Nelsons Dockyard was the quintessential venue for Antigua’s 30th Classic Regatta. Nearly 50 vessels sailed in flying flags from Canada, Germany, the UK, Ireland, Bermuda, the Netherlands and beyond. One journeyed from the west coast of Mexico via Panama and another came from Polynesia after passing Cape Horn. No one wanted to miss the party including little Dauphne Lehmann who was six weeks old when she crossed the Atlantic on the 43ft Abeking and Rasmussan, Hera, just months before the first race.
With a backdrop of English Harbour’s 18th century forts and exquisitely restored buildings, Med-style mooring fanned the fleet into a perfect stage for the first of Panerai’s 2017 Classic Yacht Challenges. The matriarch this year was the 56ft Gaff Yawl Anne Marie, with 116 years under her keel, and the youngest entries were Chloe Giselle, a 65ft Sean McMillan Spirit sloop and the 42ft Alwyn Enoe Carriacou sloop, Free in St Barths, both built in 2015.
Pre-race activities began with the Concours d’Elégance, a beauty pageant for yachts with a bit of Miss Congeniality. Judges, fueled by curiosity and a love of maritime tradition, spent hours probing the secrets of 18 vessels. The Overall Winner was the 77ft Fife, Latifa, and the highly prized Arne Frisell award, given to the vessel with the most grace and seaworthiness, went to the 112ft three-masted schooner, Spirt of Bermuda.
Winds were light for the Single-handed Race, which discouraged reefing but kept skippers running doing a job designed for many. Overall winners were the 33ft Kim Holman sloop, Stiletto, and in the under 45ft class, Saephradra, a 51ft Aage Nielsen ketch.
Race 1 began with a bit more wind, which continued to build throughout the week, churning water that flew everywhere. It was perfect for the big schooners: 178ft Adix; 141ft Columbia; 137ft Mariette of 1915; 105ft Eros, and Spirit of Bermuda. The new Tall Ship Racing class had two Klaus Roder designs, the 109ft Kairos and 157ft Chronos.
Size didn’t matter for the wickedly fast Tilly XV, leading the fleet during race one until a shackle pin failed, toppling the mast and rig. Thanks to the midnight oil burned at Woodstock Boatbuilders, the 39ft Sonderklasse gaff sloop was back in action for race three.
Each race offers a different challenge to captains and crew with a workout through all points of sail. The favorite of photographers, and there were many, is the Cannon Course – 24 miles of reaching around two well-set marks allowing vessels from every class to pass repeatedly, and often dramatically, close.
This is the Gentlemen’s Regatta but it’s also a regatta run on spirit and good humor. Wild Horses, the 76ft Joel White sloop, tuned up with a herd prancing on deck sporting realistic horse heads. The uniformed crew of Spirit of Oysterhaven, a 70ft Frederick Parker schooner, chanted while perfecting the wave for every passing boat. Even a few whales joined the fun.
Days of racing were counterbalanced by an endless social schedule kicked off daily in the Presidente beer garden. Rum fueled many events like the Royal Navy Tot and Mount Gay Cocktail Competition, which loosened folks up for open mic sessions. The Sea Chanty Contest slipped quickly into the bilge when the bawdy crew of Mariette of 1915 took the stage. There were parties for owners, pirates and sailors dressed in vintage costumes but most soirees combusted spontaneously simply out of love for old boats and tradition.
For the final evening, the grounds of the historic dockyard blossomed with lights and a magnificent stage filled with glittering trophies. Announcer Tommy Paterson, assisted by a rum and ginger ale, entertained the crowd as crews paraded across the stage accepting applause and pride for a regatta well sailed. The Kenny Coombs Memorial Trophy went to the Carriacou Sloop, Genesis; Faiaoahe won Spirit of Regatta; the Mount Gay Rum Trophy went to the 79ft Fife yawl Mariella; and the big prize – the Panerai watch, awarded to the boat with the lowest total corrected time from Traditional, Vintage or Classic Class went to Mariella. The crowd went crazy; ship horns blared, cannons fired, fireworks lit the sky and the party took off in true Classic style.