Antigua’s newest yacht club at Harmony Hall, Brown’s Bay, was host to the Antiguan National Dragon Championships held the weekend of February 2 and 3, 2008.
Owner of Harmony Hall, who is also owner of Antigua Yacht Club Marina, Carlo Falcone invested in a fleet of classic Dragon racing yachts. The Dragon is a Bermudan rigged keelboat with long overhangs and a short coach roof with rudimentary accommodation.
The first Dragon was built in 1928 and the dimensions, which remain the same today, were LOA 29 foot, LWL 18’8”, beam 6’6 and a draught of 4 foot with an overall weight of 3,750 lbs. The Dragon quickly became very popular, spread throughout the Scandinavian countries, and soon reached Germany and Britain. Anyone sailing into Cowes, Isle of Wight, could not have failed to notice the large fleet of classic Dragons moored adjacent to the fairway.
In the 1980’s GRP Dragons began to be built and it is this more modern Dragon which comprises the fleet at Harmony Hall. It is Carlo Falcone’s intention to make Harmony Hall Yacht Club one of the venues on the Dragons’ international racing circuit.
Seven yachts took part in the Antiguan National Dragon Championships, six owned by Harmony Hall Yacht Club and chartered to competitors and one owned by international championship Dragon sailor, Poul-Richard Hoj-Jensen. Each yacht is raced with a helm and two crew, and comments abounded about the amount of ‘string’ from those not too familiar with the Dragon.
After a practice day on Friday, racing started in earnest on Saturday with five races over windward/leeward courses with an upwind gate. A choppy sea and wind gusting to 20+ knots made for some interesting sailing particularly on the downwind legs under spinnaker where quite a bit of rocking and rolling could be observed.
Despite his championship status, Hoj-Jensen managed to gain a last place in the first race and was lucky enough to be able to use this result as a discard. He never made the same mistake again, taking three firsts and a second in the day’s remaining races.
Competition between Carlo Falcone and Mark Fitzgerald, normally more at home sailing the Farr-designed 115 foot Sojana, was fierce and the battle for second place intense. An accidental swim by Falcone during one of the races, causing him to lose several positions, only served to increase the competition.
No less intense was competition between Karl James of Antigua Yacht Club—also Antigua’s Olympic sailing representative—and Sven Harder of Antigua Yacht Club.
Going into day two, first place seemed to be wrapped up by Hoj-Jensen although a mathematical upset was possible if Falcone or Fitzgerald were to do well in the final two races with Hoj-Jensen doing badly. As it turned out, honours were almost even with Hoj-Jensen getting a first and a fourth, Falcone a fifth and a first and Fitzgerald a fourth and a fifth, the fifth being his discard.
Sailing conditions were even more severe on the second day with winds gusting at over 25 knots. In the interests of safety, spinnakers were banned from the downwind legs. In all races a spreader mark had been placed adjacent to the windward mark to separate yachts as they commenced their downwind legs. With the spreader mark on the second day several hundred yards from the windward mark, this short leg, in the windy conditions, became an exciting shy reach.
A breakage to one of the yachts caused a delay between the two races whilst a spare block was rushed out from the yacht club. Unfortunately, this was not the only breakage of the day. Leading the final race, Sven Harder, the only yacht to beat up the left hand side of the course by which he gained an advantage, was still leading on the final downwind leg when he also had a block break. Falcone overtook Harder to earn himself first in the race and second place overall, dropping Harder into second in the race and fifth overall behind Karl James.
On the last leg of this final race, James managed to claw himself from fifth to third securing himself a fourth overall. Mark Fitzgerald held onto his overall third place, with Ashley Rhodes of A & A Rigging coming in sixth and Cowles Fuller in the final spot.
Harmony Hall Yacht Club royally entertained the competitors and plans to lay on more Dragon racing including some international championships.