Regattas and Parties, March-July 2007 (photos)
was over and Akka was refurbished. The chain of Windward and Leeward
Islands beckoned, but there are so many, and there's so little time,
even if you're retired. We used two criteria to help us decide where
to go when: regattas with good parties, and connecting with old and
new friends, some from racing and cruising, and some from race judging
Our first stop was Grenada, just 60 miles north of Trinidad, to
connect with Robin, an old friend and neighbor from our pre-cruising
days in Virginia Beach. Robin spends time each winter in Grenada
where he has many Grenadian friends and many stories about this
lovely country. He drove us all around the island in his car - quite
a bone-jarring experience as its suspension has definitely suffered
from the less-than-perfect state of the roads. But we enjoyed the
gorgeous scenery and his commentary, especially about the after-effects
of 2004's Hurricane Ivan (dubbed "Ivan the Roofless" for
the destruction it caused). Shortly after Ivan had blasted through
Grenada, Robin, who is a professional engineer and architect, offered
his services to the government and designed a modest, low-cost and
sturdy house that could replace ruined homes. Although his idea
was well received, somehow only a few of the houses were built.
However, we were impressed by how well Grenada has recovered from
Ivan - though everybody talks about the storm and its effects, there
are few signs of the total devastation it wrought, only three years
While Andi continued to explore Grenada, Rob flew up to Tortola
in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs), where he was an on-the-water
umpire for fleet sailboat racing, as well as a regular judge for
the non-umpired classes. Among the other judge/umpires was "Tuna,"
a legend in his own time. Although Tuna is now 89, he spent each
day driving a RIB dinghy around the racecourse, weaving in and out
of the race boats with élan. The organizer for Antigua Sailing
Week was also at the regatta, and at Tuna's urging he invited Rob
to serve on the jury there. We'd planned to go to Antigua anyway,
but now we had another set of parties to go to!
That regatta was Rob's first direct experience with "charter
classes". A big component of the fleets at all the large Caribbean
regattas is made up of charter cruising boats, rented to Europeans
and Americans who want to get in some winter racing in the beautiful
warm island water - and some winter drinking of fine island rum.
These folks liven up the parties, and make judging more interesting
than usual, because they do, well, unusual things. And because the
charter companies require the boats to protest if there's contact,
the judges hear about all of them. At the BVI regatta, Rob served
as judge for an incident in which a boat on starboard tack, beating
upwind to the finish line, unaccountably headed up into the wind
to avoid a port-tacker a hundred yards away. The starboard-tacker
coasted across the finish line, losing speed fast, and when she
bore off to pick up speed again she ran into the side of the Race
Committee boat. Meanwhile, the port-tack boat had crossed astern
of her and tacked, so was on starboard tack as she came across the
line, directly astern of the boat that hit the committee boat. There
was a little damage to the committee boat, but so far not too much
was wrong. Then the guy who hit the committee boat turned on the
engine, put it into reverse, and gunned it. This successfully disentangled
the boat from the committee boat, but, alas, caused her to back
full speed into the oncoming race boat. Who hit her in the stern,
hard. And drove her back into the committee boat, digging a big
hole. The protest meeting was a sad affair; both parties agreed
on the facts and on who was wrong, and the only reason they were
there was the charter-boat requirement for a protest. But the story
As soon as Rob returned from the BVI regatta, we set sail for Bequia
and its Easter Regatta (only a week after the BVI regatta). In Trinidad,
we'd connected with a sailmaker who is also an avid racer, and he
suggested that we contact the Bequia regatta organizers on the chance
that they might welcome expert help. Our offer of Rob as a judge
and Andi for the Race Committee was accepted immediately and with
huge gratitude, so we sailed up the Grenadines to Bequia. We would
have loved to stop and visit the beautiful islands, hardly more
than atolls, on the way up, but we were late and had to press on.
