I'd been told racing on these traditional boats would be fast and intense. Correct
Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta came to a conclusion yesterday with a high spirited prizegiving at English Harbour. Robert Tobin and the crew of the Fife ketch Sumurun, designed and built by William Fife in 1912, won the regatta overall and received the prize of a watch from sponsors Panerai.
Among the prizes given out last night, a special lifetime achievement award was made to Carriacou boatbuilder Alwyn Enoe. His designs account for six of the Carriacou sloops that raced at Antigua this week, all of them designed by eye and built on the beach in Carriacou by him and his sons.
The revival of these seaworthy designs, evolved from boats that traded up and down the islands, is a wonderful and interesting dimension to Antigua Classics. They and their crews of local sailors and guests occupy a corner of the marina where there is always something going on: banter in the mornings, loud music in the afternoons, rum, beer and more in the evenings – it hums with gossip and activity like a village in itself.
A few days ago I asked if I could sail on Alwyn Enoe’s new Carriacou sloop, Exodus. The boat was built by Alwyn and sons Terry, Carl and Chris and launched on Easter Sunday. Alwyn does not draw lines but starts from a scale half model and has arrived at a shape which has a longer waterline length, is a little fuller aft than his previous 42ft sloops and is, he tells me, a little finer in the bilge.
Alwyn wasn’t sailing on board the day I raced; he took himself off on Genesis, another of his creations, and sailed with owner Alexis Andrews. He says he wanted to see Exodus sail, to study it while racing. But I wonder if he also needed a break, because his sons and their friends do squabble while racing.
I’d been forewarned that it could get pretty intense. “Don’t worry if it sounds like a bar room brawl,” I was told.
Fraught was not the word as we reefed and then lined up for the start of our race that day: four long reaching legs named ‘The Cannon’. There appeared to be a lot of confusion, but Exodus is still quite raw and everything is new and tender: down below there is nothing other than sandbags for ballast, no engine, and her mast and boom are two tapered electrical poles.
Every command got repeated several times. Crewman Dean seemed to be echoing everything said plus vocalising most of his thoughts, interspersed with loud chanting at our closes rivals Genesis. If it had been cricket, you’d have called it sledging.
The boat is incredibly simply rigged: a big mainsail with a short gaff and a jib with a sheet reeved through a lashed on block handled round one of only two winches. There are no travellers or cars, no adjustments, or at least not set up yet.
The rigging is a whole mixture: wire stays, wooden deadeyes and rope lashings, but Spectra runners. Or backropes, as they are called. It took me a moment to twig what I was being asked to do. “Get-de-backrope. Get-de-backrope. EASE-DE BACKROPE!!”
Off on the first fetch I could see how quick and seaworthy these boats are. Exodus bounds over the waves like an eager puppy. Built as if for cargo, she’s buoyant when empty and rides up easily over the swells. Only the occasional wave caught her broadside, though out on the rail we were all soaked.
Downwind, Exodus surfs easily as well. Chris, the man with the handheld GPS (the boat has no instruments or electronics) said that at times we were making over 9 knots. The racing was incredibly close. From the start to the finish, some 24 miles later, we were rarely more than a few boatlengths from rival Genesis, the boat Alwyn Enoe and his sons built in 2007.
On the last leg, we pulled away with a few well-timed surfs and finished comfortably ahead. Those in the know say that when Exodus is refined, maybe fitted with a hollow mast and a few tweaks, she could be uncatchable.
Exodus was built on spec, but the Enoes have found a buyer. As soon as the regatta was finished, they handed her over to new owner Philippe Fabre. Philippe and his wife Caroline hope to work with other Carriacou sloop owners to revive small scale inter-island trading in these boats to give work to local crew and to promote and sustain these vanishing boatbuilding skills.
More on these boats, how they are built and the seeds of their resurgence in the July issue.
Above: a bit of sledging? Below: after the racing, out with the car battery and big speaker and on with the reggae, rum and cokes