Antigua Race Week by Larry Caillouet

Saturday, April 28            Around the Island Race

                Forty three boats entered the Around the Island Race, but we were one of only three bareboats in the race.  The other two were Jeanneau 41i and 44i.  Richard was at the helm for a perfect start and we immediately took the lead over the other two bareboats.  The seas were big, 8-10 feet, and the winds were strong, 18-25 knots, so it favored the bigger boats.  We pounded through the waves and steadily built our lead over the other two boats.  The glamour boats started after our fleet, but soon caught and passed us.  The highlight of the day was when the 115-foot ketch Sojana passed us doing about 16 knots and made us look like we weren’t moving.  She was carrying five sails including a gigantic spinnaker.  It takes about 15-18 people to sail her, but I counted 25 people on deck, including the waiter who was serving sandwiches and drinks.


                Battling winds, waves, competitors, and the clock, Spindrift III was proud to be first to finish among the bareboat fleet.  See the news story of this race at the end of this journal for details.


                After the race, which ended at the Pillars of Hercules near English Harbor, I radioed the Sunsail dock that we were coming in.  The manager who answered said, “Sorry, we have no space.”  I replied something to the effect of “Negative, Sunsail—make some space!  We have a reservation!”  After checking his paperwork he radioed back that they would make some space.  So they shoved the boats down the dock and cleared a space of about 10 feet between two boats and crammed our 16 foot beam into that space.  It was dockyard magic.


Sunday, April 29               Antigua Sailing Week, Race 1

                The wheels fell off the wagon.  We misunderstood our place in the starting sequence and were 8 minutes late to the starting line.  Our jib furler jammed and we couldn’t get the jib out for a maddening  few minutes, so we started the race deep in the hole.  We couldn’t get our stretched out sails to shape properly, so we fell further behind.  Then as we sailed the final upwind leg on starboard tack, the jib sheet snapped.  We quickly tacked to port to get the jib under control, but we knew we had to tack back to starboard to finish the race.  We considered retiring from the race, as one boat had already done due to equipment failure, but we had enough jib sheet left to tie to the jib, so we did that and finished the race—dead last.  Spindrift III is rated as a slower boat in our fleet, so on corrected time we finished fifth, our worst finish in the regatta.


Monday, April 30             Antigua Sailing Week, Race 2

                A much better day.  Nothing broke and we started well.  We had rolled the bimini back so we could see the sails and masthead fly better.   The sails were still misshapen with the leaches of both sails fluttering limply, but we improved to fourth place.

                The winners of Race 1, a group of Germans sailing Monet, a Harmony 52, retired from the race when their boom snapped at the start.  We saw their boat as we walked around the dock admiring the beautiful boats that evening, so we stopped to talk.  They were understandably frustrated with having to retire from the race and take ninth place, but were even more frustrated with the bureaucracy they had to fight at the charter company in Guadeloupe.  The boom couldn’t be repaired without voiding their insurance until the owner of the boat had been contacted, so they would have to lose at least one more day of racing.  We invited them to sail with us on Tuesday and they accepted.


Tuesday, May 1                Antigua Sailing Week, Races 3 and 4

                There were two shorter races on Tuesday, each only 10-12 miles.  Reinher , Max, and Raphael from Monet joined our crew.  Having a crew of seven made everything easier, especially tacking, and gave us more ballast on the rails, but our performance remained the same—two fourth place finishes.  That put us solidly in fourth place for the regatta.


Wednesday, May 2         Lay Day

                Wednesday was a lay day.  I guess they call it that because you can lay around and take it easy.  No sailing races, but there were some parties and other stress relieving diversions on land such as tug-of-war and piggy-back races.   Our crew skipped all of that and used the day to rest and to make some adjustments to the rig.  I added better tell tales to the jib and Bill shortened the leach cord.  We also worked on the main sail.

                In the evening there was live music at Nelson’s Dockyard.  A soca band played first—genuine island music.  It was Hot, Hot, Hot and loud, loud, loud.  The beat, the volume, and the mood reminded me of Carnival in St. Vincent except that the band was stationary on the stage, not on a flatbed truck moving down the street.  A legendary reggae and soca singer named Sparrow was a special guest singer, and he was great.  A woman at the chandlery in Falmouth Harbor told me that he was about 80 years old, but you couldn’t tell it when he was on stage.  The headliner act was Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons.  He was a huge disappointment, so I left after three or four songs.  It didn’t matter—I  could still hear him all the way back to our boat.  Fortunately, with the air conditioning running and the hatches and ports all closed, we couldn’t hear him at all.


