How British sailors helped raise fund for work at children's home in Antigua 2/4/07

Steve Upson and his British team currently in Antigua for Stanford Antigua Sailing Week may not be winning on the water but have one of the biggest success stories to tell.

Apparently Upson, who’s a UK director for the south-east division of Polypipes, has been in Antigua for the last week running a sales promotion event for his company for 189 people at Sunsail’s Club Colonna. But not one to miss an opportunity, Upson decided to use the event to raise funds for charity.

A series of fun charity events laid on last Wednesday at the sailing base resulted in a total of £7,500 being raised for a charity which Upson and his team believed would be a particularly worthy cause. Amazing Grace, is a children’s home in Antigua for severely mentally and physically handicapped children and when Upson and his team visited the centre last Sunday they felt it was a cause well worth investing in.

Talking about what made them decide on the children’s home, Upson said: “The hospital is in desperate need of repair and the good thing is that Sunsail wanted to get involved too. Sunsail had already done the homework to check that the accounts were all in order and when we saw the state of it, we decided to act. They need safe electricity because it is abysmal, the drainage system is appalling and there is virtually zero security. They also need a lot of plumbing work done.

“Sunsail have offered to do all of that all for nothing. In September they are shipping six of my clients out, all tradesmen, two carpenters, two painters, a tiler and a plumber. They will stay at Colonna for that week and totally transform the place. For that week the children from the home are going to Club Colonna for a holiday.”

Feeling fairly pleased with their achievements Upson and three of the team decided that rather that flying straight home back to the UK they’d stay on and race Antigua Sailing Week. But with just a couple of days before the start they had little choice in charter boats available. They eventually found a private charter yacht from Martinique and were looking forward to some good racing. However, things didn’t quite go to plan.

Upson chatting from the dockside yesterday said: “We were racing – note the past tense – a 4.7 named Azuro. It was a private charter we found on the web. We collected it on Friday. It was in a very sorry state so we spent all day Saturday trying to find bits for it, screwing things back on. It was terrible. Even the fire extinguishers were out of date.

“Anyway we came down on Sunday, early to try and race it. The engine wouldn’t start, eventually got it going, got out to the start, first over the start line, tacked round to get inshore and the steering went. Tried to start the engine and the engine wouldn’t start, put the anchor over then we started to drag towards the reefs so unfortunately had to send out a Mayday. We did actually get the situation under control by the time the coastguards arrived. We’d found the emergency tiller, gybed the thing away from the rocks, and managed to get the boat back to shore. But it didn’t end there. We repaired the steering, went out again on Monday and something else in the steering mechanism failed. Then a block exploded, the main halyard broke. Normally we’d have been straight up the mast on a halyard but we looked at it and thought we just don’t trust it, so we pulled out the race and handed the boat back.”

“The moral of the story is, don’t go to any ‘old’ private charter company, go to a recognized company. We had no choice because it was a last minute decision to compete and we just took what was available.”

Down but definitely not out Upson and team came up with another idea to help them achieve what they’d come here for – to go racing. They had four T-shirts made up with ‘Racing Crew Available’ printed on them, and their phone number. They next day they had a response. Upson concluded on a happy note: “We’ve ended up racing with a very nice gentleman on Nimrod, a Marten 80. We’re now off to get some new T-shirts made with ‘Sorry crew taken’ printed on them.”