(Really) big boats have arrived

The pandemic took several years, but official Maxi yacht races are coming to the Caribbean, greatly increasing the competitiveness of sailors in racing on their sleek single-hull hippos, which can reach 100 feet in length.

Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille, which kicks off on Sunday, will join the first IMA Caribbean Maxi Challenge, a four-stop event created to increase Maxis ’participation in these regattas and attract more Maxis to the Caribbean sailing route.

“Maxi sailors are very excited because it raises the standards and the quality as well as the number of regattas they can take,” said Benoit de Freimon, president of the International Maxi Association. “Now we will have proper starts and courses.”

And more opportunities to sail on their boats, which are expensive to maintain and cost up to $ 10 million – owners want to get as much as possible from their boats. “The biggest sin is to let these boats just sit,” said Ken Keefe, a former America’s Cup sailor who drives and sails on a Vesper, Maxi 72.

After a two-year hiatus many regattas around the world due to the pandemic sailors are thrilled with the new series, Keefe said. But many are also practicing restraint because of Kovid and the war in Ukraine.

“Still a little shocked when we get out of Covid,” he said. “We are all counting on the blessing, but this year we are more restrained – we will not dance on the tables. But the general feeling is: let’s go back to swimming, let’s get the band together again. “

Built on the Maxi Mediterranean Race Models, the Caribbean Challenge invites Maxis over 60 feet long to compete from February to May on the Caribbean 600 in Antigua, St. Louis Regatta. Maarten Heineken, Les Voiles de St. Barth and Sailing Week in Antigua. .

To qualify for the series, sailors must participate in at least two competitions, although this could eventually be increased to three once the track is better established, said James Boyd, an IMA spokesman. Teams participating in more than two competitions get their worst result.

Technically the addition of the Caribbean Maxi Challenge adds to the allowed IMA Maxi activities, but not all Maxi sailors planned to participate in all four activities in the Caribbean. Many will swim just two or three and win on aggregate performance scores, de Freimon said.

Keefe, who manages logistics for Vesper, which includes transporting boats around the world, said it would be possible to hold all four regattas in the Caribbean and continue to take part in Mediterranean sailing seasons.

“You can move these boats and ride in beautiful places and do it safely,” Keefe said. “The trick is to pull the boat out of the Caribbean as soon as the series is over to avoid hurricane season.”

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

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

“It’s like a heavyweight boxing bout – left and right just keep rushing at you and you’re waiting for that knockout hit,” said Richard Clark, Warrior Won tactician. “No lead is safe until the very end.”

The Russians Comanche, a recent winner of the transatlantic ocean race and a dominant presence in regattas, dropped the Caribbean Maxi Challenge after World Sailing, the governing body of the sport, banned Russia from participating because of the war in Ukraine. Skorpios, the yacht ClubSwan 125 Maxi, also starred in 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 stop, the St. Martin Heineken regatta, held in early March, consisted of four days of racing. Sailing Poland took first place, Jansen de Jong-DutchSail – second, and I Love Poland – third.

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

Maxi Racing winners receive only a trophy and the right to brag. “It remains an ancient sport,” de Freimon said. “No prizes, just very enthusiastic people who like the challenge.”

According to him, the number of Maxis competitors has increased over the past few years and should continue to grow.

Boyd, an IMA spokesman, said it could take several years to build a deep fleet for the Caribbean Maxi Challenge.

“It’s the first year,” he said, “so we think it will take a few years for it to take full effect.” However, we are pleased with Maxi’s turnout.

“Maxi’s participation in Les Voiles de St. Barth also looks strong as IMA members are involved on both sides of the Atlantic, ”Boyd added. A race of twelve Maxis is scheduled.

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

“But neither is involved in St. Barthelemy, so it may be that we will see some new teams take the lead after St. Barthele and Antigua,” Boyd said.

“We have an incredible competition this year,” said Keefe, who has won the Voila St Bart race four times. “I can’t wait.”

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