Antigua Classics Regatta, I got a ride!
14 May 2017
“Do you need crew?” I asked a few boats that seemed approachable at Nelson's Dockyard. This was Antigua Classic Regatta week and the vintage boats moored at this historic harbor would fill pages of picturesque calendars for many years. They ranged from a neglected 1911 ketch to the Dutch training schooner Adix, 250 feet. Fifty boats were entered and I was determined to find a ride. Word came that a lady who entered a 5.5 meter sloop was looking for crew. I met Astrid at Boom, high end resort and restaurant. She and her brother Paul grew up on Antigua and ran both Boom and Pillars, a classy restaurant in Nelson's Dockyard. I was eager to join the team.
Astrid's husband, Bo, was on board as were Dave and Patrick, other cruisers recruited from the anchorage to race Iris J. We went out for a practice sail and started to gel as a team.
The 5.5 Meter was the smallest boat entered in the regatta. A 5.5 is a slender racer that used to be an Olympic class. Stretch a Soling out a few feet and you have a 5.5. Iris J, was beautifully restored and rigged. Some of the yachts entered had the owners enjoying champagne and caviar on the aft deck. We were on a real race boat!
The races were long to accommodate the larger boats entered. They became an endurance contest for our small boat. She went over two waves and under the next. We were soaked the whole time, hiking hard to try to level the boat and go fast! I trimmed the huge mainsail. Constantly easing and trimming to help Astrid steer. It didn't take long for me to wear through some skin on my hands. I wore gloves after that first day.
A blow-by-blow of the races would interest very few. We had a few boats in our division who were tough to beat and fought constantly to keep the boat moving. Patrick manned the pumps keeping the bildge dry on the 6 mile legs. He earned his title as “wanker,” the actual term for this task. Some highlights were long reaching legs, out and back. Every boat passed us coming and going. We got a front row seat to spectate as well as compete. Imagine on being on a wet, 31 foot boat, barely visible between waves with a 200 foot schooner bearing down on us. Great fun!
The manner and tone of Classics Week was classic British grace and civility. The race committee had to set marks in water 1000 feet deep. At the start of the first race the RC announced, “The south mark has not been set yet, we will announce the coordinates shortly. But in the words of Lord Admiral Nelson, a skipper can't go too far wrong by sailing broadside to his enemy and firing. In that light, a racer can't go too far wrong by sailing due south for 4 miles.”
Astrid's brother Paul raced their family ketch, Petranna, an Alden 50. Theirs was a more civilized ride but they did suffer a broken mizzen mast in the heavy going. Paul and Astrid grew up on Antigua although their official home is San Francisco. Their father, Peter Deeth, built one of the first hotels on the island and started the Antigua Yacht Club. The Antigua Yacht Club started by racing Sunfish, something I have in common with them. They had sailed all over the world before cruising became a popular sport. We enjoyed our racing and hospitality with them.
Oh, we did well too! We won the regatta convincingly! What fun to take part in this event, meet Antiguans entrenched in yachting and get to compete. On the last race, we tore the pointy bow off the boat due to the way we rigged the spinnaker. Astrid just said, “that's the 4th time I've taken off that bow.” Paul just shrugged and laughed.