Course de l’Alliance: a race, a tour, an adventure
“What you have to remember about this regatta is that it’s not just racing,” said race organizer Herv Dorvil, his speech drifting seamlessly between French and English. “It’s about bringing together the French and the Dutch and the sailors from three different islands and doing something we all love.”
The sixth annual Course de l’Alliance, hosted by the Sint Maartin Yacht Club and sponsored by Marina Fort Louis, lived up to Herv’s expectations. Twenty boats sailed from Sint Maarten to St. Barth’s to Anguilla and back again, stopping at each island to take in the local culture. Though the regatta was professional and the fleet talented, the event had the laid-back feeling of a rally. It was as if the boats all just happened to be traveling together between three equally awesome islands, with seeing who got there first as an added bonus.
Of the four competing classes—racing, cruising, racer-cruiser and multihull—many boats had raced in the Course de l’Alliance before. Antiguans Geoff and Jenny Pidduck, for example, sailed aboard Mermaid, a Beneteau 51, and came back specifically for the event’s small size and friendliness. “We used to do Antigua Sailing Week every year, until it got too big,” said Geoff. “Course de l’Alliance has that old Caribbean feel. You recognize a lot of faces.”
Other boats, like Buccaneer Beach Bar, a Catalina 36 that went on to win the cruising class, were in the race for the first time this. Bernard Fourie, who also owns the bar after which the boat is named, said, “The Course de l'Alliance is unique in that it incorporates three islands. Not only do we meet fellow sailors who share a similar passion, we also meet people from St. Barth's, St. Martin and Anguilla. Each day we sail between islands that are so different from one another, and yet everyone involved in the race has a common liking of sailing.”
Big boats, small boats, Antiguans and Anguillans all gathered together on November 27th in Simpson Bay off Dutch Sint Maarten. The fleet ranged from Melges 24s to a Lagoon 410, with six catamarans, five sportboats and 10 monohulls, half flying spinnakers, half cruising. The wide variety of boats made for a colorful start that contrasted with the cloudy skies. Patchy winds and rain stayed with the fleet all day, and everyone seemed relieved to finally arrive in St. Barth’s, the Aspen of the islands. The docks were crowded with boats too expensive to risk bumping into, so the majority of competitors anchored out and then dinghied in to Gustavia for shopping and cuisine that rivaled Paris. Racers grabbed drinks at Le Select, St. Barth’s infamous Jimmy Buffet hangout, and met at Wall Gate for dinner. The dining room was packed with teams, many clad in crew T-shirts, and the laughter amplified as the tasty French cuisine arrived.
The next morning, racing began at 9:30, and the fleet took off under clear skies with light breezes out of the southeast, sailing around St. Martin and out to Anguilla. Onboard Mermaid, Geoff and Jenny broke away from the fleet and sailed off between St. Martin and the small island of Tintamarre, leaving the other boats hugging the shore. As St. Barth's dipped out of sight, we passed a bare island, depleted of vegetation thanks to a European farmer who left his goats there unattended for too many years. After that we passed St. Martin to starboard and saw the nature preserve on the French side. As we neared Anguilla, a 35-square-mile British island, we could see the Moroccan architecture that covers the high plateau. The winds picked up and it became clear our tactics had not paid off. We rounded the southwest tip of the island at the back of the pack and sailed upwind toward Road Bay on a more agreeable point of sail for Mermaid. Though we gained on this leg, it was not quite enough to pull out of third.
If St. Barth's was Aspen, Anguilla was St. Thomas. With its beach bars and single anchorage, this island had a Caribbean simplicity that shone through its sites and locals. After crossing the finish line, some boats made their way to Sandy Island with its lonely restaurant beneath three coconut trees and then to Little Bay for bird watching and cliff jumping. Once settled at anchor, the fleet met up at Johnno’s beach bar for dinner and live reggae.
The final day of racing began with a picture perfect start at Road Bay, Anguilla. With the sun shining and the winds blowing 10-15 knots from the northeast, we made our way back to Marigot, St. Martin. Buccaneer Beach Bar played the shifts and edged ahead of Mermaid and Antares, a Nonsuch 33 that had been dogging our heels ever since leaving Simpson Bay. Though the three boats had shuffled between first and third all weekend, Buccaneer came out on top. “The regatta was great,” said Bernard, emphasizing that it was so much more than just a race. “We did some great sailing and we got to experience three very different Caribbean islands in one weekend.”
Back at the awards ceremony at Marina Fort Louis, Herv thanked everyone for coming. When he first thought up the Course de l’Alliance, he wanted to create an event that encouraged camaraderie between three islands, using sailing as that glue that bound. Six years later, the regatta has become a mainstay in many boat’s race calendars and it continues to attract more boats each year. “Looking forward, we’d love to see boats from other countries and islands participate. We’ve got such a beautiful island, and we want to share it with as many people as possible.”