The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta (ACYR) proudly began a fourth decade of showcasing maritime history and tradition during six days of high-spirited races between some of the world’s most stunning yachts. The energy in Falmouth Harbour spiked as each entry sailed in –Vendia (70ft) and Free in St. Barth (42ft) from Grenada; Ticonderoga (86ft) from St. Barths; Ruth (100ft) from Barbados; and the schooner Columbia (141ft), which made a last minute, ten-day dash from the States to be there.
This year’s matriarch, Samsara (52ft), built in 1924, returned with her pirate-clad entourage who nailed last year’s prize for Best Dressed Crew. Newest builds, alike in rig but worlds apart in size and style were Free in St. Barths (42ft), launched on the beach in Carriacou, and the sloop Atalante (127ft) from the Claasen Shipyard in the Netherlands.
Two hurricane survivors, Ocean Star (77ft), dismasted in the BVI, and Russamee (50ft), that rode out both of last year’s monster storms at anchor in Culebra, miraculously joined the fleet. Always at the ACYR are vessels saved from the curse of time. This year’s star was Mah Jong (52ft), winner of 2018 Best Rebuild by Classic Boat Magazine.
Spontaneous celebrations clogged the docks as old friends reunited and new ones joined up like links on a chain. Dark & Stormy cocktails toasted Neptune and good fortune for bringing an amazing fleet together for the thirty-first year. Mount Gay red hats kicked off the party before Thursday’s final flurry of primping for the Concours d’Elégance. Judges, including UK author/sailor Tom Cunliffe, boarded boats seeking a winner amidst the beauty and brawn. Legendary Ticonderoga of Greenwich was the overall winner and Russamee honored with the Arne Frizell Award for most seaworthy vessel.
This year’s ‘Single-Handed Race’ took place in 20 knots of shifting trades with gusts topping 25 knots. Steep seas washed decks and everyone on them. The winner, the 115ft schooner Aschanti, was impressively captained by Karl Ebner.
After a night of blustery rain squalls, followed by hours of uncertain calm, the weather geared up to a respectable 20 knots for Race One. Rowdy conditions separated the fleet until they all pulled into the station at the leeward mark. From there, the photographic drama began on the upwind crawl to the windward mark as bows bit deep into each chunky wave sending leftovers flying over crew and cameras.
Saturday’s action for Race Two began with gear failure as Ticonderoga left the dock and a brief exit horn blast turned into an extended play. Being that this is the gentleman’s race, Columbia joined the band, then Ocean Star until finally Big Ti’s horn ran out of air. On the water, boisterous weather convinced skippers to employ cautionary reefing and prudent headsail choice for the grueling Butterfly course.
The evenings Sea Shanty Contest was beyond expectations. All four performances were over the top but the most outrageous group, comedically disguised as Pirates of the Caribbean, was a troupe of ACYR volunteers.
Race Three, the Kenny Coombs Memorial Cannon Course, is the first parade of the day. For history aficionados, it mimics a military parade as each stoic veteran sails by. Among them, Frolic (44ft), built as a US Navy Training vessel in 1944, and Mariella (79ft), which served as a WWII coastal patrol boat for the British Admiralty. The schooner Russamee did reconnaissance missions in the Vietnam War; Seefalke II was built as a sail trainer for the German Navy; and Ticonderoga of Greenwich was painted gray and placed in the US Corsair Fleet.
Post race, salty vessels spiffed up for the Parade of Sail through English Harbour. Petrana dressed in XXL Antigua flags; Columbia, always looking for a black powder excuse, cannoned a round of BOOMS; and high in the rig of Mah Jong, aerial acrobat Nichole Raab teased the fleet with a performance she repeated that night during the highly anticipated ‘Vendia’s Epic Dock Party’.
For the fourth and final race, lead boats set off hoping to hold fast while the rest of the fleet went out in full battle mode. Weather predictions for light winds were fake news. Cranky squalls, rain, and the longest upwind leg of the regatta pushed rails down and boat speed up.
Throughout the week, a theme of disaster and survival haunted the Carriacou sloops. Free in St. Barths pulled into Antigua with a broken mast; Genesis broke her gaff during Race One and after Race Three spent the night in the boatyard ER. The operation to repair a rudder post was successful, thanks to a team of wood doctors and epoxy specialists. She missed the start of Race Four by twenty minutes but finished a respectable fourth place. Then there was the hair raising close encounter between the 141ft Columbia and 36ft Sweetheart prompting the exchange of a case of champagne.
For the final prize giving, the sky matched a sparkling stage of trophies. The action-packed week, captured by talented photographers, scrolled before spellbound, salty sailors. Proud crews paraded across the stage as winners were announced in each class. Fittingly, the top three prizes for Lowest Total Elapsed Time, Winner of the Most Competitive Class and Overall Winner went to Aschanti IV. It was on her decks, in 1977, that the ACYR was born. Rum was involved, of course.
The highly anticipated Gig Races and Cream Teas brought the week to a close.
The 2018 ACYR is over but memories and friends made during each moment of the Regatta will sail into the future and, hopefully, bring the fleet back together in 2019.
For more information and complete results visit: www.antiguaclassics.com
Writer, photographer, sailor, Jan Hein calls the Caribbean home when she’s not on a boat in Washington State.