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Jol Byerley’s Mar 07 Letter from Antigua

I thought it might be fun to go back through the years to 1985. In truth I think we actually had a lot more fun then. Or is it something to do with getting old?  Antigua’s Round the Island Race 1985: Racing around an island is so much more fun than whizzing round and round those fiendish red balloons that Race Committees love to scatter around. Apart from a distinct impression of actually going somewhere (rather than plowing up the same patch of water like so many oozlem birds), the fleet is actually aware of being in a race rather than in a traffic jam. Rocks and reefs are all threaded and avoided with nail biting concentration.

“Up a bit, there is plenty of water, up a bit, THUMP.”

“Oh gawd ! Sorry about that skip.”

The Antigua Yacht Club’s Round the Island Race held over the last weekend in January is a 51-mile frolic, split up into two legs with the half way stop over being in Dickenson Bay. That year, the fleet had quite an international look about it. There was Mistress Quickly and her all-star cast of thousands, the Italian Bruce Farr mini maxi Orlando, with a sail wardrobe of exotic finery which made a noise like a thousand and one small boys munching raw carrots. Jerry Trimingham and his Quest of Paget from Bermuda, the Italian two tonner Caccia a La Volope, the Dutch 55 Rumors and Huey Two from Trinidad plus an assortment of US and British yachts.

The screen stealer in 1985 was probably the committee boat, the 147 foot Jamaica Bay. She created a lee on the start line which must have stretched for a couple of hundred yards or more. On Riptide, our Olson 30, we asked her crew politely if they would open her deck saloon windows and doors and eventually crept through! Prior to the start off English Harbour there was a touch of excitement akin to Race Week. The “Grandstand” was buzzing with a camera-strewn crowd. Boat for boat needle matches were ten a penny, with most people laying odds on the battle between the revamped Swan 48 Scaramouche of Warwick and the much newer Swan 46 Maid of Unst. During the two days of racing these two were never more than 50 yards apart.

With a breath of south in the 12 knot breeze, spinnakers were flown all the way down to Sandy Island. It says a lot for the quality of today’s cruising class that the racing fleet was unable to catch up with them until half way down the course. But then, to no one’s surprise, Mistress and Orlando gybing and crossing each other continually, worked out a big lead. But in the lee of the mountains the fickle finger of fate struck these two and upright as a pair of country churches they ran out of wind…and with their crews red in the face, waited for the whole fleet to slide up to them with the new breeze. Off they went again but the rabble was snapping at their heels all the way home.

Saturday night’s proceedings were much enlivened by the Miss Round the Island Contest, an event which began as a semi serious affair. However, the current crop of boating gentlemen, especially those of antipodean background, do rather enjoy almost wearing black lace negligees. Out of the 11 contestants there was not a real dolly bird in sight! The regular female guests of the Runaway Beach Hotel found visits to the Ladies to be something of an adventure.

The following morning, the start required that the entire fleet find their way through Horse Shoe Shoals, a feat slightly hampered by the number of dark glasses in evidence. Then, on the long windward leg to the east side of the island, yacht racing almost got into the realm of blood sports. The favoured port tack pushed everyone close to the coral heads. But with the threat of instant disqualification hovering over those who left any rocks or reefs to port, most people managed this unique game of chicken quite well. Some even lost their hangovers too. Maid and Scaramouche tacked and covered with the viciousness of certain events off Newport, Rhode, Island. Once Green Island was rounded, the sighs of relief could be heard in Guadeloupe.

Julian Gildersleeve’s 35 foot Sunbeam was astounding everyone with her speed, but way out ahead of the cruisers was the beautiful Nicholson 55 Rumours.  Riptide nibbled away at First Run’s seemingly unassailable lead to eventually come abreast with less than a mile to go to the finish. With both boats having a first and a second to their credit, the tie
breaker came down to total corrected time. Results from 1985:

Racing Class:
1st RIPTIDE,
2nd FIRST RUN,
3rd MAID of UNST,
4th SCARAMOUCHE.

Cruising Class:
1st SUNBEAM,
2nd RUMOURS,
3rd QUEST of Paget,
4 SOUTHERLY.

Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to captain Commander Vernon Nicholson’s schooner Mollihawk. 2 years later he bought the first of his many own yachts, Ron of Argyll. She was followed by the 73ft Alden gaff schooner Lord Jim. In 2004 he was awarded a G.O.M. by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting.

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