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Antigua Sailing Week 2009 – Laid Back but Fit to Party!

When it comes to sailing locations, it is hard to think of anywhere better than the waters around Antigua. This year the regatta was blessed with plenty of breeze and the warm trade winds combined with ocean swell to create an adrenalin-pumping ride. Antigua Sail Week is the biggest regatta in the Caribbean but these are changing times and the 42nd edition of the famous regatta saw a few new ideas. Entries were down but there was still some great action, on and off the water.

The first ever three-race Antigua Ocean Series is a welcomed addition, sure to attract the big boats in future years; the Guadeloupe Race, Round the island and Redonda Race produced a tantalizing blend of straight line racing, coastal navigation and a long and testing windward-leeward, respectively. Adrian Lee’s Farr 50, Lee Overlay Partners, who had a close tussle with Peter Harrison’s Farr 115, Sojana, won the Series.

Mike Slade’s magnificent Farr 100, ICAP Leopard, won the first rubber, winning the Guadeloupe Race by some distance but the following day broke their boom, meaning an unhappy early exit from the entire regatta. Slade is one of yacht racing’s big characters and took the blow with some humour, commenting, “I thought the days of boom and bust were over!”

Lee Overlay Partners won the Round the Island Race and the Redonda Race on corrected time to win the series; hopefully next year there will be more entries, especially from the large number of open 60s and Class 40s that will be in the region following the Transat Race later this year. Sojana won line honours for the Redonda Race and Round the Island Race picking up some impressive silverware and setting a new record for the Round the Island of 4h 37m 05s.

In Racing 1 there was no stopping Charles Dunstone’s all-star crew on Transpac 52 Rio, posting straight bullets in all eight races. On board was Duran Duran rock star Simon Le Bon, who added a great “show biz” cameo to the prize giving. It might sound a bit cheesy but his victory salute on stage accompanied by a video of the hit single ‘”Rio” is the kind of moment that thrusts yacht racing into the media, something that is desperately needed to attract sponsors into the sport.

In Racing 4, Dig Van Der Slikke’s Grande Soleil 43, Curacao Marine, came out on top. All credit to the highly polished sailing team who have represented their country in high profile regattas, including the pro-am, Rolex Commodore’s Cup, but commiserations for a local favourite: James Dobbs’ J122, Lost Horizon, broke their boom after winning the first three races of the series.

In Performance Cruiser 1, Clive Llewellyn’s Grand Soleil 50, MAD IV, won the class by some margin. The French entry has competed successfully at several grand prix regattas and the standard of the crew and the equipment was, quite frankly, head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in this class.

Martin Jacobson’s Swan 44, Crescendo won Performance Cruiser 2. The exquisitely prepared, Frers-designed Swan is a veteran of Sailing Week and recorded a perfect score of eight wins, but this was probably the hottest competition at the regatta. Crescendo was pushed all the way by Dave Cullen’s, Grenadian-based J/109, Pocket Rocket, and Ken Acott’s First 40.7, Coyote. Virtually every race went down to a few minutes on corrected time.

Racing a vintage six metre yacht in the swell around Antigua takes some skill and a certain amount of bravado. Antiguan Geoffrey Pidduck’s Biwi Magic was superbly handled and came out as worthy winner of Performance Class 3 but only by a point from Richard Burbidge’s S&S Swan 43, Pavlova II, who is a previous winner of the class. Both of these yachts have a very narrow hull shape and require considerable skill to keep the sails above the boat downwind in sea swell.

In Cruising Class 1, Ulrich Rohde’s, Swan 53, Dragon Fly Plus had a bad start to the regatta, scoring a DNF for the first race, getting their discard out of the way early. However, the Florida-based yacht won four of the remaining five races to take the class. Cruising Class 2 was won by a well known Antiguan yacht, Hugh Bailey’s First 456, Hugo B. Hugo and his family are well known in Antigua and the yacht is crewed entirely by locals, an ethos that should be commended for keeping the regatta of interest to all Antiguans.

In Bareboat 1, Nicole Lameter’s all girl crew on KH+P Sea You Later was a worthy winner. The Moorings 515 Nifty was the clear winner in Bareboat 2, Wenzlaff’s Beneteau 50 showing a clean pair of heels to the rest of the fleet, winning all five races. Bareboat 3 was won by Rossi, and Rolf Jacob’s Dufour 40, Fantasque, was the victor in Bareboat 4. For the second year running, the top Bareboats were separated into Gold and Silver Fleets for the medal races. Both races saw close finishes with less than a minute on corrected time deciding the winners. In the Gold Fleet, German based, Hans-Robert Nitsche’s Dufour 385, KH+P Sun King, won and in the Silver Fleet, Martin Sager’s Dufour 44, Cayenne.

Poul Richard Hoj Jensen capped a perfect week—six wins in six starts—to capture the International Dragon class in highly convincing fashion. Cover Shot, Roger Webb’s Seawind 100XL, was the winner in Cruising Multihulls.

Next year, Antigua Sail Week will need to have another sponsor. The big boats get all the headlines, giving the sponsors a return on their investment and the Ocean Series will definitely be attractive to the high profile yachts. Racing in the other classes is just as competitive but the vast majority of sailors at the regatta come because they want to have great sailing and a whole heap of fun in the sun.

The sailing conditions at the 42nd Antigua Sailing Week made for some great racing; 20-25 knots of breeze was the norm and there was only the odd squall. Ashore, there were some memorable parties, including the Mount Gay Party, featuring probably the best rock band in the Caribbean, Itchy Feet. Organisers chose not to have a lay day which meant there was no get together for all the competitors and the local people. The sailing conditions are awesome and, given the chance, who doesn’t want to join the party?

Louay Habib is a freelance yachting journalist who has for 20 years competed at yachting regattas and offshore events all over the world and represented England in the 2004 Rolex Commodore’s Cup. He writes for a variety of clients including the Volvo Ocean Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club

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