Well known on both the Antiguan and International sailing scenes, Bernie has been racing ever since childhood. His successes include overall winner at the Heineken Regatta in 2007 and numerous wins in Antigua Sailing Week and other regattas in the Caribbean on his beloved Huey Too and, currently, on Cafe Americano/High Tension. His most recent passions include one-design racing events and the Caribbean 600…and he is toying with the idea of a Melges 20.
Bernie’s love of sailing was inspired by his father, who represented Guyana at the Pan American games in 1957 sailing Snipe dinghies, a class which exists to this day. Bernie crewed for his Father and continued to sail on dinghies in England where he studied dentistry. He went to Trinidad for Carnival but somehow ended up staying for eight years with an ambition of buying a BMW bike and traveling round Latin America. He still has the bike but never got further than Trinidad, though he did move up to bigger boats there.
With the oil boom, life was good, especially for a dentist, and bachelor Bernie was able to buy Huey Too. In 1984, a married Bernie set sail for Antigua, attracted by its excellent sailing, with his ten-month daughter in a high chair in the cockpit and a washing machine strapped to the deck.
Bernie reckons he has taken part in 27 Sailing Weeks. He has also been a keen and regular participant in nearby St. Maarten’s Heineken Regattas and in Guadeloupe’s various events, as well as those in the BVI, Grenada and Trinidad. In addition, he raced Savvy, Pater de Savary’s Carriacou sloop, in the Grenada Sailing Festival in January this year,
Apart from Antigua Sailing Week in April, his most recent memorable event was the RORC Caribbean 600 race in February (originally thought up in a bar in Antigua one night by John Burnie, Stan Pearson and Marc Fitzgerald—and the rest is history). The 600, which began in Antigua, was a huge success expected to attract more and bigger boats next year. One of the crowning features of this race was the innovative tracker system, allowing a worldwide audience to follow the movements of every boat.
Sailing on High Tension and averaging 7 ½ knots, Bernie recalls catching eight fish during the race: they had caught two and cooked and eaten one before reaching the first marker off Barbuda! With a crew of six, Bernie was determined that a cooked meal should be available at least once a day during this long race and prepared a number of frozen dinners in Ziplock bags.
An unfortunate fall and broken rib confined Bernie to his bunk on the second night. When dinner prepared by the crew was unusually bland, Bernie concluded that he must have packed one of his dog’s dinners by mistake—which he paid for by laughing—not a recommended exercise with a broken rib!
That injury brought to to mind a more serious one, when Bernie was returning from a Heineken Regatta in 12 ft. seas and 25 knot winds on Huey Too, towing Melges 24 Huey. At 3 a.m. when the towline broke, Bernie managed to scramble aboard the bucking Melges, but severely gashed his leg on the jagged broken steel pulpit and almost fell overboard. The convoy limped back to Jolly Harbour under power and Bernie limped into his dental surgery where he sutured the wound himself. A great believer in self-help, he still has the scar to prove it!
Ironically, Bernie has trouble in finding regular and committed crew from Antigua and for big events, half his crew are from Guadeloupe, with which he has a great affinity. Notwithstanding language problems, the combination seems to be a winning one. Unfortunately, 2008 strikes in the French Antilles prevented some of the crew and even some of the boats from taking part in the Caribbean 600.
Another of Bernie’s more recent passions is one-design racing, with a big advantage that you do not have to take along your own boat. He has sailed in the Dragon regattas in Antigua, the Zoo Regatta in Guadeloupe and the Nations Cup in the BVI. He sees enormous potential in one-design racing and fervently believes that racing skills can only really improve if pitted against those of top class sailors such as Jensen in the very professionally-organised Dragon regattas in Antigua. Bernie feels that world champions like Jensen also benefit, the more competition they get, and that their very friendly and helpful attitudes contribute considerably to the overall enjoyment and success of the regattas.
At present, Huey Too is undergoing refurbishment but should be back on the racing scene soon. Bernie is currently considering the possibilities of the new Melges 20 and finds that sailing and golf, which Bernie also plays, are two active sports for which age is not a problem. Bernie’s real obstacle is work, which he admits does get in the way of his sailing at times. We hope that it will not prevent Bernie from continuing with his passion and look forward to observing his performances for years to come.
Biologist and former Eurocrat Gilly Gobinet took up permanent residence on Antigua in 1984. She has been painting and writing—and sailing—ever since. Her work can be seen at originalcaribbeanart.com.