Hosted by the Admiral’s Inn, Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua, the Superyacht Challenge Antigua is the epitome of superyacht racing and partying, where the sole aim is to create an event for the pleasure of the participants without the constraints of commercialism.
Louay Habib was the only reporter allowed at the event and gives an eye-witness account of the world’s most exclusive Superyacht Regatta.
Paul Deeth and Stan Pearson have been involved with sailing superyachts in Antigua for decades and have created the perfect event. The fourth edition of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua was a spectacular and very private success.
I have long-admired the magnificent 182ft Dykstra designed schooner, Adela, having watched her from afar but I finally got the chance to sail on this wondrous yacht and with the 29 strong crew driving it at full pelt, it was an unbelievable experience.
Getting Adela off the dock and 2000 square metres of sail aloft is a hefty task even with an army but when the mainsail halyard fails to lock into place, you realise it is a very dangerous environment to work in. First mate Will Miner went up the rig, climbing the towering main mast is an ordeal when Adela is stationary but pitching and rolling in three-meter seas, the top of the rig is whipping through the air and with just the luff to hang onto its a perilous venture. Lose your grip and the best outcome is serious injury. Will held on and fixed the issue but he took a big intake of breath and a slug of coca cola when his feet finally made the deck.
Adela came onto the breeze and accelerated into action. You might think that sailing a heavy schooner is a glide but not this monster. Adela lights up, fully putting the scuppers in the water. The boat is easily capable of ten knots upwind and it is a very wet ride as my phone can testify. After an exhilarating beat, ‘Big Red’ was hauled onto the foredeck by a gang of muscular crew and the enormous spinnaker was deployed with a text book hoist. Hitting 17 knots of boat speed was an alarming thrill that just lights up your life. I was washed with emotion and this was only the practice day!
The Superyacht Challenge Antigua has a spectacular social programme and settings don’t come much better than the Welcome Cocktail Party at The Gunpowder House, Antigua’s new elite address with an infinity pool overlooking English Harbour.
Racing kicked off on the first day with a pursuit start and a 22-mile course along the southern coast. It was like visiting the land of the giants, only eight yachts but over 1000ft in total length. The course included a windward/leeward section along the edge of Cades Reef, which compressed the fleet in dramatic fashion. The 182ft ketch Marie and the Swan 90 Freya were virtually neck and neck the whole way around the course but the beautiful giant lost out to the elegant ‘little’ Swan by just four seconds. The 102ft ketch, Maramar, won the first race, which was to prove decisive.
The first day had been intense and the competition continued into the evening. Take eight superyacht chefs and challenge them to make the best fare they can come up with and you have a feast fit for a coronation. Adela won the cook off but I must admit to having two helpings of SY Marie’s succulent rib of beef and pulled pork, which was out of this world!
Day Two had two races planned and I jumped at the chance of sailing on the 126ft schooner, Gloria, owned and sailed by one of the ‘Who’s Who’ of guitar legends. What a blast! Twenty knots of wind and a hell of a lot of characters on board. There was some devastating repartee, especially from the foredeck crew. Most of the jokes are unrepeatable but safe to say the laughter turned to sheer joy as Gloria corrected out to win the last race of the day.
The final day of racing had three yachts vying for the overall win: Maramar; Adela and Unfurled as the breeze dropped slightly to produce tricky, shifty conditions. The powerful 120ft German Frers sloop, Unfurled, nailed the pin end of the start in hot pursuit of the fleet that had gone before them in the staggered start. The final race of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua was to produce the closest ever finish in superyacht racing history.
One by one, Unfurled caught and passed the fleet, grabbing the lead on the penultimate leg. Adela wasn’t far behind and launched their huge spinnaker to try to close the gap on the last leg. Unfurled took the gun but Adela took the win by two seconds on corrected time, which meant the ketch Maramar retained the overall lead and won the regatta by a single point.
At the prize giving, Maramar was roundly applauded as the winner but there was no cup, no speeches, just a barrel of rum that I am sure was bone-dry by the end of the evening.
The Superyacht Challenge Antigua in one word? Amazing.
Louay Habib is a freelance yachting journalist. He writes for a variety of clients including; the Volvo Ocean Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club.