Two days before the 23rd Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta a day-long deluge sent varnish and gold leaf artisans running for cover as blue tape trailed behind. The heavy rain dampened last minute touch-ups but not the spirit of the 50 plus beauties gathered for one of the world's most ostentatious yachting events.
The vessels, ranging in size from Rebecca's 140' to Springtide's 24' sailed in from an atlas of ports, each bearing a distinctive personality and rich, inimitable story. Many were repeat customers hoping to capture top honors but most returned for a guaranteed good time that first-time attendees quickly caught on to.
One of the initiates, Guiding Light, 42', sailed straight from Liverpool with only owner Roy Boughton onboard. The Gauntlet Sloop's 73 years did not diminish her speed or beauty and she earned several firsts and class Concourse d'Elegance. With a permanent smile on his face, Boughton proclaimed, "I've never enjoyed myself so much!"
Taru, a 40' Gaff Sloop designed and built by owner Chris Bowman, might have traveled the farthest but for sure did so in the oddest manner. Built in Sri Lanka to fit into a container, it was shipped first to Australia, then on to St. Maarten, where it was released and rigged. Bowman said the sail to Antigua was fast but nothing like the 18 knots they hit while surfing down waves under main and spinnaker in the final race.
The J-Boats Ranger, Velsheda and the recently-launched Hanuman were set to do battle until the new gal was pulled from the regatta, sparking speculation and deep disappointment. Knowing that the show must go on, Velsheda and Ranger hit the course hard, charging through the fleet like runaway freight trains, turning heads and sending many to grab a camera.
The ever-growing traditional class had three first time participants adding color and charisma to the predominantly Carriacou-built crowd. Beauty of Petite Martinique, 47' of deep blue tradition, held her own on the course and at every rum-soaked dock party.
These island built boats tie stern-to around Falmouth Harbor Marina creating Carriacou Corner where the most entertaining high-decibel debates occur. In the thick of it was Margeta-O II, 40', enjoying a holiday from her cargo/fishing career. For her builder/owner, Uncle Cyril Comptom (aka, Uncle C) and crew, it was pure fun both on the water and dockside. "Dis is de mose fun I ever had," he announced. Had he ventured over to Pink Lady, it might have gotten even better.
Each day's race was unpredictable, driven by the quirkiest weather conditions that changed around every mark. Rain was a major factor along with crazy, dark and stormy squalls that backed and filled. Regatta Chairman Kenny Combs, who has been at the Classic helm all 23 years, remarked, "It wasn't the windiest or the calmest regatta but it might have been the rainiest."
Although everyone sailed like gentlemen (because it is the Gentlemen's Race,) there were a few mishaps. Spirited Lady of Fowey, a 56' Spirit Yachts Sloop, took a ding in the stern. Numerous sails blew; lines parted; a back stay gave up. The 100' sloop Gaia had a monster-size main winch pulled from the deck, the force sending the drum to the deep.
The biggest collision happened when the 67' M Class Yawl, Galatea, was rammed in the starboard quarter, shoving the transom cap rail over to port, opening up planking seams on the way. Repairs were made but during the next day's race the mizzen mast gave out, leaving an even bigger mess. Within hours after limping back to the dock a substantial mountain of woodchips lay on deck and by dawn the sailors were ready to race, their efforts earning them the coveted Spirit of Regatta Trophy.
There were a few boats that had a hard time keeping up with the fleet but somehow managed to still make the post-race parties in time, a noble effort that has no prize. The crowd pleasing Old Bob seemed to have the best time crawling around the buoys, but right behind them was Buxom, a 33' Hanna ketch with the saltiest looking crew. The 30' Cornish Crabber, Rainbow, had an assist from the committee when the downwind mark was mysteriously moved out of her way.
Taking part in a regatta so full of flash and splendor is exhilarating, exhausting and, of course, thirst-inducing. A flotilla of kind sponsors, recognizing the sacrifice, put on a string of shore side events that wore down even the rummiest sailors. Parties on the AYC lawn, under red tents, dangerously on the dock, with champagne, sundowners, barbeque, Maine lobster, music, movies, slideshows – the heady, intoxicating mixture left many to wonder, what else would a sailor want? The answer, of course, is to return again and do it all again.
In the Pink at the Antigua Classic
As Pink Lady approached the final finish line of the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, skipper Kirsty Morrison announced their arrival on the VHF, "Committee boat, committee boat, Pink Lady. We are about to cross the finish line."
A chuckling, pleased voice responded, "Girls … girls … girls! Welcome back!" Pink Lady, with a rail of ladies hooting and saluting, crossed the line receiving a one-gun salute for their over the top performance.
The 37-foot Carriacou sloop did not win, didn't even place, but it finished vivaciously with grace and aplomb despite a string of obstacles.
Morrison hatched the pink plan after sailing in the 2007 Classic Regatta where she fell head-over-heels for the Carriacou-built boats. Smitten with their color and tradition she set out to buy or build one that would be perfectly painted for an all-female crew.
Some time later when she was on charter in the Grenadines, she spotted her dreamboat anchored off Palm Island and inquired about its availability. It wasn't for sale, lease or charter but after a relentless email campaign, Morrison wore down the resistance of owner Robert Barrett who agreed to let her sail it to Antigua for the race.
The boat, built in 1975 for fishing, had a few major issues which to Kirsty were no problem. She had it hauled in Carriacou for bottom work, snagged some sails in Bequia (retro-fitted with traditional PVC pipe battens) then sailed to St. Vincent where a new engine was installed.
Good to go, Morrison and a small but brave crew set off into fierce weather that battered them all the way to Falmouth Harbor. The next storm threat occurred in the customs office when she was asked to produce the ship's papers. She had a copy of the owner's bill of sale but since the boat had never been registered, there would be a problem completing the official forms. A chief officer was summoned; he did a bit of head shaking then picked up a pen and filled in the registration number: 00000.
During Morrison's voyage down the pink path, many invitations were sent to sailing girl-friends, but who would actually show remained a mystery until the night before the first race. Team Pink, an international crew of 10, eagerly jumped onboard, attired in a uniform of matching bikinis, mini skirts and Pink Lady/Palm Island Ts. Tying the eye-catching ensemble together were hot pink hats that quickly became collector's items, some fetching impressive sums of money.
On the second day of racing, a magenta Sharpie appeared, the tool that would emblazon crew shirts with nicknames like Scary Mary, Psycho Betty, Killer B, Thirsty Kirsty and Typsy Gypsy. The rain that day artistically ran the ink creating a mean, tough font.
On the racecourse, the pink-on-pink boat couldn't help but catch the eye of the curious and every camera lens. What the ladies lacked in clothing was made up for with high-spirited enthusiasm that infected the entire fleet. Vessels sailed out of their way to cross paths with Pink Lady, offering shouts of gratitude and whistles of affection. So respected was Pink Lady that several large yachts ducked under the boat rather than steal her air.
Ashore, wearing a Pink Lady hat became a benefit, a key that opened doors to many a party and celebration. A hat produced compliments, beverages, dinners and a constant flow of smiles. Onboard, many discussions centered around the shore side largesse and privileges creating the need for a crew pact. Silence, the ladies realized, would be impossible so they all agreed that, "What Happens on Pink Lady, Stays There!"