Yet again the annual Nelson's Pursuit Race hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club was a great success. Held each year on 31st December, the race start and finish is off English Harbour, the entrance to Nelson's Dockyard.
The race is conducted from Fort Charlotte which is perched above the Pillars of Hercules and from where there is a commanding view of the whole of the course. Fort Charlotte is now used for the start/finish of a number of major races including the RORC Caribbean 600 (www.caribbean600.rorc.org), the Superyacht Cup (www.thesuperyachtcup.com) and occasionally for Antigua Sailing Week (www.sailingweek.com.)
Despite being given their start times, some yachts managed to be early and others late. With years of practice at sailing in the Caribbean, Geoff Pidduck's Biwi Magic, succeeded in being precisely on time.
As is normal with a pursuit race, the slowest yacht starts first, and this year the honour fell to Ray Linnington's Carriacou ketch, the Alexander Hamilton. Surprisingly, it is an honour to be the slowest, as this yacht wears a very large French Tricolour ensign, and Alexander Hamilton very prominently displayed the flag from the top of her mizzen mast – the idea being that the "British" fleet will chase down and "capture" the fleeing "French" vessel.
Thirty nine yachts, the largest number on record, entered the race, although two were forced to withdraw before the start. Four more retired during the race due to equipment failures. With a fixed finish line, calculating the start times to ensure a fair race is no easy task, as the wind and sea conditions can vary quite substantially at this time of year. Fortunately, Antigua did not suffer the swells prevalent in much of the Caribbean following an unexpected but not entirely unseasonal storm. Relatively flat seas and winds around 15 knots, slightly more than predicted, made for an interesting race for both competitors and spectators.
Due to the slight unpredictability of the weather and the wide range of yachts, this year the various different types were split into classes, which also had the benefit of having more prizes to share around although there is always an excuse at this time of year to give everyone some form of prize. For example, the very English-owned Alexander Hamilton was awarded Best French Yacht, the prize, a Cat o' Nine Whip.
Overall winner with an elapsed time of 89 minutes and first in the Big Yacht Class, plus the yacht which had travelled the furthest to take part in the race, was Tony Todd's Liara. Local yacht, Geoff Pidduck's Biwi Magic, was awarded a prize for Best Start and Robbie Ferron's catamaran, Katzenellenbogen (The Cat's Elbow), the fastest multihull.
Special mention was made of Mark and Debbie Reed who, with their two sons, Chris and Robert, have chartered a yacht for six of the Nelson's Pursuit Races to date. In those six races they have achieved both first and last places and survived nearly being cut in half by the charging superyacht Rebecca. For 2009 they chartered the very fast (but not quite fast enough) Bella Pita which came in second overall. Bella Pita also planned to take part in the RORC Caribbean 600 in February.
First in the Classic Class was Paul Deeth's Petrana and first in the Cruising Class was Paul Jackson's Makenzi. Sir Hugh Bailey's Hugo B led home the Cruiser Racers, whilst Jamie Dobb's Lost Horizon led the Racing Class.
Although the first yacht to start, Alexander Hamilton was "captured" by the whole of the "British" fleet and finished last with an elapsed time of 246 minutes. A splendid day was had by all, noted by the yachts crossing the finish line as they radioed their thanks to the Race Committee.
Report submitted by John Duffy