The Bequia Easter Regatta is actually two concurrent regattas:
one for the traditional "two-bows," double-ended sailboats
that are patterned on New England whaleboats and sailed by local
fishermen and whalers (they still whale on Bequia!); the other for
"yachts," modern sailboats sailed mainly by yachties of
European descent. We worked the yacht regatta, and saw the two-bows
only infrequently, as they sailed entirely different courses, with
entirely different committees, only ending up on the same beach
for the final party and awards. Rob joined a team of two judges
from the Caribbean: Steve, a Grenadian now living in Barbados, and
Jimmy, a Grenadian. For some reason (it might have been the G &
Ts or rum punches), these two got confused about Rob's name on the
first day of the regatta and took to calling him "Ron-Roy-Rob,"
a moniker that has both spread and stuck, to his (that is, Ron-Roy-Rob's)
The Bequia Regatta had great winds, great sailing, hardly any protests,
fabulous organization, and great parties and prizes. We made a whole
new set of connections and were delighted that our hosts urged us
to return next year. Who knows, we just may
Antigua beckoned, but first we made a stop in Marigot Bay, St.
Lucia to visit Melinda and Bob Hathaway, whom we'd met first in
Antigua in 2001, and later wintered with in Barcelona. Bob is now
the marina manager for the new Marigot Discovery Marina, and kindly
offered us a discounted berth for our stay. We caught up with their
new lives ashore, mainly being stunned by their gorgeous island
house high atop a hill overlooking Marigot, and at Bob's ambitious
plans for the marina.
We pressed on to Antigua, stopping very briefly at Martinique,
one of the French islands, to buy French croissants, cheese, paté
and wine. We anchored below the fort at the capital, Fort de France,
and were able to clear in and out in one action, and at no cost.
This is amazing in the land of Caribbean bureaucracy, and left us
plenty of time to hit the Carrefour supermarket and stock up on
French delicacies. Who needs sightseeing when there's a deli with
a hundred different patés?
Finally, Antigua. We really love this island, not only for its
sailboat racing but also because of the charm of English Harbour.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the English built a fort at the entrance
to this very well protected bay, then a fort on Shirley Heights
above it, then established a dockyard, port and shipbuilding and
repair facility. This facility is known as Nelson's Dockyard because
the immortal Horatio Nelson served here as a young lieutenant. He
hated it, and he especially hated the Americans. (The Antigua YC
displays a copy of a marvelous letter he wrote, sputtering about
the Americans using trickery to enter the port and engage in trade
when they were not supposed to.) He was pretty much a prig, it seems,
and not well liked. The Dockyard remains, with all its buildings
still in very good condition, though obviously no longer used for
their original purposes. The old sawpit building is a sail loft;
the old ropewalk houses the customs office; and the old copper and
lumber storeroom is a lovely restaurant. It's very evocative.
In many ports and many countries, Akka is, at 50 feet, a good-sized
vessel, but in Falmouth and English Harbours during Classic Boats
and Sailing Week, we felt like a little dinghy compared to the yachts
there! We were dwarfed by a number of mega-yachts from racing machines
to luxury yachts, right up to the incredible "Maltese Falcon."
She's a 250+ foot 3 masted square-rigger launched in 2006, looking
nothing like your image of a square-rigger, and little like your
image of a modern sailboat. Her masts, of burnished titanium, rotate,
and her sails are stored in them and are set and trimmed by computer-drive
hydraulic motors. Her yardarms are gently curved and at anchor or
in port, are arranged to form an S-curve. You either love her or
hate her, but you can't ignore her!
Our friend Suzie joined us in Antigua, where we'd first met her
six years ago when she was crewing for Bob and Melinda. Together
we walked the docks during Classic Week, marveling at dozens of
boats with shining brass and varnish "you could drown in,"
as a commentator said. Before they race, these boats are first judged
in a "Concours d'Elegance," for their sheer beauty, and
for many of the owners the Concours prizes are more important than
the regatta trophies. Among the beauties was "Ticonderoga,"
restored in Connecticut's Mystic Seaport. We were also surprised
to see "Galatea", a 100-year-old wooden boat we'd seen
on the hard in Trinidad just 6 weeks earlier. As we'd walked by,
we heard loud hammering, and then a board burst from the boat and
the owner's head appeared in the hole. "I meant to do that
-- it was rotten," he explained. He told us he was restoring
the boat and it sure needed it! By the time we saw her in Antigua,
there was no sign of the rapair, and she gleamed with new paint
and varnish. As it turned out, she won the regatta, quite a feat
for one of the oldest boats there!
