A group of 10 friends find out that chartering a yacht for Antigua Sailing Week if one of the best ways to have fun

Racing your own boat at Antigua Sailing Week sounds like great idea but often the logistics, and cost of sailing or shipping the yacht to the Caribbean, not surprisingly, keeps many potential competitors away. While some of the big racing yachts competing at the event are shipped out, others are sailed over and many of the smaller boats sailing from Europe make their way across the Atlantic on the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) at the end of the year.

An increasingly popular way to compete in Antigua Sailing Week without the stresses of taking your own yacht, however, is by chartering through one of the local charter companies in Antigua. While this may not suit everyone particularly those who prefer to race their own boat, more and more sailors are realising that the dream of racing in the Caribbean against some of the world’s fastest racing machines and world class sailors – something that once seemed so far out of reach – is now as easy as booking a flight.

One group of sailors to realise their dream last year, and who are back again competing at Antigua Sailing Week this year, are a team of long-time buddies who use the event not only to compete and have fun but as a reunion. They reckon they’ve managed to get the all clear to ‘go it alone’ for a week from wives and girlfriends back home and are well on the way to making Antigua Sailing Week an annual event.

To find out just how easy it is to sign up for a charter in Antigua we chatted to four of the 10-strong team about the process they went through to charter a yacht for the week. Colin Frost – logistics director for pharmaceutical company in Kent – said: “We can’t believe how straight forward it was and our debut last year sort of happened by chance really because we were looking for an exciting thing to do to celebrate several of our 40th birthdays. Seven of us came without the girls, which is a bit of sore point! It’s more a lifestyle than a racing holiday really. We had such a good time last year we decided to come again. This time there are 10 of us so we’ve chartered two boats.”

Simon Deane – IT director from Surrey added: “It was the event we decided on first of all. Then we had to decide how we were going to go about choosing a charter company. Interestingly we spent the most time trying to find out where to get the boat from. In the end, after lots and lots of internet enquires we decided on Sunsail, it was also the cheapest and the easiest option.”

Although lack of racing experience didn’t initially seem to be much of a concern to the group they were soon to realise once on the racecourse their safest bet was to steer clear of trouble and go for the safe option. Deane continued: “Although we all know how to sail, having shared a yacht on the Hamble for several years, and Mark [Winchcome] holding a Yachtmasters certificate, none of us had done much racing apart from the odd corporate event. As you can imagine we soon learnt that racing is a totally different ball game to cruising around the Solent. And actually potentially fairly dangerous. Only today we had a near coming together with a big racy thing bearing down on us at about a million miles an hour.”

As far as booking the charter is concerned the team say it’s very easy. Frost continued: “Once we’d decided on Sunsail it was just a matter of making a booking, and booking the flights. However, it is worth remembering that you really need to book a year in advance. This year’s yachts were booked in May last year and we got the last two boats. Also if you book early enough you’ll get a decent boat.”

Deane added: “The one we had last year was a right dog. It was a right, old tub. We went backwards most of the time. Learning the hard way we now know what to ask for when booking which includes making sure the boat has newish sails with furling mainsail, a boat that’s no more than two year’s old, slab reef main and, if possible twin heads.”

This year the boys managed to book their dream boats (two between 10 of them) and although they are not yet appearing at the top of the results, they’re really happy with the boats and the company as a whole “The good thing about Sunsail in Antigua is the maintenance and support you get. If you break your boat they come and sort it out immediately. It’s very important to have backup.”

Arriving in Antigua for Sailing Week for the first time can be a bit daunting. Although it really doesn’t take too long to familiarize yourself with the surroundings, and facilities its worth finding a local or someone who knows the Sailing Week procedure to help you along the way. According to the boys because there is not much guidance for newcomers to the event, they were really grateful for Sunsail’s help. “We do all feel there isn’t really enough guidance for first timers to Antigua Sailing Week. The logistics can be a nightmare until you know the form. The second year is always easier and you probably get more out of it. A tip would be to have a member of the crew who’s done it before, knows the ropes, where to go and eat, where to get provisions for the boat. This year, on the way from the airport when we arrived we got the taxi driver to stop at a supermarket en-route to the harbour and picked up all our provisions.”

In general however, this team of sailors who really have little racing experience between them, demonstrate how much fun they can have for a relatively small cost. According to the team the overall cost, living aboard, is about £1,000 per person for the boat and flight. All you need extra is spending money. Frost concluded: “You basically get a six-berth, 40ft boat that we fit five onto. You could easy take six but it’s quite warm out here so we decided we needed at bit more space. We had seven last year on a 45ft boat which was okay but a bit cramped.”