If you put only one international regatta on your bucket list, make it this one...
Was this the best day’s racing I’ve had in years? Or was that yesterday? Or maybe the day before? To tell you the truth, I’m losing count.
That’s what it’s like at Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. This is an event I’ve been trying to prise from colleagues’ grip for years. They have been understandably reluctant to trade me a Vendée Globe or an ARC, for example, but maybe I sobbed or blustered, I don’t remember, except that I must have used some low wile to loosen their fingers and here I am, having some of the best sailing ever at a regatta.
Antigua Classics is a blast. It’s a got a special magic and though it’s justifiably famous all round the world I think it’s fair to say it is undersold. Seriously. This is a million miles from all the gung-ho testosterone regattas, yet the racing is needle sharp.
And the boats: well, what a treat for a yacht geek such as I am and you probably are. There are boats large and small, glittering and slightly grubby, ancient and just launched. All are fascinating. Everyone’s friendly, the racing and social programme is so well organised and there’s a fantastic, easygoing spirit.
If you put only one international regatta on your bucket list, make it this one.
Today I raced on Stormvogel, a Van de Stadt designed 73ft cold moulded ketch built in Cape Town in 1961 for ocean racing and cruising; first of all, the Fastnet Race. She was – and still is – a maxi flyer. Her skipper Ian Hulleman is being ably assisted here by fellow race and charter skippers Ross Applebey as crew boss and Chris Jackson on tactics, backed up by a great crew largely made up of liveaboard cruisers.
It was a picture perfect day for sailing today: 15-20 knots, sunny, flatter seas than earlier in the week and no squalls to distort the winds.
Stormvogel’s great team were slick on all the manoeuvres over a long course: no raised voices or apparent stress as we made a perfect start, capturing the pin end and whisked out on a long fetch to the first turning mark. Up went the staysail and mizzen staysail and we zoomed downwind, overtaking smaller boats and overhauling more on the long beat to the windward mark and two more reaches to the finish.
Stormvogel revelled on that windward leg. She has a long keel and a deep forefoot; the motion is soft and forgiving. She was one of the first ocean racers to have a spade rudder, but also has a small destroyer type wheel and keeping her on her feet in the gusts looks like it’s muscle-building work.
The reward for a great few day’s sailing, and no mistakes at all today, was a three-in-one victory: we won our class today, it looks as if Stormvogel is overall class winner, and has stormed off with the Yachting World Trophy for the fastest elapsed time over the four days of racing.
Yesterday I was out on a very different boat, Exodus, a brand new Carriacou sloop built on the beach by islander Alwyn Enoe and his sons Chris and Carl. Alwyn has designed and built five of the 42ft sloops racing at Antigua, all based on the traditional sloops used inter-island trading (and smuggling).
Still built in the age old way, with planking of silver balli from Guyana on cedar frames, the Carriacou sloops bob like ducks on the water, are incredibly simply rigged, but they really do go.
And the banter is something to witness. It’s conducted at top volume and never stops, not until you’re back alongside where the car battery comes out, is plugged into a solar panel and a large speaker and is replaced by bangin’ tunes. With, of course, rum and cokes all round.
But that’s a different story, and I’ll come back to that another time. For now, so sorry, you know how it is, etc, more parties to go to. It’s no place for the weak here; those stories never sleep.