More and more, the Caribbean is a winter playground for ever-bigger yachts. At the St Barths Bucket this year, where being a hundred feet long is an entrance requirement, there were thirty-four entries—though, alas, no wind for three days. Amongst the many fine superyachts, one I have had the pleasure to build the sails for, and probably the most visible this year in the Caribbean regattas, is Sojana. This stunning, all-Carbon, 115-foot ketch is owned by Mr Peter Harrisson of GBR Challenge fame. The beautifully-designed and built Bruce Farr boat was moulded into shape through extensive discussions between the owner, his staff, and the Farr office. Peter is almost as fanatical about sailing as he is about his Rugby and football. Peter is the Vice Chairman of Chelsea Football Club and, being a diehard West Ham Utd supporter, I find this one of his few faults.
When not out around the buoys, Sojana is typically docked in Antigua at the end of the Falmouth Harbour Marina. Initially one might think that the boat and its crew are just keeping to themselves, but here is a crew that loves sailing and more so racing. When the daily work is done, you will often see the crew racing between two moored fenders with either their two Illusions or Lasers. Having participated, I can say that this is hot racing, including Olympic Stars, the entire crew, and guests. So the end of the dock provides a practical work area as the crew members upkeep rigging, refrigeration, etc, a great barbeque spot, and, importantly, an excellent committee position aboard for the dinghy racing!!!
As Sojana sails past you next year, you will immediately recognise Marc Fitzgerald, Mr. Harrison’s skipper for nearly fifteen years. It’s strange, but the first time I went onboard it was early one morning before a race and the boat was teaming with crew and guests. Immediately, though not having met Marc, I could see he was most obviously the skipper. You’ll probably never hear him raise his voice, but he’s definitely in charge. Once moored, another aspect of Marc’s skill becomes apparent. Marc is probably the only megayacht skipper who is also the head cook. As everybody finishes off their jobs and starts opening a beer or two, Marc is creating in the galley. His cooking is always well-researched and based on fine fresh products wherever possible. Marc upkeeps a quality wine cellar and particularly appreciates a fine Grand’Cru—which luckily encourages him to visit us in Guadeloupe from time to time. As with cooking, practice makes perfect—I have noticed, being an ex Laser sailor, that he is difficult to beat around the cans.
As with all crew, there is movement, but the Sojana fulltime and race crew are fairly permanent. When Laura, a Cowes-based staff member, is not aboard running with subtle style and authority the non-deck crew, the second onboard is most obviously Gareth or ‘Nipper’. Gareth is a fine young South African sailor; he has an agility in the rigging and works discreetly under the direction of Marc. The other crew, each with a specific responsibility, whether Matt, Pete or one of the two Andreas, are generally all keen to sail and, if not, are off kite surfing or wake boarding.
Then, each race, the regular crew get onboard. Johnny and Tim Haines are both well known around the circuit, particularly Tim—who is a master rigger, runs the foredeck with a smile, and seems always to make a tough job good fun.
Back in the cockpit are either the older guys or the ones Marc needs to keep an eye on!! Obviously our friend Stan Pearson ‘Antigua Rigging’ fits badly into this criteria as certainly does Karl James on Jib Trim. Just for interest, loaded, the jib sheet is under 13 tonnes of tension so the winch has three forward gears and one reverse to avoid burning of the sheets as one eases. Christian Stimpson, the Naval Architect who works onboard with Karl, designed the Sojana Rib you may have seen. This craft has a lightweight Aluminium inboard, a removable bow piece and is capable of 42 knots, an ideal craft for wakeboarding. Other regular crew, as calm as the others, are Franklin from A and F sails and the world-famous Ti Ti from Ti Ti Rental Cars. Most of these guys work independently, yet with fine team spirit, so perhaps, finally, Marc keeps only me in the cockpit for the reasons given earlier!
Guest helmsmen generally helm in the races. Andrew Beardsworthy and Geoff Meek are just two to name. They generally take the helm just as the first guns are fired. But for all the reasons given, fitting in with this crew and wishing to sail well and fast is easy—as this is what Sojana is all about. So next season, as Sojana sails past you, it’s no monster. Somehow I find it good to think that the people aboard this mega machine are just as keen about the pleasure of sailing as any of us here in the Caribbean, all at sea, propelled by the same wind.
Andrew Dove is Area Manager for North Sails.