David Glenn dons a pink shirt and joins the crew of Fenix for race 1 of Antigua Sailing Week 1/5/06

There was a time when charter yachts were not allowed to compete in what is now the Rolex Antigua Sailing Week because insurance companies were terrified of novices mixing it en masse at crowded turning marks, often in fairly challenging Caribbean conditions.

Today this iconic week wouldn’t exist without the charter contingent and apart from the occasional prang, insurers haven’t had to sign too many chunky cheques. The now well-established race charter phenomenon is not restricted to the large ‘average white’ Sunsail and Moorings fleets. There are plenty of clients who want to charter larger, faster more luxurious yachts and the demand for the Nautor Swan marque is still high, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to lay one’s hands on good boats easily. But if you haven’t got your own racing yacht in the Caribbean it provides the opportunity to compete at a pretty impressive level.

Take Mark Bishop for instance who with a bunch of old school friends had chartered the 10-year-old Swan 60 Fenix. For around £23,000 for the yacht, Mark had almost 30 friends and acquaintances flying in and out of Antigua for a spot of late winter sun, some pretty impressive racing and a glass or two of the local rum.

He’d asked experienced Caribbean charter agent Brian Earley to set up the deal, which included booking the yacht, flights and rooms at a variety of hotels including the St James’s Club. Earley, who was taking part in his 20th ASW knows the ropes on the island and can organise everything from a mini-bus taxi for the week, restaurant bookings and the 101 other logistical problems ASW can and does throw up.

He and Mark, also an old hand at Antigua Sailing Week (‘it’s the only sailing I do!’), also knew that to stand any sort of chance out here a couple of days’ training would be essential especially with a novice crew, some of whom had never set foot on a yacht of this calibre before.

Skipper Richard, who has been with Fenix for five years for her UK-based owner, had imported a core crew who would run the foredeck, orchestrate manoeuvres and drill the new recruits if and when required. The grinding pedestal -known as the ‘bikes’ (although some occasionally referred to it as something quite unprintable) – was manned by local West Indian Woody who looked as though he could grind non stop all day without breaking sweat. There was much banter as winter white mortals from the UK were paired up with Woody, fed to him and his dreaded machine like so much cannon fodder?

For the novices, the learning curve was preciptitic but with that experienced core the learning process was controlled and effective.

Invited on board for the opening race I pulled on a very fetching pink polo shirt emblazoned with the said Fenix logo plus a discreet Cogent Resources Ltd, Mark’s insurance company. In fact there was a high insurance broker count but this didn’t seem to hold Mark back on the wheel. We made an extremely well timed, quite aggressive start on day one and really didn’t look back, scoring an impressive 3rd and barely making a tactical or handling error all day. The men in pink were beaten into third by no lesser crews than those of Peter Harrison’s Sojana and Richard Matthews’ Oyster 72 Oystercatcher XX.

“Anyone falling ill on board will be in good hands,” Brian Earley assured me and judging by some of the whiter than white early morning visages it looked as though there could have been casualties but the weather was kind. Nonetheless, the knowledge that a cardio-vascular surgeon and one of the world’s leading heart transplant anaesthetists were among our number certainly made those detailed to ‘the bikes’ feel a little less apprehensive.

Anthony Ward-Thomas was one of the four school friends who had teamed up and was racing a yacht for the first time. He has a penchant for horse racing, not spectating, but taking part as an amateur jockey, riding 30 steeplechase races a year. “I have to be back in the UK on Wednesday for the 4.10 at Cheltenham,” said Anthony who promptly dived over the side and swam ashore for a cold beer as soon as we had anchored in Dickenson Bay following Race 1. It was a great end to a very satisfactory first day for the eclectic crew of Fenix.

Buy the July issue of Yachting World to see how they fared during the rest of RASW.