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Tuesday 14th September 2010

Antigua-based West Indian sloop Summer Cloud recently returned from the Carriacou Regatta Festival following an extensive refit to help her effectively compete against the local racing sloops from the traditional boatbuilding village of Windward, Carriacou.

Spurred on by her success in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and West Indies Regatta, St Barth, the  traditionally rigged Carriacou sloop (Built in 1995 in Petit Martinique by Baldwin De Roche) was transformed into a lengthened Bermudan rigged racing sloop with external ballast, alloy rig, laminated sails and carbon fibre retractable bowsprit.  Several modifications to the hull were carried out to support the taller rig and powerfully large sails.  The transformation was necessary to have a chance against such mighty boats as Margeta O ii, Glacier and Deep Vision, all of which had been similarly rigged and, as we were to find out . . . much more.  Help and support from the English Harbour community (as well as liberal doses of free advice) were free flowing during the entire project which commenced after the West Indies Regatta in late May . . . . 

Such an undertaking would not have been possible in such a short space of time any other way.  Once Summer Cloud was back at the Woodstock workshops in June, work in earnest commenced at a fever pitch and carried on for the next eight weeks or so until the last race was over.

The first thing to happen was the removal of the transom and selected planking to allow set-up of her new lines, stretched out by 3 feet. Whilst Alford Cochrane and his team concentrated on the new stern, the regular Woodstock Boatbuilders crew carried out an extensive process to strengthen and re-rig the boat which also included smelting and fitting an external lead keel of approx 2,600 lbs, and the fabrication of several custom stainless steel fittings. 

Once launched (thank you Anne-Marie of National Parks Authority for the use of the Port Authority dock), rig tuning and deck layout were directed by Bishop of Antigua Rigging whilst Tintin of North Sail Antigua worked day and night to fit us out with quite an extensive sail wardrobe from sails supplied by Bacon Sails, Annapolis and Ondeck Racing, Antigua.  The idea that these sloops are rigged and fitted-out from second hand and modified parts, is not a new one . . . .  We ended up with a Proctor mast from a Nicholson 36, jacked up with a wooden base to extend it by 6 feet.  The bowsprit was an old 20 foot carbon spinnaker pole with 3 feet missing - perfect fit!  Deck fittings dug out of heaps formed from years of refitting yachts appeared along with four winches (thank you Jim of Isis and James of Sentio!).  The boom is the tapered top-end of an alloy mast - almost made to measure.  With the project gaining momentum it was time to get in first sea trials and crew training - again help was at hand in the form of Karl James of the Antigua Yacht Club no less.

It was around this time that tragedy struck, as it does when least expected, and the entire community of English Harbour suffered the loss of possibly its most charismatic son of the soil, Jamarly Meade.  Early on Jamarly had joined our crew whilst taking out kids from the AYC sailing program in preparation for sail training as part of Antigua’s National Sailing Academy schools program; and along with a team made up of sailors from Woodstock and fellow English Harbour sailors Bishop and Kerry, Jamarly was a key part of the team for the Carriacou challenge.  In a state of shock we realized that we now had to not just compete, but to compete at the highest level.
All the stops came out and Bishop rigged the boat to win . . . out came the Harken High loads, the spectra lines, the double handled winch handles and the clutches . . . .  Summer cloud now began to resemble a tricked out racing sloop with a chance against Carriacou sloops that had previously beaten her so convincingly (over the water) in Antigua, on their home turf some 300 miles to the south. 

With time running out Karl put us through our paces; coaching the entire crew in only a few sessions, it was time to go.  Luckily the forecast was good as we headed south for the two to three day trip that lay ahead of this engineless, wind, solar and pizza powered vessel (thank you Nat of Johnny Coconat), with what seemed like only hours to spare.  The delivery was marked by squally weather - a soaked and somewhat relieved crew arrived in Hillsborough, the capital of Carriacou (land of many reefs), in the early hours of the day before the first race!

By the way, enormous thanks must go to Jonathon Cornelius of ABSAR who devised a ‘float’ plan for us on our journey south and, in fact, back north again. He monitored our position at all times and was ready to press the panic button in the event of any unplanned detours!

At this stage a little history may be in order.  The regatta is an old one - 45 this year.  It was started to help regenerate the flagging wooden fishing/trading boatbuilding industry that the island was justly proud of.  It worked - and this year saw the debut of two newly built vessels as well as the normal, feverish race preparations on several boats from as far away as Antigua.  Nowadays, as their larger schooner-rigged cousins have all but disappeared (for now anyway . . . there is a resurgence in the class, thank you Alexis - but I digress), the regatta is centered around the large deck sloop class - a class made up of plank on frame carvel-built working boats between 30 and 45 feet.  And although open to working boats from further afield, this fleet was, incredibly, all built on Carriacou or Petit Martinique. Traditionally the boats were gaff rigged but of late are increasingly rigged with tall Bermudan masts and long footed, fully battened, heavily roached mainsails.  Other features of the regatta include:  no handicap system, few rules and no entry fee . . . .  Oh, and the boats race for prize money - needless to say it is taken very seriously by the crews involved.  To say the style of the regatta is unique has to be experienced to be believed:  from the random start times and procedures to the reef hopping seat of your pants racing, to the energetic enthusiasm exhibited by crews during high volume, late night “debates” and we will all never forget the unbelievable kindness and open-armed welcome one receives from the entire community of Windward - it is unique!

Well, all this work for four races!  We had our reasons to do well and I’m proud to relate that we pulled it off, against the odds - the Antigua Posse came in 5th in the Round the Island race (the first race and the beginning of a steep learning curve) and consequently a decent 3rd in the series of three races held in the lee of the island from Hillsborough.  Jamarly would be proud of us, as proud as we were to be racing in his honour.  After the regatta, Summer Cloud sailed back to her home base at the Antigua Yacht Club where she will continue to be raced and be used by the newly formed National Sailing Academy to train school children who have shown an interest in furthering their knowledge of the sea after learning to sail in dinghies.

Article written by Andrew Robinson of Woodstock Boat Builders, photogaphs by Alexis Andrews/ Shabs Kirchner. Top and bottom photos Andrew Robinson. Check out more photos here.

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