Conceived by a past President of the Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association, Stan Pearson, and hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club under the stewardship of the indefatigable Tommy Patterson, the 5th Annual Nelson’s Pursuit Race was held off English Harbour, Antigua on New Year’s Eve.
Average attendance for previous years was around 30 yachts but 37 signed on for the 2007 event, boosted by five Dragons from Harmony Hall Yacht Club. Being a pursuit race, each yacht has a different start time dependent upon handicap, the intention being for all yachts to finish at the same time. Inevitably, they do not although there were some very close and exciting finishes with yachts just seconds apart, and more than a quarter of the fleet crossing the finish line within two minutes.
The slowest yacht and the first to start carries a large French flag as its ensign and all other yachts carry the U.K. ensign to symbolise the pursuit of the French fleet by Admiral Nelson across the Atlantic to the West Indies and back again.
The race briefing was held at Antigua Yacht Club the day before the race at 1805 hours, 1805 being the year of the Battle of Trafalgar. To encourage all types of yachts, only upwind sails were allowed to be used throughout the race with no additional headsails being permitted for downwind legs. The course: a close reach to the Nelson buoy a couple of miles off English Harbour followed by a broad reach to the Villeneuve buoy off Carlisle Bay. Admiral Villeneuve commanded the French fleet pursued by Nelson across the Atlantic and at Trafalgar. The third leg was a beat to a buoy off English Harbour with a run to the finish line.
Blustery winds of around 25 knots and big seas, 7 to 8 feet, discouraged one yacht from starting and three others did not finish. Two were disqualified for course infringements.
The race was not without incident. Aboard SV Galletea a crew member, Russell ‘Sprout’ Morton, slid down the deck during a heavy squall and pinned his foot between the shroud and the cap rail and then fell overboard. He managed to grab a stanchion with his left hand to prevent himself from completely falling off the boat. The ABSAR (Antigua Barbuda Search and Rescue) safety boat was nearby and maneuvered close enough to allow the paramedic, Jonathan Cornelius, to get aboard. He diagnosed a severe dislocation to the right ankle and splinted the leg, remaining aboard SV Galletea until they reached Falmouth where the casualty was transferred to the ABSAR rescue boat and then ashore to a waiting ambulance.
The fleet was split into four classes, Racing, Racer/Cruiser, Cruising and Classic. The finish came down to seconds between several boats with only one second between the first and second boats, 42 (Sven Harder) and Dragon 9 both from the Racing class with the third boat, Sunshine (Hans Lammers), from the Cruising class, a further 50 seconds behind. As well as being the overall winner, 42 won the racing class with Hugo Bee (Hugh Bailey) wining the Racer/Cruiser class and fifth overall. Sunshine took first place in the Cruising class with Mariella (Carlo Falcone) taking first place in the Classic class just seven seconds ahead of Petrana (Paul Deeth).
Prize giving was held in Nelson’s Dockyard and conducted by Tommy Patterson attired, as usual, in an 18th Century braided frock coat and tri-corn hat.
Lolita, a previous Antigua Sailing Week overall winner, was specifically chartered for the Nelson’s Pursuit Race. With increased interest in Antiguan sailing from Guadeloupe, next year John Burnie (Nautor’s Swan Caribbean) will be joining the committee to represent the Guadeloupe entries.