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Letter from Antigua – Stanford Antigua Sail Week 2007

Before we get into the nitty gritty and the undisputed magic of Stanford Antigua Sailing Week—I have been passing away some of the hours by watching the acts, trials, and tribulations of the Americas Cup Challenge. As lovely as these boats are, I really do not believe they are designed to go to sea—and by that I mean our sort of sea around the islands of the West Indies.

Holy Cow, they have been canceling many of the races in Valencia, Spain when the winds were approaching 16 to 17 knots. In a race between the Spanish challenger and the Kiwi challenger the bucket brigade was out on both yachts when the wind was still under 20 knots. OK, they are beautiful, high tech, and only cost a few million but when I think of the fact that our average day might be something around 20 knots, should the major sailing event be reliant upon yachts which would be uncomfortable in a breeze on an average size lake? Anyway, enough of that.

So, Antigua’s 40th anniversary sailing week had just about perfect conditions with a worthwhile sea coming, as they always do, all the way from Africa. Many of the regattas up and down the long chain of Caribbean islands had actually suffered from the weather! For some it had rained a lot and for others the winds had been really light. Even just before Sailing Week the Antigua Classic Regatta raced its first two days in minimal wind and under leaden skies. So we in Antigua were, to say the least, just a little worried especially as the experienced gents at the Antigua Met Office, (whom I talk to every  morning of the year ) were a little hesitant too. “Maybe we will get lucky” they said in guarded terms.

So just imagine the scene, if you can, when on the day before the first race I put down English Harbour Radio’s microphone after the daily radio broadcast, having announced in jubilant terms that we probably would have more than a week of fine typical weather. More than 200 skippers and crews let go a shout of joy that may have been heard in Guadeloupe. And, believe it or not that’s just what we had. But not all things were rosy!  Just prior to the first day of racing the sun shone, the wind (God bless it) built up to 17 knots, when chief judge Arthur Walschlegger somehow contrived to break his leg. Even those who have been subjected to his strict but just decisions in the protest room were sorry to see dear old Arthur packed aboard an especially chartered aircraft and flown off to the US of A.

Anyway, in near perfect conditions the huge A Division got away to good starts on Sunday, the first day of Sailing Week. The line was just outside English Harbour whilst the start line for the B Division was just outside Falmouth Harbour. Both these divisions were finishing in Dickenson Bay on Antigua’s northwest corner, having raced in opposite directions entirely around Antigua. So Judy and I, having watched the start from Shirley Heights, roared up to the east in our Land Rover expecting to see the first boats run down from Green Island on their way to Dickenson Bay. But when we got there ABN AMRO ONE was already hull down on her way to Dickenson Bay followed by most of the bigger boats in Class One such as Chieftain, Titan 12, Artemis, Money Penny, and a whole slew of others.

Hard on their heels came the rest of the fleet with the down wind flyers merrily surfing along amidst clouds of spray. But it was obvious that AMRO, which had recently won the Volvo Around the World Race, was probably the fastest thing Antigua had actually ever seen. Incidentally the table land of Antigua’s Devils Bridge is a fine place to see this proud procession roll their way to the north western corner where in remarkably quick time they popped out of sight around the corner. If ever there was a time that I personally regretted selling Hightide and giving up racing (after a life time doing it ) it was then. Why weren’t we out there surfing down wind with the others and listening to some hilarious tales from my all-girl crew? Perhaps the writing was on the wall that first day because the incredible ABN AMRO ONE already had a seemingly insurmountable lead.

We could see Tom Hill’s big Titan 12 which appeared to be about third, but both Judy and I felt a pang of regret for Tom. He had very nearly swept all before him in previous races, but now there was a new king and he was unquestionably at the helm of the impressive-looking ABN AMRO ONE. In the process Mike Sanderson and his crew were eating up all the opposition in Antigua’s annual round the cans sailing carnival. But that’s progress I suppose.

Our old Olson 30 Riptide now named Lost Horizon II and under the ownership of Dave Hanna rather than Jamie Dobbs was probably having a great old time staying close on the heels of bigger boats which had their crews both amazed and irritated at the down wind speed of the little Olsen. And so the 40th anniversary of Sailing Week had a very good first day. Even B Division generally enjoyed themselves racing around the lee coast of the island to Dickenson Bay instead of going round to windward.

And a battle was developing here. Without wishing to blow a trumpet for Antigua based boats, yachts such as Pavlova, Huey Too, Hugo B, Sunshine, Elethea, Blue Peter, Ice Boat kept the flag flying high for our little island throughout the entire week. Being entirely shore-based, Judy and I were finding it difficult to find good observation spots and once again we asked if we could watch the racing from John and Jenny’s balcony high on the south coast and overlooking the starting and finishing lines. In particular in the last two races there was an unparallel view of the boats coming around Johnson Point.

And one thing’s for sure, the standard of the bare boats has really risen and I can think of no better way of highlighting this than to say that Jan Soderberg from Sweden, who I think has won overall every year, did admittedly win his class but failed to place in the overall Bare Boat Championship. Another worthwhile performance came from the Morris family from Maine, USA. Having designed and built their boat and crewed by their innumerable children, the family triumphed in every race. And who remembers the huge grins of amusement if a few years ago you mentioned a “Wally” yacht. Accompanied by peels of laughter if you were then to say “Well I own a Wally,” it certainly wasn’t unexpected to have to deal with a few sniggers. Little did we ever know that the beautiful Wally brand is perhaps one of the number one yachts in the world today. Just look at Indio, for example.

Then, of course, there is the almost unstoppable Hugh Bailey. After a bout in the USA with a very serious disease, he has recovered to return and with apparent ease win Performance Cruiser Class 2. And so the 40th anniversary of what is now called The Stanford Antigua Sailing Week finished, as it began, in a blaze of glory. I just wish that I still had a boat to race and a group of girls like my old crew to sail her. On thinking about it, perhaps I’ll have to do something about it. Finally, the changes have taken a few years coming, all seem to be popular with the competitors and I really mean it when I say that Antigua Sailing Week in my book is still top of the pile.

Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to captain Commander Vernon Nicholson’s schooner Mollihawk. Two 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.

Final Results Antigua Sailing Week 2007

Overall
1st      ABN AMRO ONE
2nd     Chieftain
3rd      Titan 12

First Place:
Racing 1:    ABN AMRO ONE
Racing 2:    Universal Marina
Racing 3:    Chippewa
Racing 4:    Lazy Dog
Racing 5:    Sunrise

Multihull Racing: Looking for Elvis

Overall Performance Cruiser:  Indio
Performance Cruiser 1:  Indio
Performance Cruiser 2:  Hugo B
Performance Cruiser 3:  Pavlova II

Overall Cruising Classes:  Sunshine
Cruising Class 1:  Firefly
Cruising Class 2:  Sunshine

Multihull Cruising:  Following Tides

Bareboat Gold Fleet:  Heliodore
Bareboat Silver Fleet:  Justice
Bareboat Class 1:  Heliodore
Bareboat Class 2:  Rossi
Bareboat Class 3:  Fury
Bareboat Class 4:  Chess

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