29 March 2011

Le Bucket, 2011, Plus

Okay, gang, it's Bucket time again.  For those with short memories, a Bucket is basically an opportunity for those who are immune to "la crise" to gather, show off their gorgeous ocean-going sailboats-- which are maintained and engineered to the nth degree--, and race them on brilliantly designed courses around the island.  Oh yeah, the owners and crews may partake of alcohol on the dock each evening.

Before I get to the "show" part of this essay, (yup, I can put pix in here, tho video still eludes me), a few words about the mechanics of a "Bucket." ( By the way, nothing I have read has revealed to me derivation of the nomenclature, other than the derogatory notion of an old leaky scow.).  I know it began in Nantucket 25 years ago, then moved to Newport, and while they run a Bucket there in the summer, they also have organized one here in March for the past 15 years.

Now how can they really run a "race" among 40 boats that are so dramatically different from one another in size, (they range from 110 feet to 280 feet) crew, amount and type of sail, etc? Easy: hundreds of computer gnomes and sailing captains have developed a handicapping system (today's word for it might be "alogorithm") that takes into account some 20 characteristics of each vessel, such as length, width, type of keel, sails, weight, etc. They then separate the boats into three classes, --Les Grand Dames de Mer, Les Elegantes, and Les Gazelles-- and on race day they plug the wind speed and direction into the calculation, and assign boats to one of the courses.  The longest one is 20 miles.  While the boats start and finish from the same line, the starting times are staggered so that even within each class, the faster boats start later. 

The skill in sailing ship handling becomes evident from the first moment.  Engines must be in neutral for five minutes before start. (For safety, engines remain on, in neutral, throughout the race.)  So these huge vessels circle and tack around under full sail behind the start line, calculating on how to get across the line exactly at the buzzer at the end of the countdown ( which is communicated to them over VHF,-- we listened on my portable).  One ship had a "delta" of just four seconds, while another was so many minutes behind, the Commodore laughed and said he would not put it out over the air. Not one sailboat crossed the line early.

How good is the system?  Yesterday, two boats, different classes, different courses, crossed the finish line within 40 seconds of each other!  The next one was two minutes behind.  Fantastic.

And the sight of these works of art stretched out across the horizon at the finish is just overwhelming.  It has nothing to do with being a sailor. I certainly am not one.

Unfortunately, I have no pix of the finish. Forgot to bring the camera!  I do have pictures of some of the boats en route, as seen from our front porch.

But first, though, a picture of what these beauties look like at the quay in downtown Gustavia the night before the race, like so many teeth in a comb.(Credit for the analogy to Joyce Huang). Imagine being the captain backing one of these ocean-going ships into its slot at the quay--or worse, the captain and nervous crew of each of the adjacent boats:




And here is our view of some the ladies as they passed on their way around the island :









The largest, most modern ship in the fleet is the Maltese Falcon, some 288 feet long.  Her three carbon fiber masts turn so that the sails are always full. The few crew members aboard run her via computer.  I think, not sure, she is the largest sailing yacht in the world.  Here she is as goes by our luncheon table on her return:


And that's not all.

This year a special treat.  There resides, in Houston, Texas, a WWII airplane museum, and they arranged to fly four planes here for an airshow over Shell Beach.  What a sight: hot sunny day, the beach  crowded with families swimming in the surf, boats at anchor just yards of the shore, and  four vintage war planes doing rolls, spins and low level runs. All this was accompanied by a broadcast (en anglais) over a local radio station, which was loudspeakered by the Do Brazil beachside restaurant.  It was actually quite moving, though as I looked out over the several hundred people on the beach and in the water, and on the small boats anchored close to shore, I realized I may well have been the only person there who actually remembered WWII and for whom the names of these planes meant something.  What comes next is a couple of snaps of a Liberator B-25 bomber, and three fighter planes, a P-51, a P-40, and a Corsair.

Here goes:






A bientot!

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