Antigua Sailing Week was one of the first international yachting regattas to be held in the Caribbean. Back in the late 60s, The Nicholson family had a yacht charter business based in Antigua and ‘Race Week’ as it was called then, was the end of season party where yacht skippers and their crew could have one big drink up with racing thrown in before they went their separate ways. Over the years Antigua Sailing Week developed into a much more high profile event, attracting up to 250 yachts with a lot of professional racing crew. Winning at Antigua Sailing Week became a rich prize.
In 2010, with the world economy spiralling into recession and the double-whammy of Stanford Bank collapsing, Antigua Sailing Week was in a very dark place but the regatta has not only survived but changed into a highly successful affair.
This year, Antigua Sailing Week attracted sailors from 23 different countries with 30% racing Bareboat Charters and many more sailors ‘paying to play’ through skippered race charter boats. Roughly half of the entrants were charter guests and many more sailors were invited out by friends, also, a significant number of yachts are now local boats crewed by people who live in the Caribbean.
Piet Vroon’s Dutch Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens was this year’s star performer, winning the Lord Nelson Trophy, arguably the biggest prize in Caribbean sailing, scoring eight straight bullets against top opposition in CSA Zero.
“With bigger faster yachts in our class, the overall strategy was to try and hold on upwind and get a lead on corrected time.” commented Tonnerre’s crew boss, Frank Gerber. “We knew that the opposition would be faster off the breeze but because they were in a dog fight and we were in clear air, it played to our advantage. The core of the team has been together for about five years now and boat handling has been exceptionally good, honed at several regattas in the Caribbean.
He added, “Our worst place in all of the Caribbean races has been a second and we have got to be satisfied with a consistent performance.”
The vibe at this year’s regatta was fantastic and the weather perfect. Warm trade wind sailing in Caribbean swell is normal for Antigua but the wind speed was in the 15-17 knot range most of the time, offering breeze enough to give thrilling fast action and plenty of wind shifts to make racing tactically challenging.
The standard of racing across all classes was the best this journalist has seen this season in the Caribbean. Several classes were decided by seconds in the last race and the standard of boat handling was as good as any club class regatta, anywhere.
Ashore, after every race day, a daily prize giving was well attended on the lawn of the Antigua Yacht Club. The big night out was before Lay Day, Shaggy is an international star and Antigua Sailing Week was punching well above their weight to host the concert. However, English Harbour Rum took the gamble on covering the cost and with over 3000 tickets sold; the Antiguan Rum Company got a great marketing opportunity for little cost.
Lay Day on Pigeon Beach saw hundreds of sailors enjoying the day off. Whilst most of the competitors lazed away the day on the beach, the Nonsuch Bay RS Elite Challenge had eight teams vying for a week’s stay at the luxury resort. The quality of the teams was first class but it was World Match Racing Champion and America’s Cup winner Peter Holmburg who stole the show, with a magnificent display to win the final. It was interesting to see that three of the four teams that made the final contained Caribbean sailors, Holmberg is himself from the Virgin Islands.
Antigua & Barbuda have had sailing in their national curriculum for several years and over 200 youngsters have received free sailing lessons. Antiguan Shannon Falcone was part of the winning crew of Team Oracle USA and was instrumental in bringing the Americas Cup to Antigua for Sailing Week. Antigua is re-developing its sailing culture both through ex-pats that live here and through local youth initiatives like their Sailing Academy and Shannon Falcone’s Lift Project.
All Caribbean regattas are different, so what sets Antigua Sailing Week apart from the rest? Well, it is extremely well organised both in terms of race management and shoreside entertainment. This has become possible through the Regatta Organising Committee, which was set up three years ago. Kathy Lammers and Alison Sly-Adams work tirelessly to make the event a great success on and off the water and this is a much better regatta because of their efforts. Probably the only thing missing from the revival is a large number of high profile yachts. Many of these yachts do visit the Caribbean, but they return to Europe or the USA before Antigua Sailing Week takes place. Perhaps this is a change that cannot be altered but if the regatta was moved to earlier in the season, maybe more high profile yachts would take part.
For full results and more, visit: www.sailingweek.com