Hanuman won the record six strong J Class at the Saint Barths Bucket, the first regatta of a milestone J Class 2017 season, but the outcome could not have been closer.

Victory in the final race of the event, the 21 mile clockwise passage around St Barthelemy, means they finished the five race series with an identical, facsimile set of scores to Velsheda, but win on tie break. Ironically the popular showcase Caribbean regatta finished on the same note is started. On Thursday Velsheda and Hanuman finished Race 1 tied on exactly the same corrected time. Over the next three days both crews won three races – including the shared Race 1 win – and earned a second and a fourth apiece.

It is not just the top two which tied. Underlining just how close racing is in this six boat fleet, Lionheart and Ranger finish on the same aggregate as each other, 18pts tally. Lionheart's second in today's the last race also proves the decider, giving third overall to the black boat skippered by Bouwe Bekking.

"We saved our best for last." Winning skipper-helm Ken Read observed. "That was a great race. But we had to get lucky. Sometimes your luck goes with you. Velsheda have sailed a brilliant regatta. And they had to be fourth and they were fourth. I have been in their shoes and it is no fun. But I give our team a heap of credit. We sailed the boat well today. We are learning and today was our best day."

Hanuman won the last two races of this regatta to triumph at their first event back with the J Class since the 2014 Superyacht Cup Palma which they won.
"We are really stoked. Jim and Kristy Clark the owners are super stoked. The good news is we see a lot of potential for improvement before Bermuda."

The round the island race was conclusively the best race of the regatta with three different leaders, Ranger, Lionheart and Hanuman and only two minutes separating the top four boats after nearly two hours and 20 minutes of racing.

Ranger, with Murray Jones calling tactics, made the best move on the first, short downwind from the start. Holding offshore, to the left, they found more wind pressure and a favourable shift and lead Lionheart and Topaz. Inshore in less breeze Hanuman and Velsheda – the two top contenders for the overall – started modestly. As the 14kts breeze lightened on the long beat north of the island, Lionheart tacked inshore and lost out. When the wind eased Ranger struggled on their smaller G3 headsail and was progressively caught by Hanuman. But as the fleet turned in the Baie of St Jean Velsheda and Lionheart came back in to the leaders bringing up more breeze, the top four yachts compressing to set up a thrilling finale.

Lionheart and Hanuman went head to head, bow to bow, on the windward leg to the crucial turns at the Grenadiers and Roches Rouges, with Hanuman managing to squeeze ahead from her windward berth. At the finish line Hanuman crossed just 23 seconds ahead of Lionheart which finished second, their best result of a regatta which was marked by too many mechanical breakdowns. On the final half mile of the last run Velsheda, less than a boat length behind, needed to pass Ranger to win the regatta. They tried a valiant gybe to try and make the break but to no avail. Fourth handed the regatta to race winners Hanuman.

"We did not have a fantastic start. Hanuman took it on to us with a bit of a match which is what we expected. We knew we needed to stay with them but they managed to match us out of the race. It was a struggle to get back on a reaching race course. We took some big chunks out of everybody. But it became harder and harder as the clock ran down." Campbell Field, the Velsheda navigator recalled, "We are a bit disappointed. But that is just now. If someone told us coming into this regatta we would finish on equal points with Hanuman we would have taken it, considering what has gone into that programme, the resources and training." "Last day we are a bit disappointed because it is always your last race of a regatta which you remember. But we sailed well. The guys handled the boat phenomenally."

Lionheart squeaked into third place overall, tied on points with Ranger which finished third today. But Lionheart's tactician Bouwe Bekking refused to dwell on the costly breakages which compromised some of their races.

"That was the first race we did with no breakages and we get a good result." He observed, "When you break things it gets hectic. We just kept fighting and finish up on the podium so that is good. It was not our week. That is how it goes. But the boat is going really well and we can mix it with the other guys. That is what is important."

Murray Jones Ranger's tactician rued their decision to go with a smaller headsail today: "We had the wrong jib on. We made that call too early and that cost us the race really. Round the back of the island it got light and we lost out there. Otherwise we were hanging in there. It was great regatta. It is great to race with six boats. We sailed well at times and not so well at other times. In Bermuda it will be different. In these big waves here it is difficult. It will be really competitive in Bermuda with some of the boats already optimised for the conditions there."

At only their second ever J Class regatta since Topaz was launched in 2015, new helm Peter Holmberg is objective about their performance, recognising considerable potential and lots of learning to come: "Generally our regatta was OK. We came in with moderate expectations. We achieved a lot of good things. We got the sails up and down at all the right times on the corners and that is good. The boat did not let us down at all. There are times when the J struggles and that is where we struggled more than the others. We were on the upper range of the J2 jib in that mode of sailing and so it was out of bounds. There is one struggle. The boat was going well and there is a lot of potential. In Bermuda it will be tight, confined courses and speed will matter even more. With any new project like this there is normally 20-30 per cent of performance to be had as soon as you hit the water. This the challenge we expected. The regatta? It's the Caribbean. It's 20kts and sunshine!"

And for Shamrock, also the first regatta for the historic J Class yacht's new owner and new crew, the 30th St Barths Bucket proved an enormously enjoyable and instructive learning experience. Navigator Ian Moore enthused: "It was a stunning week. It was a bit scary for us, a bit top end. But it was just amazing. We have a new owner to the class and this is just the beginning of his journey. We just want to see steady improvement, here that was on a daily basis! Today was good. Our crew work was really crisp. We found new ways to drop the kite and that meant we could drop later. Our manoeuvres. We are struggling upwind because we don't have the righting moment. But, but, but….it is fantastic. It is great to be there in the thick of it at the start with six J Class yachts. It was amazing conditions and just a great thing to be a part of."

Two of the top three places – Velsheda in second and Lionheart in third – go to owner-drivers.

St Barths Bucket. J Class Race 5, 21 miles clockwise around Saint Barthelemy
1 Hanuman 2h 19m 10s
2 Lionheart 2h 19m 33s
3 Ranger 2h 21m 14s
4 Velsheda 2h22m 0s
5 Topaz 2h 24m 30s
6 Shamrock 2h 25m 57s

Overall after five races, no discard
1 Hanuman 9.5 (1.5, 2,4,1,1)
2 Velsheda 9.5 (1.5, 1,1,2,4)
3 Lionheart 18 (7,4,2,3,2)
4 Ranger 18 (4,3,3,5,3)
5 Topaz 23 (3,5,6,4,5)
6 Shamrock 28 (5,6,5,6,6)

Photos: ©JClass/CarloBorlenghi

© Carlo Borlenghi
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