Fast, wet sailing and a tower of canvas. Elaine Bunting on the 1924 Fife schooner Adventuress
Crews got off to a blistering start today in the first day of fleet racing at Panerai Antigua Classics. With winds gusting up to 30 knots at times, a Atlantic swell curling off the bow waves of yachts like surf and the threat of a dark squall or two to raise the pulse rate, this was dream racing.
This year’s regatta may not have attracted the J Class, which had defected to the regatta at St Barths, but no matter. There are a record 57 yachts here enjoying a redistribution of the limelight, from some of the largest schooners to working boat style gaff cutters and a colourful fleet of Carriacou sloops. These breezy conditions gave crews a drenching and some fabulous fast sailing.
The fleet has its starlets. I was lucky enough to be invited to race on Adventuress, an 83ft gaff schooner from 1924 relaunched last year from Rockport Marine in Maine after a huge two-year refit. She was brought there by her current owner after he bought the boat in 2010.
The boat went to Rockport for a new deck, but when the planks came off it was clear that there were deeper structural problems and most the deck frames needed to be replaced. Then the ironwork, and bit by bit as the bones of the yacht were uncovered the project spiralled until it was on such a scale it is comparable with a new build.
Adventuress now sports a new rig, deck and deck frames, 60 per cent of new planking is new, almost every bronze deck fitting has been custom made, and the interior was completely refitted. The result is spectacular.
The joinery and detail on Adventuress is lavish and beautifully executed. Many of the ideas have been taken from other Fife yachts, as relatively little of the original yacht survived.
She cruises offshore with a crew of eight, but we raced today with over 20 people and there were times when all hands were at work as we flew down the reaching and downwind legs under main and jackyard topsail, fore main and topsail, staysail, jib and jib top. The fisherman was brought out, shaken out hopefully from its bag but in the end Kenny Coombs, the yacht’s sailing master (and longtime organiser of Antigua Classics) decided that it would be too much.
Adventuress can certainly carry her tower of canvas, though at times she heeled hard and sluiced the leeward scupper while slipping graciously to leeward. Even when not pressed this is a wet boat, fore and aft. With a deliciously low sheerline aft and dainty counter the quarter wave regularly rides up to lap over the capping rail.
It’s a fabulous sight to be so close to the water in such a large and powerful boat, the very opposite of most high-sided modern boats. I’m told that offshore the cockpit is regularly filled. You really do feel the might of wind and water.
Despite a few snags with the fore main topsail, which had been newly delivered from the sailmaker with the tack pendant spliced on to the head and went aloft the wrong way up, we managed to get a gun at the finish of the schooner class and win it on handicap. It’s the first occasion in modern years that Adventuress has been able to line up against comparable yachts, so it’s an encouraging start for the owner and the skipper, Alistair Doyne-Ditmas.
And that comes after being crowned overall winner yesterday of the Concours d’Elégance.
More on the regatta in the next days, plus a full report in our July issue. But in the meantime, to give you a taster of this beautiful yacht, here’s a little video I shot on board yesterday – a tour of the boat down below. Luscious. Do take a peek.