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Thursday 5th January 2012

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The world of international yachting is different things to different people, but for the professional crews, one of its features is that it is a relatively small, cohesive world. Captains, crews and owners meet and recognize each other from Sydney, Australia to Newport, Rhode Island, from Cannes to Rio. The Mediterranean is at the centre of the bustle and glamour that are so much a part of this world in the summer months.  The Med and the US east coast are the main destinations for sailing super yachts, mega motor yachts, and smaller ones too, with ports such as Palma de Mallorca, Antibes and Monaco offering the glittering sophistication of old, established resorts.

In the winter months, however, it is the little island of Antigua that has succeeded in building a reputation as the place to be, the centre of international yachting in the Caribbean. Antigua may offer less of the glamour of the American or Mediterranean ports, but from tentative beginnings in the 1960s to the present, it has developed a world class charter yacht show, and regattas and challenges that have become an irresistible draw for the yachting community. Yachts arrive here from all over the world.

The Antigua winter season begins with the Charter Yacht Show in December. This event was started by the Nicholson family, and celebrated its 50th year in 2011.  A total of 113 yacht participated in the show; approximately 50% motor yachts and 50% sailing yachts.  The largest participating motor yacht was 266 feet long, and the smallest was 80 feet. Sailing yachts ranged from 185 feet to 46 feet. Yachts moored at the contiguous Nelson’s Dockyard, Falmouth Harbour and Antigua Yacht Club marinas, and the visual impact of this vast array of yachts gathered in one place, especially when lit up at night, was breathtaking. The value of the floating stock runs to many, many millions of dollars. Brokers came from Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Turkey, United Kingdom and the USA, as well as from Antigua and other Caribbean islands for the 2011 Charter Yacht Show. The show is a spectacular start to the winter season.

Sailing races and regattas in Antigua are scheduled from December through early May. The Superyacht Challenge was introduced in 2011, and will be held for the second time in January 2012. This Challenge is a series of pursuit races held over a three day period, starting and ending in Antigua. The event has already established itself on the list of important international sailing events.

The second major event on the Antigua winter calendar is the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) Caribbean 600, the only offshore race in the Caribbean series. Introduced in 2009, the 600 nautical mile race starts from Fort Charlotte, English Harbour, heads north to St. Martin and then south to Guadeloupe by way of Barbuda, Nevis, St. Kitts, Saba and St. Barths. It is a highly competitive endurance race that has already proved itself and attracts many of the ‘hottest’ boats in the world.

The most prestigious of the Antigua regattas is the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, which takes place in mid-April. Established in 1988, this regatta is now the first of 10 prestigious Classic regattas sponsored by Panerai, of which the last is the Cannes Regates Royales in September. The most beautiful yachts in the world, including some of the J-boat class, compete in the Antigua Classic.

The Antigua winter season wraps up with Antigua Sailing Week, starting annually on the last Sunday in
April and ending in early May. Sailing Week had its start in the 1960s as an informal race organized between Classic sailboats anchored at English Harbour. The earliest races were set between Guadeloupe and English Harbour. By 1967 the event had evolved into Antigua Sailing Week and it is now a popular international regatta, attracting boats from as far away as Australia. Sailing Week is an extremely well organized and very social event, with five full days of racing. The awards ceremony is held on the evening of the final racing day, and it is also the last major social event of the winter yachting season in Antigua.

The intense focus on boats and boating in Antigua has encouraged a thriving industry of support and supply services. There are five important marinas offering varying levels of service; Antigua Yacht Club, Falmouth Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard, Catamaran and Jolly Harbour marinas. Service providers at these marinas and other independent operators provide yacht shipping and delivery services, chandleries, fuel and provisioning, diesel engineers, sail makers and riggers, awning and soft furnishing makers, electronic suppliers and services, painters and varnishers, air conditioning maintenance, metal welders and fabricators, customs brokers, and yacht storage yards. Services and goods provided in Antigua are equal in quality to those found at larger, older ports of call. Businesses that benefit indirectly from yachting tourism include restaurants, taxi and car rental companies, banks, groceries, wine and liquor merchants, laundries, gift shops, T-shirt and cap printers, hotels and private villa rentals, and many more.  The positive impact on the local economy is far reaching.

Several yacht clubs and associations support the growing yachting industry. The Antigua Yacht Club is the leading yacht club on the island, and is also home to the newly established National Sailing Academy. It is the headquarters for Antigua & Barbuda Search and Rescue Service (ABSAR). Jolly Harbour Yacht CLub (JHYC) is located in Jolly Harbour Marina which can berth 9 super yachts up to 200 feet long, in addition to its regular berths. JHYC runs a popular Dinghy Sailing Program, which includes a Youth Sailing Program offering free dinghy sailing instruction every Saturday morning for Antiguan-born children aged 8 to 18. In the afternoons the JHYC organises an “all comers” competitive sailing event for local and visiting yachts. The weekly event promotes a more relaxed and social form of competitive sailing. Jolly Harbour is also a resort development for boating enthusiasts, with affordable dockside properties and a full service marina.  The Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association deals with government advocacy and environmental issues, customs and immigration issues, security, marketing and general development of the yachting product. The Antigua Sailing Association, which reports to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) is the national authority for sailing in Antigua and Barbuda waters.

In looking to the future Antigua and the yachting community have made a significant commitment to the education of children in the sport of yachting, thereby opening the door to the many opportunities for work in the yachting industry. The National Sailing Academy, founded by visionaries from the yachting world in 2010, is funded by a voluntary assessment of one US dollar per foot of length per visiting yacht each year, in addition to significant charitable contributions received mainly from visiting yachts.
The government of Antigua supports this initiative, and has declared swimming and sailing national sports. Free swimming lessons are provided by Swalings Swim Club in Jolly Harbour. Children are brought by school buses to the Antigua Yacht Club every weekday afternoon for free sailing lessons conducted by the Academy. Twelve new Optimist dinghies were purchased in 2010, and a small fleet of Pico dinghies, the next step up from the Optimist, recently arrived in Antigua.  In April 2010 Woodstock Boatbuilders launched a 39 foot Carriacou sloop, Summer Cloud, for use by students who graduate from dinghies to keel boats, and in May 2011 Richard Matthews, founder of Oyster Marine, donated a Cork Keelboat to the Academy. Plans are in place for an expansion of the teaching program to Parham and to Jolly Harbour, where the government of Antigua and Jolly Harbour Marina offer good facilities for the program. There is a feeling of great momentum in this initiative, and the heritage of yachting in Antigua and its future success appear to be secure. 

Written by Madeleine Jardim McComas – © 2011.  Originally published in CaribbeanHotProperty.com

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