For most of us, the word Woodstock conjures up images of the summer of love forty years ago that altered the world with peace signs and tie-dye. On the Caribbean island of Antigua that same name evokes a different picture—a place that’s all about boats and people who fix them.
I became acutely aware of Woodstock’s talents and commitment during one of Antigua’s Classic races when the boat I was on was rammed. The mizzen boom, just inches from my head, was ripped away and, as a rain of toothpicks fell around us, I figured we were DNF and done. After the race, we headed to the dock where a call was made, and the broken boom bits bundled and carted away. With only 16 hours before the start of the next race, chances of getting it fixed seemed futile. Little did I know where the boom was going and who would be involved.
Nestled beside the island’s Falmouth Harbor sits a cluster of small buildings where a group of hard-working individuals turn problems into pleasures. It’s the hub of Woodstock Boatbuilders, LTD, the small but mighty company that took charge of the damaged boom.
The next morning it was onboard, in place and as good as new. While our crew had partied and slept, Woodstock’s crew had worked diligently like doctors in the E.R. Their patient that night, our boom, was just one of several racing casualties tended to by a team of brilliant wood and epoxy surgeons.
The brainchild of owner/director Andrew Robinson, Woodstock started simply in 1990 with a carpenter, an engineer, a fascination with boats and a dream. “I’ve been sailing since I was a nipper,” he explained. Like most folks, he began with small boats, then larger ones and by nineteen, he earned a living on a Nicholson 55 as the vessels bosun and only full time crew. Sailing alongside a string of captains who came and went like bad weather, Robinson often found himself filling in at the helm, running the boat and pampering guests. “It was baptism by fire,” he exclaimed of the on-the-job training. As difficult as it was, a bond with boats formed that’s as strong as cured epoxy.
After training as a shipwright in England, Robinson moved to Antigua and launched the business specializing only in wood working. Word spread, popularity increased, and by 1995, customers were calling out for more complete service. Since yachts were being built in new and high-tech ways, services to meet those needs were added. These days his team works with carbon, composites, metal, engineering systems and, of course, paint and refinishing products. The one job Woodstock turns away is varnishing, preferring to leave it to the expert Antiguans who’ve honed and perfected the skill.
Since, as Robinson says, “We never get the same job twice,” he and his crew are often inventors. Trouble-shooting a situation, trying to find the best way to make a repair, is a welcome challenge. “I employ people to do painting, fiber glassing, stainless fabricating, plumbing, engineering, whatever is needed. I pick up skills along the way.” Robinson helps in any way he can, but his main job these days is choreographing the logistics of a constant flux of boats and trades people.
Their problem-solving skills were put to the test recently when a 140’ super yacht arrived with a chunk missing from the bow. The Woodstock wonders worked all night to repair the dinged stem, an endeavor that began with moving the massive sails aft. To balance the job, they had to move the canting keel to one side to offset the weight of the sails on the other.
Most of Woodstock’s work coincides, of course, with the island’s two jumbo races. The fall charter show keeps them busy, too, along with re-fits, emergency repairs, insurance jobs, and weather related incidents. Woodstock normally keeps a carefully chosen crew of 20 busy, sometimes more or less. After Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, it took a total of sixty two to put bit of boats together again. “Sometimes,” Robinson joked, “a hurricane is a good thing, especially on another island.”