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Impressions of the Classic Yacht Regatta

They say that first impressions
count the most. Without a doubt, your first impression of the 18th
Classic Yacht Regatta, held April 14-19, will be overwhelming.

At the Antigua Yacht Club docks is a forest of ‘varnished trees’, a
cluster of some of the 59 entries in the regatta. Walking along the docks may
require sunglasses as all those yards of brilliant bright work may blind you.
It is impossible not to gawk. Neophytes and seasoned sailors alike stand
mesmerized. There you may admire some of the old favorites – Ticonderoga,
Mariella, Sumurun, Nordwind, Rugosa and Bolero
in the Vintage Class. In the Spirit of Tradition class two new Spirit 46’s, Retrobate
and Ski 4 delight the eye with their beauty and grace.

You are gazing at a floating museum that the Smithsonian would be
envious to own. Here is a collection of some of the world’s finest Classic,
Vintage and Traditional yachts that come to Antigua for exhilarating races, to
just plain show off their gorgeous lines and, oh, yeah, attend the parties.
Holy Moly!

Anchored in the harbor are more Classic yachts. This year, only one Tall
Ship scratches Neptune’s back, the stately barkentine Star Clipper which
lends a certain prestige to the event. Near her lies the elegant
176-foot schooner Fleurtje, the largest yacht in the fleet. In contrast,
one of the smallest entries and by far the oldest yacht is Ibis, a
37-foot Whitstable Oyster Smack built in 1888! The two smallest boats are Cora,
a 1937, 26-foot cutter and May, a 1988 sloop. A welcome sight is the
presence of four island sloops, two of Carriacou design.

And then there are the BIG THREE, each outstanding and especially
awe-inspiring: Ranger, the 136-foot, newest J Class Cutter built in 2003,
Velsheda, the 130-foot J Class Cutter built in 1933 and magnificently
restored, and Windrose, the splendid 134-foot schooner built in 2002.

There are the other beauties, the glorious schooners from the second
largest, the 105-foot Aschanti IV to the smallest, Metani, a
52-foot John Alden. There are also more yawls that y’all may ever see in one
place – Moonshadow, Flicka and Magic Carpet to name a few and the fine
ketches such as Sumurun, Berenice of London, Lone Fox and of
course, Ticonderoga.

The first race day off Falmouth Harbor was in a 10-15 knot
south-southeasterly breeze and lumpy sea. Viewed from a distance, the sea
seemed to sprout a flock of white butterflies, flitting from one side of the
course to the other. Each of them in their own way was heart-stoppingly
beautiful. Behind them, the ‘Big Three’, like giant moths, pursued them.

The ‘Big Three’ entranced everyone and kept the press in a frantic
frenzy. Ranger led Velsheda all around the course but they were
often close with Windrose nearby. On the spinnaker run Velsheda
was right on Ranger’s tail. After the spinnakers were dropped, and
possibly to gain more turning room around the mark, Velsheda made an
abrupt turn, swinging that lethal pointed bow swiftly past Ranger‘s
stern, a heart-stopping maneuver that shivered the timbers, at least from the
spectator’s view behind them. Whew!


Windrose
, so beautiful under sail she almost made you weep,
sailed superbly to beat Ranger across the finish line by about two
minutes with Velsheda trailing Ranger about the same distance.
After figuring the handicaps, though, Velsheda was the winner.

In the second race, in about a 15-knot easterly and smoother seas, Velsheda
led all the way with Windrose close by. On the spinnaker run, Velsheda
split her spinnaker but still held her lead to the finish.

It was the windward legs that were most riveting with the ‘Big Three’
heeled well over, their crews clinging to the side like tiny clothes pins.
These titans thundered by, their sails like walls that interrupted the wind on
your face for a brief moment before leaving you spellbound in their
wake, awed, reverent and grateful to have witnessed close hand their
magnificence.

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