Photo: Michael Kurtz
Photo: Michael Kurtz
A Bucket list experience
The sailing community invokes a particular passion for the sea, and a natural bond and friendship between those who enjoy it. No wonder, then, that the legendary St Barths Bucket draws people to indulge in wonderful shared experiences.
Whenever you mention to the uninitiated that you are headed to the Bucket in St Barths, the question invariably comes up: what is the Bucket? There are several notions about where the name originated, but none can be substantiated. The first ‘Bucket’ was held in Nantucket – the little island in Massachusetts that lies next to Martha’s Vineyard – in 1986. A handful of yacht owners initiated an impromptu friendly sailing competition, with the emphasis squarely on fun – no yacht was allowed to win twice.
For the first race, Nelson Doubleday, owner of the sailing yacht Mandalay, offered a small silver pitcher as a trophy for the occasion. The pitcher was not a bucket, but perhaps the winner’s champagne bucket of Dom Perignon was inspiration for the name? Or then again, maybe Nantucket Bucket just had a good ring to it? Whatever its origins, the Nantucket Bucket ran for 15 years before the organisers called it quits, but during its tenure, in 1995, the St Barths Bucket – held on the island of St Barthélemy in the Caribbean – was established as a sister regatta.
Today, the St Barths Bucket stands alone as the singular Bucket regatta (other types of superyacht races in other parts of the world notwithstanding). Clearly, if you love sailing, St Barths in the end of March is the place to be. For one thing, sailing conditions in this region are generally ideal—well, except when they are not.
“There was the time when there was no wind for three days and we were literally drifting over the starting line, a half hour after the gun, stern first,” says Louis Hamming, CEO of sailing superyacht builder Vitters (the company is one of the official stewards of the Bucket). Hamming knows of what he speaks – he has participated in at least 30 Bucket regattas in Nantucket, St Barths and Newport (when another version of the event was held there). “It was disappointing, but on the other hand people became resourceful in finding ‘alternative activities’. Not being able to race was no reason not to have fun or not to come back. The Bucket,” he continues, “was conceived as a means of fun and friendly competition among owners and their guests, and not as an industry event.”
Hamming and most others I chatted with who participated at the 2023 Bucket seem to concur that the event has changed over the years from only fun to competitive sailing and fun. “It is easy to get drawn into the competition only mode, but this is not the only thing the Bucket is about,” says Hamming. “It is also about the social events and the enjoyment of all the owners and their guests. To maintain the right balance is what we are after, and that is what makes the Bucket a unique event.”
Parties and the yacht hop are all part of the fun. This year, among several private gatherings, there was a welcome party aboard the Dutch Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam, hosted by sailing yacht builder Royal Huisman; a Bucket Owner’s party at Nikki Beach complete with big screen on the beach offering video footage of the races; and a lively, chic dinner at Tamarin hosted by Hermès. Doubleday’s small silver pitcher has been long replaced by a stunning Hermès sterling silver champagne bucket encased in hand stitched leather, which has become the perpetual trophy.
Jeroen Sirag, Marketing Director for Royal Huisman, is a firm Bucket believer. “More and more owners of our superyachts have come to recognise that the thrill of the regatta circuit coupled with the relaxed social ambiance they can enjoy ashore with fellow likeminded yacht owners, guests and crew represents a great way to use their yachts,” says Sirag. “Our company was an early supporter of the original Nantucket Bucket regatta in 1986 and has continued to support the Bucket Regattas ever since. In 2014 we teamed up with a few yards to acquire the Bucket Regattas and so to secure the relaxed, owner-focused culture of these special events for the long term.”
Yacht designer Francesca Muzio and her partner and husband Luca Boldrini were also on hand for this year’s festivities. Boldrini says he has been to maybe six Buckets and Muzio perhaps one or two fewer. “With St Barths being a very tiny Island, the event presents real opportunity for a gathering of like-minded people. Friends stick together or they bump into each other at any corner of the island,” says Boldrini.
“Back when I was working at Perini Navi, there was a ‘Perini House’ that was open to all Bucket participants to come hang out — owners, captains, Bucket aficionados, and friends from the island would convene to eat pasta, drink wine, and even sing together,” he continues. “These small casual dinners were truly special moments, transforming the Bucket from a regatta to a friendly destination; racing during the day and pure enjoyment during the night – no sales activity, no promotion, just passion and authenticity.”
Photo: Michael Kurtz
Photo: Michael Kurtz
Ilya Rigas, owner of the 50 metre Perini Navi yacht Almyra II, was a first-time participant in the 2023 Bucket, along with her family. “Our first sailing experience at the St Barths regatta exceeded all our expectations,” she enthuses. “Our passion and energy seem to have really shone through with our fantastic racing team. It’s amazing how even without any previous experience, we all managed to connect and work so well together.”
While the thrill of racing is part of it, the large element is the pure enjoyment of sailing – of harnessing the wind and switching off the engines, and feeling the power as the yacht effortlessly glides through the water. “I am passionate about sailing,” Rigas says. “The combination of the wind, water, and the thrill of the ride drew me in from the very first time I stepped foot on a boat.
“Navigating the vastness of the ocean and feeling the power of nature is an experience that never gets old,” she continues. “Sailing has become a way of life for me, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. The regatta,” she concludes, “was an unforgettable experience. I hadn’t any expectations, so it was all about learning and enjoying the journey. I’ll keep chasing my sailing dreams and I hope I will have more unforgettable races to come!”