, which includes transporting the boat around the world, said it would be possible to compete in all four Caribbean regattas while participating in the Mediterranean sailing seasons.

“It can work to move these boats and sail to beautiful places and do it in a safe way,” Keefe said. “The trick is to get the boat out of the Caribbean as soon as the series ends to avoid hurricane season.”

The first stop in the series was the Caribbean 600 in Antigua. Comanche, a 100ft Verdier design, won the regatta, followed by VO65 Sailing Poland and VO70 I Love Poland.

The conditions were difficult. A sailor told the IMA website that the race was one of the toughest in the world.

“It’s like a heavyweight boxing match – the lefts and the rights keep coming at you and you’re waiting for that knockout blow,” said Richard Clarke, tactician for Warrior Won. “No track is safe until the very end.”

Russian company Comanche, a recent winner of the transatlantic ocean race and a dominant presence in regattas, has withdrawn from the Caribbean Maxi Challenge after World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, banned Russian participation due to war. in Ukraine. Skorpios, a ClubSwan 125 Maxi yacht, also retired under similar circumstances.

“There is an awareness of what is happening in Ukraine,” Keefe said. “The Russians have affected our sport in a strange way.”

The second leg, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, held in early March, lasted four days of racing. Sailing Poland took first place, Janssen de Jong-DutchSail second and I Love Poland third.

The third leg is Les Voiles de St. Barth, and the fourth and final leg is Antigua Sailing Week, which begins April 30.

Maxi racing winners only receive a trophy and bragging rights. “It’s still an ancient sport,” de Froidmont said. “There’s no prize money, just very passionate people who like the challenge.”

The number of Maxis competing has increased over the past few years, he said, and is expected to continue to rise.

Boyd, the IMA spokesperson, said it might take a few years to build a deep fleet for the Caribbean Maxi Challenge.

“It’s the first year,” he said, “so we imagine it will take a few years for it to gain traction. Nonetheless, we’re happy with Maxi’s involvement.

“Maxi’s participation in Les Voiles de St. Barth is also shaping up to be strong with IMA members competing on both sides of the Atlantic,” Boyd added. Twelve Maxis are scheduled to race.

Currently leading the series is the VO70 I Love Poland ahead of the Farr 100 Leopard 3.

“But neither are competing in St. Barths, so we might see new teams take the lead after St. Barths and Antigua,” Boyd said.

“We have incredible competition this year,” said Keefe, who has won Les Voiles de Saint-Barth four times. “I can not wait.”

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