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Profile: Geoffrey Pidduck

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There are some names in the Caribbean that are synonymous with sailing. Antigua’s Geoffrey Pidduck is one of them. Though Caribbean born, he was a latecomer to the sport, yet his accomplishments will long be recognized and his skills still a force to reckon with on the racecourse.

Born in Dominica, raised in St. Vincent and St. Lucia, and arrived to Antigua as a grade-schooler, Pidduck says, “I started sailing on sailfish and island work boats. There wasn’t any racing for me back then. Indeed, I was a late starter who eventually gave up golf for sailing when I moved to Montreal in 1967 to work in the high-tech computer industry.”

In Canada, Pidduck joined the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club and embarked on his sailing career by purchasing a 24-foot Hinterhoeller Shark. “I learned to race,” he says, “by initially starting behind the fleet and watching the mistakes of both myself and others. We usually had 14 to 20 one-design boats in our club racing fleets and 34 to 50 for inter club racing. I would verify what was good and bad from reading Bob Bavier’s “Sailing To Win’.”

During the decade Pidduck lived in Montreal, he became quite involved with the Club and served as Fleet Captain for eight of those years. He also penned the ‘Fog Horn’, the Club’s newsletter. “We had 13 different classes at that time and I sailed a Laser, Shark 24, Lightening, Soling and C&C 30. I competed at least three evenings a week and on most weekends in an active regatta spring and summer series. The Club had some excellent sailors including several Olympians. Ian Bruce of Laser fame, a Jamaican by birth, was an active International 14 sailor and also campaigned Stars to a medal. He along with many others at the Club were helpful in my development.”

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In 1974, Pidduck embarked on a campaign for the 1976 Olympics in the Soling Class, however this was cut short when his company, IBM, transferred him to New Brunswick. “I took with me my third Shark 24 and two new lasers. We were very successful at the Club level and were Shark Class Champions for two years and Club Champion, in the Erica Cup held on the Lightening, once.”

One of Pidduck’s weaknesses is acquiring boats. This has been especially true since he returned to Antigua in 1982 and changed careers from computers to real estate. “Over the past 24 years, I have bought a new Laser almost every year. Many I have passed through to other sailors in Antigua to build the Laser Fleet. I have owned a Melges 24 and then a Humphries 22 sport boat. This was a different kind of fun and challenge. I loved the Melges for its simplicity, large cockpit and speed. I have had seven different Beneteau’s and now a Beneteau First 51. I have also owned two out-and-out racers: a Ron Holland 40 and Mermaid ll. Lasers and sport boats are my first choice for racing. They are close to the water and achieve exciting speeds. I prefer one design racing and also like match racing.”

Pidduck enjoys racing more so than cruising. “I race a lot more than I cruise because I enjoy contact with other sailors.”

In recent times, Pidduck has won his class at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the International Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas, and BVI Spring Regatta. “We have also won the Triskell Cup and La Genoise Regatta in Guadeloupe and the Saintes. In 1989 and 1990, I was the South American Master Laser Champion. In the early days, I won many races. However, my best memory is coming in 7 th out of 185 in the North American Laser Championships.”

This past year, he continues, “I succeeded in losing the mast of Mermaid ll on the third day of Antigua Sailing Week and in the Valentines Regatta the mast on the 6-meter, formerly called Trouble and now named Biwi Magic. I have sold Mermaid ll so now intend to campaign only the 6-meter and Laser.”

A racer at heart, Pidduck has also cruised extensively. “I’ve sailed the Pacific Northwest when I was based in Vancouver, Canada, and in more recent years cruised around the lower Caribbean from the Virgin Islands down to Trinidad and Tobago. In 1999, we spent three months crossing from Panama to the Galapagos, Marquesas and to Tahiti. The highlight was stopping at Pitcairn Island for eight days and staying with Tom and Betty Christian, direct descendants of Fletcher Christian the head mutineer aboard the Bounty.”

As well as sailing, Pidduck has been active in sailing organizations. He’s been commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club (AYC) on four occasions, president of the Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA), and currently Dinghy Fleet Captain at AYC. “At AYC, my most important achievement was the formation of the youth sailing program. Through my efforts and direct contribution, AYC has a large active the fleet of Lasers, Optimists and Zoom 8’s. While Commodore in 1988, the Club initiated the Caribbean Laser Team Racing Championships and The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.”

Looking ahead to the future of Caribbean sailing, Pidduck says, “The things that excite me most are the KATS program developments, the I/C 24 one design circuit, Caribbean Dinghy Championships, Robbie Ferron’s One Design initiative in St. Maarten and generally the development of youth sailing.”

Pidduck adds, “The exposure that I’ve had says we’re doing a lot of the right things here in the Caribbean. However, we must all make more effort to attend each other’s regattas. This is not always easy since the sailing calendar has become very crowded. Each island group or yacht club should make as much effort to host more international events such as the Sunfish Worlds and Opti North Americans. We also need to continue to encourage the development of more National and International Judges, Race Officers, Race Umpires and coaches. We must tap into the Olympic Solidarity program for support and coaching. Without competent officials and coaches we may continue to be relegated. We need to develop our sport at the very competitive level and to identify more future stars of the caliber of Peter Holmberg.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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