With a new sponsor onboard and with a fresh injection of energy and spirit into what was already one of yacht racing’s most anticipated annual events, the countdown to the 40th running of Antigua’s classic week of sailing and partying has begun. Preparations for the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week festivities, scheduled for April 29-May 4, are already in full swing.
At the top of the list of changes for the venerable regatta is a new title sponsor: Stanford International Bank Ltd. "They’re a tremendous asset and they’ve been very dynamic," said Neil Forrester, the General Manager of the Antigua Hotels & Tourist Association, the long-time organizer of the week. "Everyone at Stanford is looking forward to the racing as much as the sailors are."
That’s saying something, as the blue waters off Antigua have now been attracting an international gathering of seasoned sailors for decades. It all began 40 years ago, when island yachtsmen, merchants and hoteliers came up with the idea of a weeklong sailing festival that would extend the season for sailors and tourists alike. The first regatta was won by Dr. Cesar Berrios of Puerto Rico aboard his 39-foot sloop, Enzian. The rest, as they say, is history.
Yachting has evolved by leaps and bounds since Dr. Berrios sailed into the winner’s circle. With three weeks still to go, 137 boats have thus far registered for the 2007 event. At the very top of that list is ABN AMRO ONE, the radical Volvo 70 that demolished the fleet in the recent running of the Volvo Round-the-World Race. Fresh from convincing victories in the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and the BVI Spring Regatta, ABN AMRO ONE is in prime position to take overall honors in the 2007 Caribbean Big Boat Series. Skipper Mike Sanderson and his all-star crew will be looking to complete their trifecta of perfect scores during Stanford Antigua Sailing Week.
But ABN AMRO ONE is hardly the only boat with long-distance credentials. Andrew Pindar’s Open 60 Pindar Alphagraphics is also a veteran of the marathon round-the-world circuit. Pindar and his crew will face staunch competition from local favorite Johnny Malbon on another Open 60, Artemis Ocean Racing. Both 60-footers will hope to hold off the charge of the 67-foot Adventure, a yacht that competed in Chay Blyth’s Global Challenge race. Now crewed by a team of British Army soldiers, it’s on a 10-leg tour around the planet with Antigua a welcome stop on the voyage.
In other Grand Prix action, the racing is expected to be close and up for grabs amongst three well-sailed, 60-foot Swans: Sir Peter Ogden’s Spirit of Jethou, Leonardo Ferragamo’s Cuordileone and Jim Swartz’s Moneypenny. The Big Boat Racing division boasts another trio of top-flight yachts: Rivet Gaeton’s turbo Andrews 70 Renegade, Clay Deutsch’s Swan 68 Chippewa and Andrew Recordati’s Wally 80 Indio. This year, multihulls will also be back in the Antigua mix, with John Winter’s 80-foot catamaran Fat Cat topping the field thus far.
There are changes afoot on the racecourse, too. "We realized, after last year, that we needed to address that," said Forrester. To that end, questionnaires were sent out to every 2006 participant, and dozens of responses were received. A new race committee has been installed with Chairman Tommy Paterson heading up a group that includes Karl James, Franklyn Braithwaite, Antigua Yacht Club commodore Gerry Bardoe, Dr. Bernie Evan-Wong, and Jan Santos.
Forrester said there would be changes to the racing categories, particularly with the Division A boats, with the goal of harmonizing these ultra-competitive divisions throughout the Caribbean in advance of establishing a Caribbean Racing Series in 2008.
In keeping with the wishes of the 2006 fleet, who were keen to better centralize Falmouth Harbour as the base for the week’s activities, the racing schedule has also been overhauled. Division A will compete for the "Yachting World Round the Island Race" in two legs, on Sunday the 29th and Monday, April 30th. On Tuesday, the fleet will compete over Olympic-style windward/leeward courses on Willoughby Bay. After Wednesday’s traditional layday—and this year’s 40th Birthday Party—the boats will be back in action on the South Coast.
Altogether, it adds up to one of the more anticipated Sailing Weeks in recent memory. The wind, water and libations are waiting. Will you be there?
For more information, registration forms, an updated entry list and more, visit the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week website at www.sailingweek.com.