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Tommy Paterson – Weeks and Weeks of Sailing in Antigua

Tommy Paterson has always been very hands-on: I interviewed him flat on his back, antifouling the Boston Whaler formerly used to go shark fishing by the late Dr. Erhardt, visionary and creator of Jolly Harbour Marina, of which Tommy is Dockmaster.

A very keen, modest and highly popular yachtsman, Tommy has been on the Antiguan sailing scene for over 30 years. His contractor father, Jack Paterson, came to Antigua in 1961 to escape the Canadian winter and build Curtain Bluff Hotel, followed by a 2½ year-old Tommy a few years later. Jack was interested in sailing and was a founder member of the Antigua Yacht Club, which he also built. Tommy began sailing Sunfish and has fond memories of whole summers spent camping out at the yacht club.

In 1970 there were not many fibreglass boats around and Jack bought Jackpot, a Colombia 22 (still here in Antigua). Tommy enthusiastically took her out every afternoon after school. This early experience made Tommy the youngest skipper ever to enter Antigua Sailing Week at the age of 15 (and, he claims, on the slowest boat ever)! Growing up in Antigua, like every other boy, Tommy learned to drive as soon as his feet could reach the pedals.

In 1976, Tommy went back to Canada to study, but found that he preferred building yachts. He worked for CS Yachts for about three years, building hundreds of boats (he still owns Gypsy, a CS40 on anchor in Belfast Bay, Seatons). Armed with a Class A driving license, he became “designated driver” at the boatyard, pulling trailers and hauling out boats with ease. He also delivered many boats all over Ontario and commissioned yachts for owners in Vancouver, Annapolis, Puerto Rico and other yachting centers.

Life was perfect, except for one thing: the weather. Heading for the sun, Tommy returned to Antigua in 1982, running the water sports at Halcyon Cove Hotel for about 15 years. Jackpot had been on the same mooring in Dickenson Bay for the previous five or six pre-hurricane years and Tommy hauled anchor and headed for Sailing Week. His interest in this annual race prompted Jan Santos to invite him onto the committee where he has been since 1985.

Tommy also took part in Sailing Week on various boats he acquired over the years, such as Campuchano, Quick Getaway and the J24 Knockabout. However, juggling the responsibilities of owner, participator and organizer became too much so he started sailing on the well-known Caccia alla Volpe with Carlo Falcone (who claims Tommy was the first Antiguan he ever met), an arrangement which suited them both for about the next 20 years.

Together with Captain Carlo and the same winning core team of Henry Peper, Peter Simmonds and Juan Campos, Tommy also sailed on Abracadabra, the Frers 80ft Maxi Emeraude, and the magnificent 79ft Mylne yawl Mariella. Together they have won many Caribbean regattas, missing the Overall BVI Spring Regatta by one second to the Swan 56 Noonmark 6, and Antigua Sailing Week by one point to Frank Savage’s Swan 56 Lolita. Tommy believes that, thanks to Carlo, more up and coming professional skippers and crew have gained valuable experience on Caccia alla Volpe than on any other boat in the Caribbean and all are proud to be part of the Caccia Crew.

As Chairman of the Race Committee for the last ten years, Tommy is immensely proud of Antigua Sailing Week and the exceptional experience it provides for all participants, not least due to the unique historical setting and friendly atmosphere as well as the excellent Caribbean sailing conditions. Peaking at 256 boats in 1997, he was delighted that 140 took part this year (making it a lot easier to get to the bar…). The races themselves, the shortened program and new events organized around English and Falmouth Harbour were all highly successful, with absolutely everyone dancing to the small hours after Prize Giving.

Tommy once told me that if he didn’t go sailing once a week, he would go crazy. Jolly Harbour Yacht Club, founded about 15 years ago, is the only club in the Caribbean providing regular Saturday racing: two and one-half hours of hard sailing followed by three hours of socializing – the perfect program! Every weekend sailors such as Bernie Wong on High Tension, Geoff Pidduck, Tony Sayer, Tanner Jones, etc. compete with Tommy on his Hoby 33 Slingshot, dispelling the rigours of the working week.

Tommy’s favorite race is the Nelson’s Pursuit Race, which he started with Stan Pearson from Antigua Rigging five years ago. This fun but spectacular event takes place out of English Harbour on the last day of the year, with around 40 boats ranging from 22 to 115 ft, the slowest starting first, only jib and main allowed. Many participants come in to anchor afterwards to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The dominant feature, however, is Tommy himself in his period Admiral’s costume!

Tommy’s advice to everyone sailing in the Caribbean is to try to give back something to the sport: volunteer for race events and yacht club committees. Help make sailing and all sporting events on your island successful, not just for the pure enjoyment but also because of their important economic contribution to tourism. Above all, keep sailing!

Biologist and former Eurocrat Gilly Gobinet took up permanent residence on Antigua in the Caribbean in 1984. She has been painting and writing—and sailing—ever since. Her work can be seen at originalcaribbeanart.com.

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