Thursday, May 3                               Antigua Sailing Week, Race 5

                We were confident that with better sail trim we would improve our standing.  We knew we were improving our team work and felt that our speed was better.  Unfortunately other crews were improving also and Monet was back in the race with a repaired boom.  We finished fifth.

                Chris had brought the dinghy around from AYC on Wednesday so for supper we used it to go across English Harbor to a cute French dockside restaurant named Catherine’s.  I wanted to eat there because on the day of Race 1 when we had done so badly, their staff cheered us as we motored back into the harbor.  I knew that they must have cheered all the racing yachts because they didn’t know us and didn’t know how we had done, but it felt good and I appreciated the nice touch.

                We were greeted by a petite French woman who spoke lovely French-accented English.  We ordered typically over-priced and under-sized French meals and enjoyed listening to a four-piece jazz band.  We thought the band was the floor show until a loud argument erupted between the manager and one of the serving staff.  Actually, the loud all came from the waitress.  The manager was doing his best to calm her down and avoid an ugly scene.  She chose to make an appeal to the court of public opinion by loudly explaining to all the diners that the management was cheating her of her wages.  Every time the manager moved toward her, she screamed, “Don’t touch me!”  She made quite a scene for several minutes.  The hostess and the manager came to each table apologizing for the unpleasantness.   And they took the charge for our bottle of wine off our bill.  All’s well that ends well.


Friday, May 4                     Antigua Sailing Week, Race 6

                We sailed a new course, but the result was the same—fourth place.  Our consistency worked against us when the Race Organizing Committee dropped each boat’s worst score to determine the regatta’s final outcome.  Our worst score, 5, was not much worse than our best score, 4, so our regatta score didn’t benefit from the throw-out as much as some of the other yachts.  Nevertheless,  we finished the regatta in fourth place in the Bareboat 1 class, one place off the podium.

                The awards assembly that night was suitably impressive with Antiguan government officials and old-money yachties presiding.  The stage was filled with three tables of beautiful silver trophies.  Scenes from the races were projected on two large screens as trophies were awarded.  The night ended with a live band playing reggae and soca music.


Saturday, May 5              

                We planned a 6:00 a.m. departure, and actually left at 7:00 after a breakfast of French toast.  The wind, which had been blowing 18-25 knots all week had died to almost nothing.  We motored out of English Harbor, across the south coast of Antigua past Cades Reef, and set a course of 300° True for British Virgin Islands.  The seas were calm, sometimes even glassy, so the Yanmar diesel moved us along at 7-8 knots, even with the dinghy trailing behind us.  We had heavy cloud cover most of the day, sometimes a little rain, but we missed the heavy rains we could see in the distance ahead of us and behind us.  Even with the haze we could see Montserrat, Redonda, and Nevis as we left Antigua.  St. Kitts appeared to the west just as Montserrat faded to the south, and later Saba appeared just off our port bow.  Far to the east we could see the faint outlines of St. Barths and St. Martin.

                After supper we divided up the night watches.  Richard stood watch 8:00 to midnight, I took midnight to 3:00 a.m. and Bill took 3:00 a.m. to 6:00.  On Richard’s watch a waterspout came down from the clouds and bounced the boat around.  My watch was completely uneventful, but that made the time productive for reflection.  It was the night of full moon, except the moon was completely covered by thick clouds covering the entire sky.  It was truly a dark and stormy night.  Still, I was amazed at how much light there is on the ocean, even with no moon or stars.  I could see the horizon scribing a 5.6 mile radius all around the boat.  There wasn’t a single light on the sea until about 2:15 a.m. when the masthead light of another sailboat peeped over the horizon.


Sunday, May 6

                We made excellent time with the Yanmar pushing us at almost 8 knots though mostly calm seas.  We reached the Round Rock Passage to the British Virgin Islands at 6:00 a.m., 23 hours after we left Antigua.  We had a day to relax so we turned north and headed for the Baths on Virgin Gorda.  We were the third boat to arrive so we got the premier mooring ball right in front of the beach with the entrance to the trail through the giant granite boulders.  After working our way through all the boulders and arriving at Devil’s Bay, we snorkeled for about an hour, and finally hiked up the trail to the restaurant that overlooks the Baths and most of the Sir Francis Drake Channel.  Reluctantly, we left there and sailed down to Road Harbor to begin packing to leave.  All good things must end.

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