Watching the Classic starts was gorgeous - the towering clouds
of sails, the classic lines, the gleaming varnish. Compared to modern
yachts, these classic boats are slow to manoeuvre and to accelerate,
facts which some of the hot-shot rock-star tacticians failed to
take fully into account. They would idle up to just below the line,
then "pull the trigger" and accelerate toward it. Meanwhile,
the boats that did "Vanderbuilt starts" (reaching away
from the line for a few minutes, then turning and reaching back
for the same period of time in order to get to the line at the gun)
would be in the second row, but moving at full speed. It only took
the faster-moving boats a minute or two to sail right through the
fleet and take the lead.
At the competitors' meeting the night before the first start, the
regatta organizer took the mike and emphasized that this was a "gentleman's
regatta" and protests were discouraged (he also said that it
was OK for boats to turn on their motors to get around marks, a
comment that had us judges blanching and hoping nobody was protested
for that). In the very first race, a schooner found herself on port
tack in front of the line of boats coming in on the starboard-tack
layline, and despite all efforts to get onto starboard tack she
was unable to do so. As they luffed up to sail around her, several
boats hailed "Do your turns!" but, respecting the organizer's
comments the night before, didn't protest. When the offender didn't
do her turns, the gloves came off and from then on the jury had
no fewer than three protests to hear, each night. That's a lot of
protests for a fleet of less than 40 boats who are all intent on
saving their varnish!
The following week, the varnished beauties of Classics Regatta
were replaced by gleaming modern racers of fiberglass, Kevlar and
carbon fiber. Unlike most U.S. regattas, Antigua Sailing Week is
not a series of windward-leeward or triangular courses. Most of
the races are point-to-point, going from one harbor to another,
to spread the parties around. Interestingly, Mount Gay is not an
official sponsor - the local Cavalier Rum was. Nevertheless, Mount
Gay held a (free) rum party and gave away red regatta hats. (For
non-sailors: these baseball caps are highly treasured. They are
not sold. The only way to get them, usually, is to enter a Mount
Gay-sponsored regatta. This is the first occasion we know of where
they were given to party-goers.) The regatta organizers were very
miffed at Mount Gay, but we don't know of any legal action taken.
With Rob part of the Officials Team, Andi and Suzie wanted to race
as well as party! In Bequia, Andi had met a German sailor, now living
in St. Lucia, who was planning to race his X-99 (a 33 ft. boat)
in Antigua. She offered herself and Suzie as crew, and Andreas accepted.
Then his other crew backed out and we suggested Graeme and Jillian
(remember our Brit friends from Trinidad?), so they joined X-Factor
as well. Tom, a professional skipper running a Swan 60, filled out
the crew, and we added another cruising couple as the wind increased
during the week. Most of us were over 50 and not up to racing trim.
We thought Graeme, at 6'3" and a former rower and experienced
foredeck, would handle that job on X-Factor, but Graeme's experience
had been on much bigger boats, and he didn't know how to do end-for
end-pole jibes. Andi has done thousands, so she wound up with the
job, making her probably the oldest foredeck on the racecourse!
Even though X-factor didn't do well, the crew had a wonderful time
and more than made up in compatibility what they may have lacked
We discovered that Antigua Sailing Week is really two regattas,
run in parallel: one for the big flat-out racers (including ABM-Amro,
which won), and the other for racer-cruisers or just plain cruisers.
This year, for the first time, the racing fleet actually sailed
separate courses from the cruiser/racers and cruising classes, at
one point sailing around the opposite side of Antigua! Andi didn't
like this arrangement. She recalled that one of the thrills of Sailing
Week was being among these behemoths, admiring their crews in their
perfectly matched outfits lining the rail -- even if, when you were
seeing them, they were blasting past you to windward, taking all
your wind. Alas, no longer.
