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Monday 7th February 2011

Twenty-three years ago I arrived in the Caribbean from Europe having sailed “Whirlaway” a 1960’s, 42ft wooden hulled sloop from Europe. At that time I was fairly typical of the many arrivals in the Caribbean, somewhat impecunious, sailing an older, not too valuable (then) yacht.

Visiting Antigua after an exciting trip up through the Islands, I soon met up with Kenny and Jane Coombs who were anxious to enroll “Whirlaway” in the next Antigua Classic regatta.
Kenny and Jane had inaugurated the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta in 1988 when there were a number of older boats being cruised around the Caribbean. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and determination to make the regatta an important event. I remember well after meeting Kenny and Jane, my rowing around various anchorages “down island” visiting older boats and encouraging owners to come to Antigua for the event.

Now entries are coming in thick and fast for the 24th  annual regatta.  These entries will include many of the finest classic yachts in the world, yachts that have been restored over the years at great expense and many of which are as sound and beautiful as the day they were first launched.

As a result of WW2 many yachts built before 1936 had been neglected or abandoned, some with lead keels removed for the war effort, or even having been used as target practice. Released from the horrors of that war, some adventurous souls bought such yachts, made them as seaworthy as they could afford and sailed off to freedom, hence the well known history of the Nicholson family here in Antigua.

J Class Yacht Velsheda with smaller sloop in front.

Many years later with the worldwide re-emergence of some wealth, it seems to have become apparent to those with the means, that restoring an older “pedigree” yacht to her former glory can be a lot more fun than, for example, buying a famous painting and hiding it away in safe keeping. In the forefront was Elizabeth Meyers who had the derelict 130-foot J Class Endeavour (1933) dragged out of her seemingly final resting place in the mud, towed to a shipyard and rebuilt. That is another story, but Endeavour was followed by the J class Velsheda. In the mid 1990’s there were four of these magnificent J Class yachts racing against each other in Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, a pretty heroic achievement on behalf of the owners and a great “feather in the cap” for the small island nation of Antigua.

Now in 2011, we expect to see at least 60 entries in this year’s Classic Regatta.  Some yachts may  be as small as 28 feet and privately owned by cruising yachtsmen.

Carriacou sloop The Tradition.

For those fascinated by Caribbean boats, there will be a class of about six ex-working boats built in Carriacou and mostly originally built for cargo carrying, fishing or inter-island trade. The boats are fast, basic and have virtually no modern equipment. The photo above is of such a vessel, the “Tradition”, being sailed hard whilst Lucy Tulloch, marine photographer, is perched on the bow taking photos.

For the visitor or non-sailor amongst you, how is it best to take advantage of this event on the doorstep? Well, there are four days of racing when one can see the vessels in action and a number of charter agents can arrange for you to go out on a sailing or motor yacht to view the spectacle. The Antigua Barbuda Marine Guide or Marine Directory (both free) will give you details of charter agents.

In the evenings take a stroll along the docks either at Falmouth or in the very suitable setting of Nelson’s Dockyard and view the spectacular boats stern-to or alongside the docks.
Thursday 14th is the day of the Carib Bean Coffee Cup single handed race. One might say, what’s the meaning of this? People sailing with one hand tied behind their back perhaps?  No, “single handed” in nautical terms means one person sailing the yacht unassisted. Sponsored by the coffee roasting company of the same name, this race attracts only the boldest and most experienced sailors. The largest yacht in this race so far has been over 100 feet in length. The skipper of such a large vessel may well have to handle four or five sails whilst steering and navigating at the same time. This race calls for above average seamanship on behalf of the skipper.

The following Tuesday afternoon, 19th April there is “Gig racing” at the Admiral’s Inn.  What is a Gig you might say? Sort of competitive Band do? No, Gigs are the small boats, dinghies or tenders belonging to the larger yachts.  They are sailed, rowed or sculled in fierce competition. It is encouraged that competitors are appropriately dressing in “Edwardian” style, be they children, men or ladies in long dresses, straw hats and maybe even the odd handbag - odd, yes, in a dinghy. In the meantime, whilst the racing is going on, cream teas are served on the lawn of the Admiral’s Inn, with cucumber sandwiches of course.  A delightful afternoon, open to all.

In the evenings there are social events with much live music, some professional and some impromptu groups, often to be heard from dockside emanating from the decks of various yachts. Guitars, banjoes, maybe a saxophone, one evening I even recall  a didgeridoo being played.

It is highly questionable as to whether this event could have grown so much without the support of many sponsors, including the main current sponsor Panerai  Watches of Italy and many other local marine businesses.

For more details of this magnificent event and for a  copy of the program, visit the web site: -

Article by Frank Pearce.

Photos by Lucy Tulloch, marine photographer, Transatlantic sailor, graphic artist and resident of Antigua.  More photos are available at:  –

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