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Jol Byerley’s Jun 06 Letter from Antigua

Despite the fact that for most of this year the almost ever constant trade winds have been on the light side, we were hoping for the best for the Antigua Classic Regatta and of course Sailing Week. But the best did not really materialize. We have to admit that this year has been very different, for from the south to the north of the island chain the various island regattas have mostly suffered from a general lack of wind! Some have even been cancelled.

Anyway, it was touch and go for this year’s running of Antigua’s 19 th Classic Yacht Regatta. But, as if the wind Gods smiled on this truly wondrous event, the breeze came back in the nick of time, (although a little on the light side) for the Single Handed Race on the day before the racing began. Remember that a large proportion are elderly yachts and have sails like jib tops, fisherman topsails and gaff topsails. Not to mention Gollywobblers which can envelope a small village church. These seldom seen sails are not what you might call new and are therefore of debatable strength. Anyway, after the exceptionally big turn out for the single handed race it became obvious that there were one or two wolves in sheep’s clothing among the flock! On the first day of racing proper, a long starting line at right angles to the buoy 4 miles away to the south soon had the various classes heading away into the distance on a close reach.

Although there were some really huge vessels out on the course that hazy April morning, the starts were orderly and as far as I could tell no one was over early. Actually you could just occasionally make out the first mark with the naked eye. However, the mark boat reported that all was in order and we relaxed a little. So, in maybe 10 to 12 knots, it was now time for the kissing to stop.

Many eyes were on the entirely rebuilt 6 metre Nada which had only just been launched by Woodstock Boat Builders here in Antigua. Literally, she only made it by a couple of days. But this little boat loved the light conditions. With her rail almost down she took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. Naturally, she had not had time to install a satisfactory self bailing cockpit but in the manner of Admiral Nelson himself the Committee and her fellow competitors had closed their eyes and over looked this!Originally designed by William Fife up on the Clyde in 1929 and then built in 1930, this beautiful little boat is as pretty as any picture. In her original form the incomparable Uffer Fox had spent many happy days at her helm.

On the other hand, there was the huge 136ft Eleonora, a gaff rigged schooner exactly modeled after the magnificent schooner Westward. What’s more, she had been designed by Nathanial Herreshoff himself in 1909. But despite it being the Classic Regatta this fabulous schooner could feel a little like a “Dodo” at a modern airport. Luckily though, there was also the 108ft Altair, a gaff rigged schooner built and designed by the afore mentioned Fife Family on the Clyde in 1930. For those who like to know about these things there was also the beautiful black Bermudian schooner Ashanti IV designed by Henry Gruber in 1953. This is not to mention the fabulous J Boat Ranger built in Denmark in 2003 in this present edition but an exact replica of the original boat built in the States in 1937. Ranger was then considered to be the fastest J Boat ever. But now there is quite a bit of debate around the S & S Office in New York as to who actually drew the final lines! Ranger, as would be entirely expected, was very quick in every direction and as this year there were no other J’s (we normally have at least three), it’s difficult to say if her recent refit in the UK at Pendenis Shipyard has actually made her a better boat.

On the second morning just after the start, there came a massive black squall. Now, after a long, long while sailing in the Caribbean I have said if you can’t see through a West Indian squall then look out! This one came at the fleet with the ferocity of a charging bull elephant resulting in a situation similar to hurtling down a European autobahn in a thick fog. Why there were no overtaking collisions of horrific proportions I have not the vaguest idea. Some crews clocked winds of close to 40 knots! But it didn’t last too long and the invisible fleet reappeared again to finish in apparent good order. By the time the third race started on the final day all the boats in every class were right on the line with the gun. Gone was any bashful attitude about being over the line too early. In the case of boats being over early, the Antigua Committee, very conscious of the lack of maneuverability of some of its competitors, has a rule that allows vessels to ease their sails and luff into the wind to slow down until the fleet has caught them. This of course naturally sometimes creates a good old fashioned shouting match. In the final race we all had a surprise. The recently built Jambalaya, a 64ft Windward Island trading schooner with a modern rig on her came right through the fleet like a cannon ball. She took full advantage of the 4 reaches and had there been a grand stand at the finish she would have received a standing ovation! Another Grenadine boat to do very well was Alexis Andrew’s forty-foot sloop Genisis built by Alwyn Enoe of Windward on the island of Carriacou and entered in the Traditional Class. Antigua is building quite a fleet of these wonderful little boats.

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