There were also two categories of parties, though most of the cruiser-racers
were probably unaware of this. Every night there were parties for
everybody (these varied from totally unorganized strolling along
a beach of vendors' stalls to fenced-in, sponsored parties), but
on three nights there were parties "by invitation only",
just for the richest of owners. As a member of the International
Jury, Rob was invited to these special parties, and they were quite
nice - free hors d'oeurves, free rum punches, and, one night, a
free dinner. It seems ironic that somehow the millionaires were
feted at sponsors' expense while the hoi-polloi had to pay for their
own food and drinks, but such is life at the top. We very much enjoyed
ourselves at these cocktail parties (it's fun go to one of these
by dinghy, all dolled up, and try to arrive without a wet butt!).
At one party, Andi danced with Antigua's Prime Minister.
While Andi was racing, Rob enjoyed tootling around in a Judge's
boat each day, then serving as the Arbitrator for protests following
each day's races. It turned out there was one handicap-rating protest
that went on and on for several days, with some very hot-tempered
competitors. Rob's designated role was to stand between the parties
while the boat in question was being measured; he was supposed to
ensure that the opponents' encounters were confined to verbal exchanges
and didn't descend into fisticuffs.
The Awards Ceremony had been sponsored by Mount Gay in the past,
and the word was that the run ran free all night. Without Mount
Gay as a sponsor, this year's party was sponsored by Cavalier Rum,
at the lovely Copper and Lumber Inn. Free admission was limited
to 2 per boat; others had to pay $20 each, though of course our
admission was free. Well, things have changed -- the $20 admission
got each sailor a single flute of very good champagne, and no rum
or hors d'oervres. Perhaps the Cavalier coffers aren't as deep as
Mount Gay's. The whole thing was boring, really, and we left early,
preferring partying at the local bars.
One new feature at ASW was the presence of Gli-Gli, a true "classic".
She's a sailing dugout canoe, made by the Carib Indians, using traditional
methods. Gli-Gli is incredibly narrow and tippy -- one crew member
was required for bailing at all times. Incredibly, the Gli-Gli crew
had sailed her to Antigua from Dominica, and planned to sail her
all over the Eastern Caribbean.
Though we weren't scheduled for any more regattas that season,
we did happen onto three more events. When we stopped in St. Maarten
to get some much-needed repairs done on Akka, we called David DeVries,
an International Judge that Rob had spent time with as an umpire
at the BVI Spring Regatta. We met for a drink with David, and he
suggested that Rob join him as a fleet umpire for the Caribbean
Keelboat Championships, to be held two weeks hence inside the Simpson
Bay Lagoon, where Akka was anchored. Of course, Rob agreed to do
this, and had a great time. The regatta is a sort of Championship
of Champions, in identical boats provided by the St. Maarten Yacht
Club, featuring the top racers from around the Caribbean. The racing
was very close and very intense, but Rob and David were able to
make calls on the water in all but two cases - not bad for 22 races!
Andi went in the RIB with them on the second day; she'd never accompanied
Rob in an umpire boat before, and she loved it!
The other unexpected regatta was in St. Thomas. We had anchored
in a little cove about ½ mile from the St.Thomas Yacht Club
and dinghied in to the club. We learned that the manager there is
Bill Canfield, whom Rob had met at both the BVI regatta and the
St. Maarten event. Bill, knowing that Rob is an International Umpire,
invented a Match-Race clinic on the spot. He got Henry Menin, recently
back from being on the America's Cup jury, and Peter Holmberg, just
returned from being the second helmsman for the winning Alinghi
boat, to give brief talks about match racing and new match-race
tactics to about 20 STYC members; then we all took to the water
where the "students" practiced starts and races, and Henry
and Rob umpired. Rob says he learned a lot about match-race tactics
but even more about umpiring - with Henry as a mentor, he could
hardly go wrong!
There were no parties associated with the match-race clinic, but
we were given members' privileges for a couple of weeks, including
free internet and a lot of free tennis for Rob! There actually was
another clinic in the offing, but we were eager to see Cecy and
Doug deRue in St. Croix, so we bid St. Thomas a fond farewell and
set sail south to see our dear long-time friends. That wasn't the
end of our Caribbean cruising experience, but it marked the end
of our spring of regattas and parties.