Chasing Regattas and Parties, March-July 2007 (photos)
 
Carnival 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 and umpiring.

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 ago.

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 was entertaining.

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) dismay.

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 in ability!

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.