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Navigating 50 Years of Antigua Sailing Week: A Personal Odyssey

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  • Step into the author’s shoes as he recalls his arrival in Antigua in 1957 and his unexpected, enduring connection to the island.
  • From the early years of sailing around Antigua’s coast to purpose-built racing yachts, the event’s transformation mirrors the author’s sailing journey.
  • Follow the author’s progression through various yachts, from Berthon 41 Matchless to Dehler 34 Hightide, each marking a chapter in his sailing life and experiences at Antigua Sailing Week.

When I arrived in Antigua first of all in 1957 to run the 72 ft charter schooner Mollihawk for Commander Nicholson out of English Harbour, I probably would not have believed that I would still be here in Antigua 50 years later.  Of course, it has become very definitely our home and one of the things that has been down and out enjoyable has been racing in Antigua Sailing Week.

For the first couple of years of ASW we trundled around the coast of Antigua in our big old charter yachts—until, that is, the standard took several strides ahead and it was time to race more purpose-built vessels. As much fun as it was on Lord Jim, we could not stay with the little fiberglass flyers on the long beats to windward and it became rapidly obvious to the charter skippers of English Harbour that to even think about placing, we would have to be at the helm of a more purpose-built racing yacht.

So in 1972, I and a group of friends chartered for Antigua Sailing Week the Berthon 41 Matchless. That we actually won that regatta was probably because I was becoming more involved in the organization and actually laid the racing buoys. The marks were extraordinary things like extended broomsticks and Desmond Nicholson, who built them, persuaded his wife Lisa to donate assorted undergarments which could be lashed to the top of the broomsticks, therefore becoming slightly more obvious to the racing fleet.

The following year, I was presented with Chris Blackstone’s fairly new Scampi 30 Sundance… and we won that week, too. Now, it was becoming obvious that perhaps the thing to do was to have a small racing yacht of our own, and one of the little yachts that became available was Brian Place’s Sparkman and Stevens 34 Morning Tide. She was a beautiful little boat designed with the flair that only Olin Stevens could provide and was a sister to Ted Heaths Morning Cloud in which he won the Sydney Hobart Race back in those early days. She was no great shakes down wind but up wind in more than 12 or 15 knots that little boat would literally pick up her skirts and fly!

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In those days it seemed that all the yachtsmen of the Caribbean were following suit, everybody arrived with racing types which had done well in Europe and the States, especially Virgin Islanders like Tom Hill, Rudy Thompson, Dick Avery, and many more.  I once remember a race week that had blown 25 knots every day. Somewhere down by Johnson’s Point with a dead beat from there to English Harbour, the top of our mainsail blew out on Morning Tide. We finished the course under just a number two genoa and still managed to win our class!

In 1978 my good friend Edie Portman went halves in a brand new Doug Peterson designed Contention 33 called Encore. Although she turned out to be a very successful boat, the first race week I sailed her in was a bit of a disaster, owing to the fact that by then I was heavily involved in the laying of courses and more concerned about drifting marks. Despite having half of the Southern Ocean Shipyards on board, we probably only came a rather shameful fourth. She was a very lovely and very smart yacht.

After Encore came the Olson 30 Riptide, designed and built in California by George Olson and being light enough to virtually pick up and carry her about under your arm. Judy and I went out to the West Coast of the United States and one look at this great little boat was enough to convince us. So we trucked her to Houston and shipped her from there to Puerto Rico where we put her on a trailer and towed her through the tiny windy streets of that island to Fajardo on the extreme east coast. From there Judy and I sailed her to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and left her nuzzling up to Rudy Thompson’s and Dick Avery’s boats of the time.

Then later that year I persuaded my old friend Paul Squire to deliver her from St. Thomas to Antigua and, according to Paul, it was a little like being inside a very light blender as the little boat hurtled southwards to her new home. But what a simply fabulous racing boat she was. We regularly got used to long surfs at 18 knots  and I have pictures of her merrily overtaking  such giant maxis as Kialoa and Mistress Quickly…as long you weren’t going to windward.

One Year when it was blowing close to 30 knots we did the Guadeloupe to Antigua Race and came in 2nd over the line to Jader. She surfed nearly all the way and the Committee at the entrance to English Harbour thought we must have started hours before. Funnily enough, she had a very comfortable triple berth forward, and “little Rippers” was not a bad cruising boat either! We kept her for a little more than 11 years and both Judy and I were emotional wrecks when we sold her to Jamie Dobbs in 1990. What a simply fabulous little boat she had been. And what a simply fabulous time we had had as her owners.

Then came the Van de Stadt-designed Dehler 34 Hightide. Of all of them, she was a perfect cruising boat, and I have to say a powerful and well behaved race boat, which we both dearly loved. To this day I don’t really know why we sold her except that I am not getting any younger and our lovely all-girl crew decided to get married and have babies and to settle down at number 3 Acacia Avenue.

And now just to prove that in my dotage I have gone absolutely barking mad, we have a new little baby which is being rebuilt at Antigua Boat Building Company as I write. Designed by David Boyd in 1966 she is best described as being a miniature 6 metre. One day we might even have a fleet of these beautiful little boats racing together around the coast of Antigua.

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