The 8th Anguilla Regatta left me wanting more: more splendid racing, more blue water, and more of the wonderful hospitality from a people who have made sailing their national sport. Regattas offer journalists a press boat. In Anguilla they go a step further. Should they choose, writers can immerse themselves in the whole sailing experience. That’s why I was there.
Day one, and leaving the press boat to those made of lesser stuff, I headed for a massive lump of a boat with a name that said it all: Tradition. Carrying a massive gaff mainsail, Tradition, which is now based in Anguilla, was taking part in the West Indian Workboat Class, a new addition to this event. Absence of winches and instruments, and the fact that no one was wearing those prissy gloves, gave some indication of what I was in for. Grunts, sweat, and the feel of the wind on the back of your neck are what you need to handle this lady.
The race committee sent the Multihulls, Non-Spinnaker and Spinnaker Class boats off first and then it was our turn. As Tradition barreled toward the line, leaving Alexis Andrews’s Antiguan workboat Genesis far behind, something happened that I have never seen before. Well into the one-minute start sequence, Captain Laurie Gumbs called the race committee and asked them to delay the start. Following a different course, but sharing the first windward mark, Tradition and Genesis would round on Starboard tack at the same time as the rest of the fleet were rounding on port. “Too dangerous,” said our Captain, and Alexis and the race officers agreed.
Minutes later and we restarted, but when our attempt to jibe the massive mainsail went wrong, Genesis sailed by and gained a commanding lead. As the gap widened, Genesis suddenly rounded up and hove to.
“Why did you stop?” I yelled as we sailed by.
“No fun racing workboats if you’re not sailing side-by-side,” came the reply, and although we went on to race hard, that gentlemanly comment set the tone for the entire regatta.
Saturday, and my day for the press boat dawned idyllic: east winds 10-12 knots, blue sky, and bluer sea. Well-known St. Maarten yachtsman Ian Hope Ross and his Beneteau First 36.7, Kick ’em Jenny, topped the leader board in Spinnaker Class going into the second day, marking another worthy performance from a crew sailing well on the Caribbean circuit this season.
The first of four windward/leeward races saw Ira Epstein’s beautiful Robert Clark design 64-foot ketch Lone Fox, sail out of the anchorage, turn to starboard, and slice by the committee boat to windward of Richard West’s Alden schooner Charm III. A magnificent piece of sailing that added to the rivalry enjoyed by these two powerful boats.
Second race and drama lay ahead. We didn’t see it, but we heard it – the unmistakable sound of a collision. By the time the press boat with its crew of bloodthirsty photographers arrived, the two protagonists were sailing away, with Colin Percy and his Nonsuch Antares heading for the windward mark, and Lone Fox, now retired from the race, heading into the bay.
This incident did have a happy ending as neither yacht suffered damage or injury. Lone Fox came out for the next start, and no protest was made. Later, Colin Percy referred to the incident as “a little kiss,” and amused everyone by hanging fenders along the hull during the next race.
Ira Epstein’s take on the collision was rather more succinct. “We had ambiguities beyond the point of choice,” he said, leaving me to ponder why I can’t come up quotes like that when I need them.
Sunday, the final day, and no press boat for me. Instead I accepted an invitation to join the schooner Charm III and her crew of eight youngsters from the Anguilla Youth Sailing Program. I have raced on Charm III and know how demanding she can be. To race her successfully requires numerous sail changes, including setting a Golliwobbler: a massive sail that pulls like a train. Skipper Richard West has a reputation for being hard but fair, so I was interested to see how the boat would perform driven by such a young crew.
As an old hand, I expected to take up my position on the mainsheet, a job that has taken its toll in torn skin and damaged muscles. But I wasn’t needed. Under Richard’s guidance, the lads of Anguilla raced the boat, making numerous sail changes, calling the wind-shifts, and leaving no one in any doubt that sailing will live on as Anguilla’s national sport.
The awards ceremony took place outside Johnno’s Restaurant in Sandy Ground, where lots of champagne was passed around. Five wins from six races gave Frits Bus and his Melges 24 Team Coors-Light the overall win in Spinnaker Class, ahead of Ian Hope Ross’s Kick ’em Jenny. Bus’ performance was matched by Philippe Herve, from French St. Martin. Sailing his Beneteau First 300 Vanille, Herve scored five bullets to win Non-spinnaker, ahead of Antares and Charm III.
With just two boats competing, Robbie Ferron’s Lagoon 410 Katzenellenbogen overpowered Sylvie Ricor’s Brazapi 41 Guimamalo to win multihull overall. The inaugural workboat trophy went to Genesis.
The Anguilla Regatta never fails to please and people return every year to enjoy its unique ambiance. After receiving his trophy, Frits Bus said how much he enjoyed the event. “This is a great regatta, a very nice regatta. People here are wonderful. I’m so happy they make it happen every year.”
Frits, we couldn’t agree more.
Gary E. Brown is the author of the thriller Caribbean High and the host of YachtBlast, Island 92s sailing show broadcast from St. Maarten.